Hinata Miyazawa: Identifying three potential European destinations for Japan’s leading World Cup scorer – scout report
Whilst the 2023 Women’s World Cup has given fans a chance to see some of the best female footballing talent in one place, it has also allowed them to witness first-hand others who are not as well-known or who are only just starting to emerge onto the global scene.
When it comes to the latter category, one name that springs immediately to mind is that of Hinata Miyazawa, who plays for a Japan side that have proven to be simply unstoppable so far, with every opponent who has come up against them realising very quickly that they are potential champions-in-waiting who should not be underestimated.
Miyazawa, the tournament’s current leading goal scorer, has been at the heart of everything that her team have done well, which has understandably led to some conversation about where her future might lie once the tournament is over. At the moment, she features in the WE League (the Japanese women’s top flight) for MyNavi Sendai Ladies, but there are suggestions that a switch to one of the major European leagues might be on the cards, with her clearly capable of coping with the high-pressure environment that would entail.
As of yet, there is no official talk of a move, but this raises an interesting question of which club would fit her best should she switch to Europe before the window slams shut. To find potential solutions, this tactical analysis will analyse her game in closer detail and then use the points raised in that brief scout report to suggest three sides that might be a good match for her.
Given that she has been used in a solely attacking role for Japan in Australia and New Zealand, it would be easy to assume that Hinata Miyazawa is simply a forward who creates and scores goals. However, the truth is very different because she can perform in almost any position on the field and has been deployed in several during her time with Sendai.
It comes down essentially to what system the team opts for because they favoured a 4-4-2 for most of their games (69%, to be specific) in 2022/23 but did set up in a 4-2-3-1 on 10% of occasions and were known for choosing others still when there was a need to change things up.
Therefore, Miyazawa needed to be capable of adjusting between tactics, and it was something that she had no problem doing as the season went on. In this case, for example, she has needed to help out defensively to recover the ball and to stop INAC Kobe Leonessa from getting too far up the field. She has not hesitated to deploy the speed that has been on show so often at the World Cup to get back and bring an end to Miki Ito’s run.
She has been given these additional responsibilities because her teammates know that she will be quick enough to reach opponents before they get too far up the pitch, and their faith was rewarded by Miyazawa winning 75.5% of her defensive duels last season. They also know that she is tenacious when regaining possession, with her not stopping until the ball has been won, and there have been times when she has returned to her own goal area to do just that.
There may be a few wondering why this hasn’t been seen at the World Cup. The reason for that is Japan’s structured tactical setup under head coach Futoshi Ikeda, where each player is given a position and is asked to stay in that area, preventing any gaps from opening up and ensuring that, when they win the ball, there are easy ways to progress it up the field during transitions.
That might sound initially strange, given that Japan have been known during the tournament for their players’ ability to move into spaces and constantly create problems for their opponents. However, when looking at the bigger picture, individual players are rarely straying from their areas of the field, with the forwards rarely tracking back, the midfielders never moving beyond those ahead of them, the six (usually Liverpool Women’s Fūka Nagano) tending to focus purely on finding those ahead of her with the ball and the back three passing forwards and then instantly retaining their shape.
That explains why the graphic only shows Miyazawa’s defensive territory being in one section of the field for Japan, compared to Sendai when it spreads out across the field a lot more. It is why, as mentioned, her defensive effort for her club has not been present during her time down under thus far.
The analysis has already stated that Miyazawa is one of the quickest players on the field, but it is not just physically that that is the case. Mentally, she is generally ahead of everyone else too, and it is common to see her reading the game and making runs before opponents can react and cut her off.
In this case, whilst playing in the front two for Sendai, she has noticed whilst dribbling forwards that teammate Manaka Matsukubo is in the right place to receive a pass and shoot at goal, and she, therefore, looks to make the cross to allow that to happen.
However, what is clever about her delivery is that she does what every coach tells young players to do, which is to not pass into where the player receiving it currently is, but to where they are going to be. That then gives them a chance to connect with the ball when they have momentum and to shoot at goal with power. Even though Kobe, on this occasion, managed to intercept it through defender Shiori Miyake, Miyazawa’s intent and detail were there, and it again shows how her game is built on getting every detail right.
That speed of thought is again apparent here, with her reading the game and reacting to give her teammates the best possible chance of keeping their attack alive. In this case, she has linked up with Angel City forward Jun Endō, playing in the same left wing-back role she has occupied during the World Cup.
On this occasion, though, Endō doesn’t have the time and space to run with the ball as she was often afforded by Zambia, Costa Rica and Spain. That is because the USA and San Diego Wave midfielder Taylor Kornieck in particular, are alive to her threat and have moved out to close her down. As a result, Endō needs someone to provide an option for her, and that is where Miyazawa comes in, with her making a run behind Kornieck and receiving the ball in the space that the USA have left exposed.
At that point, she would usually turn and either dribble or pass into the middle, but Washington Spirit captain Andi Sullivan was in the right place to keep her back, ending the attack. Nevertheless, the intent was once again there, and it was clear that Miyazawa’s movement and speed of thought got Japan into that promising situation in the first place.
Her ability to link up with teammates has not only taken place in smaller field sections but has also been known to form partnerships with those a long way behind her.
In this case, Denmark have left space open behind their defensive line and have offered Japan the chance to run at their goal, which Miyazawa has spotted. However, her movement is only half the story because it means nothing if the pass doesn’t match the quality of her run. On this occasion, Aoba Fujino’s effort manages to travel through the lines but is intercepted well by the Danish back line, but the fact that the same duo combined for the match-clinching goal against Norway in the round of 16 shows how linking up with teammates and timing her runs in these situations can be added to the growing list of reasons for Miyazawa quickly becoming one of the stars of the tournament.
With a clear picture of what Hinata Miyazawa offers on the field now built up, this analysis will turn its attention towards finding three clubs that might suit her playing style.
The first of these is newly crowned Italian domestic champions Roma Femminile, who really made a name for themselves during 2022/23 when they secured the Serie A Femminile title and reached the Champions League knockout stages, both for the first time in their history.
Under Alessandro Spugna, they have become known for their progressive style of play and constant positional rotations, yet some in the team have specific roles that rarely change.
The three forwards all fall into that category, with Italy striker Valentina Giacinti tending to play a holding role whilst the two wingers run ahead and offer passing options behind the opposing defensive line. This is why, when looking at their matches last season, the majority of their offensive threat came from the likes of Norway duo Emilie Haavi and Sophie Román Haug and Italy internationals Annamaria Serturini and Benedetta Glionna, and is why the graphic shows them making very advanced runs and inverting them to get into solid shooting positions.
When looking at Miyazawa’s performances in a wide attacking role for Japan at the World Cup and the threat that she has offered from the half-spaces, it is clear that she would not be a bad player for Spugna’s tactics. However, if he didn’t think that she was suitable for the forward line, then she would be just as good a fit for the midfield, where there is a requirement for players to rotate positionally and to show lots of energy whenever they have the ball. Either way, even though he has already added a lot of fresh talent this summer, the Japanese star would give him options and experience of playing at a high level as he tries to build a team capable of challenging at home and on the continent.
Real Madrid Femenino
Another club that might be interested in signing her is Real Madrid Femenino, another team relying on their wide forwards when moving the ball into dangerous attacking positions. However, they tend to use them more centrally than Roma, with them starting closer to the central striker.
Like Roma, Real Madrid are one of the up-and-coming teams in Europe, having undergone a significant rebuild under Alberto Toril and last summer seeing many departures and arrivals as they tried to mould a squad capable of closing the gap between themselves and Barcelona Femení.
This summer, they have not yet made as many new signings. However, there is still time, and Toril is the type of coach who always builds a profile and then finds the right player to fill the position, meaning that, should he move for Miyazawa, he would know instantly where she could fit into his system.
They like inverted attackers who are comfortable in more central areas because they push their full-backs high up the field, with this graphic indicating the areas of the pitch that Denmark left-back Sofie Svava occupied last season. However, it is the same story when looking at any of their full-backs’ heatmaps from the 2022/23 Liga F campaign.
This helps to make the pitch as big as possible when Real Madrid have the ball, which then stretches the back four out and creates gaps for those in the middle to run through. As has been the case for Japan, Hinata Miyazawa has thrived in that aspect of Nadeshiko’s attacking play, with her constantly locating and exploiting spaces available ahead of her, so she would be exactly the type of player that Real Madrid would appreciate.
Real Madrid have also been known to hunt in unchartered waters for new talent, with the January signing of young Colombia star Linda Caicedo from Deportivo Cali clearly indicating that they are not afraid to look in different areas that other clubs don’t necessarily want to. With the Japanese league being another barely touched division for major clubs searching for new players, it would not be beyond the Spanish side to dive into it and try to bring Miyazawa to the club if they felt she would take them to the next level.
Paris FC Féminines
One potentially left-field name that might also decide to look at her is Paris FC Féminines, coached by Sandrine Soubeyrand, who have just come off the back of another really strong Division 1 Féminine campaign and who will now be looking to add to their squad to replace those who have moved on ahead of the Champions League qualifying rounds in early September.
Whilst they like to set up in a regular 4-2-3-1 (used on 70% of occasions last season), they tend to have players in those wide roles who can cut inside and offer a central threat, with Clara Matéo a prime example of that as she had 66 shots on goal last season and scored 12 times.
However, as this graphic shows, it is the fact that all of them came from different areas of the box that is the crucial detail, as that indicates that she had the freedom to drift into different areas of the field as she wanted and was able to affect the game in a multitude of different ways. That would suit Miyazawa’s tendency to drift around and switch between channels, allowing her to show the same attacking threat as she has done for Japan but with less structure to her play.
However, she would also fit well into Paris’ midfield, as they like those behind to contribute to their goal tally where they can too, and Switzerland’s Coumba Sow has been a key attacking threat from midfield over recent seasons and is someone who tended to lead the second wave of their attacks whenever they had the ball.
With her moving back to her home nation in January to join Servette Chênois Féminin (and then moving again this summer to Basel Frauen), Paris could be looking this summer for someone to come in and fill that void. Miyazawa’s record of playing with energy, reading the game and supporting teammates in attack and defence could again make her a good player to bring in.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked at Japan star Hinata Miyazawa, who has lit up the World Cup since Nadeshiko’s first match of the tournament and who has attracted a lot of praise over the part that she has played in their progression to a first quarter-final since 2015 (when they finished as runners-up).
As this scout report has shown, though, there is more to her game than those who have only come across her at the World Cup will have realised, with her just as capable of helping her team defensively as she does in attack, and that is what makes her such an exciting player and someone that could well attract significant attention once the World Cup does come to an end.
It is important to stress that there has been no word or rumour of Miyazawa leaving Sendai at this point. However, as pointed out by one or two over the last few days, major tournaments are always good opportunities for clubs to do some first-hand scouting and for players to put themselves in the shop window. For Hinata Miyazawa, 2023 could well be the year when the world started to really take notice of her.