As football is growing in Japan, more and more exports are arriving in European leagues from the J1 League. Junya Ito is one of those exports. Ito is a right-winger, currently on a long term loan at Genk from Kashiwa Reysol. This tactical analysis scout report will investigate the profile of Ito, including, his background and footballing journey thus far, tactical responsibilities at Genk and statistical comparisons with other players.

Background

Junya Ito spent his youth career playing whilst gaining an education at Kanagawa University. After impressing, he was taken on as a special designated player at J1 side, Ventforet Kofu. Special designated player status in Japan allows clubs to contractually employ selected university players. Ex-special designated players include Keisuke Honda, Yuto Nagatomo and Yoshinori Muto, highlighting the potential for special designated players to progress and break into Europe after gaining an education. Such education may benefit graduates’ footballing careers due to a potential for enhanced tactical analysis, understanding and playing intelligence.

After his first season with Ventforet Kofu, Ito, attracted the attention of Kashiwa Reysol, who signed the player for £180k. Throughout his initial season with Ventforet Kofu and consequent three seasons with Kashiwa Reysol, Ito averaged 40 appearances per season, 6.5 goals per season and 8.75 assists per season. In a general sense, his output highlights he was a key contributor for his teams in the Japanese league. Such form over multiple seasons attracted the attention of clubs outside Japan.

Ito’s time at Genk so far

In January 2019, Genk were able to sign the player on an 18-month loan deal. It is currently unknown the exact reasoning behind the loan move, perhaps the deal was made due to Kashiwa Reysol’s reluctance to sell a talented player. A longer-term loan would give Reysol the opportunity to take Ito back should the move to Belgium not work out. Alternatively, the initial loan may include an option to buy clause, allowing Genk to pay Reysol a set fee should the player impress.

So far, Ito has only had half a season to make his mark on the Genk team. Through the team accomplishments, Ito’s half a season can be deemed a success, due to his assistance for the team during their championship-winning regular and play-off season, scoring three goals and two assists throughout 14 appearances.

Ito’s goal and assists stats only serve as an overview of performance by focusing on completed outcomes, within football, there are many performance metrics which can measure performance and contribution to a team, even if such performance doesn’t directly convert to output. These statistics can be used by coaches, scouts and analysts to view a player’s isolated performance and contribution to the team. Such metrics will be included in the statistical comparison section later in the report.

In terms of playing style, Genk play a 4-2-3-1 formation, with three attacking players supporting a lone striker in the pinpoint of attack. Within the attacking midfield section, Ito has always featured in the right-wing position.

Junya Ito 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Genk’s average formation in 2018/19.
GoalsShotsShots outside boxPossession (%)CornersPass Length (m)PPDA
Genk Average2.2416.337.3356.626.0520.188.74
Opponent Average1.0711.14.9543.383.7420.3511.43

Via an analysis of the statistics above we can glean insights into Genk’s style of play and tactics, in turn, identifying how Ito fits into the system. It can be seen that as champions-elect, Genk scored more goals on average than their opponents. This is basic information, however, the consequent statistics highlight how they produce such attacking output.

With the quality of player in the Genk squad, the team dominate possession. Possession of the ball allows the team to progress into offensive positions, such offensive positions lead to a high shot output. However, given Genk’s possession and quality on the ball, many teams operate using a mid to low, or low block when defending, this leads to Genk producing a larger amount and proportion of shots outside the box. Such shots from distance are also likely to influence the corner count achieved via deflections or saves by the goalkeeper. This analysis can be verified by looking at Ito’s heat map, the player’s average position is high on the right-wing, with few deep defensive movements due to Genk’s dominance on the ball.

Junya Ito 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Junya Ito heat map for Genk in 2018/19.

In an offensive sense, Ito needs to successfully interact with the right-back, Joakin Maehle. The passing network on the formation figure highlights the two right-sided players interact multiple times during a match. If Ito finds himself one v one with the left-back, the winger can look to take the player on to cross, cross from deep or recycle possession by playing back to Maehle, in the hope of building other block breaking passing networks.  By taking the left-back on or crossing, a corner is a frequent outcome if unsuccessful in finding a teammate in the box, from there, Genk maintain the pressure on the opponent via a cross into the box or alternative attacking sequence.

Junya Ito 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Junya Ito crossing example against a deep-lying defence.

Alternatively, Maehle can overlap or underlap Ito at pace, in order to give the left-back a decision to make. Drop and track the run of the marauding right-back, thus giving Ito more space to play into, or continue to mark Ito and allow a pass to the full-back who can then freely cross or pass to a teammate. Of course, the interaction of the opposition left-winger comes into play who should track the advancing Genk right-back, but, many offensively minded players do not find this natural and may struggle to contain an over- or underlap for 90 minutes. Ito and Maehle’s interaction is confirmed by the passing network and heat maps for both players who both interact in the same space for large portions of matches.

Junya Ito 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Genk right-back, Joakin Maehle’s 2018/19 heat map.
Junya Ito 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Example of the right-back overlapping Ito.

Interestingly, when attempting to progress with the ball, Genk do not operate using a short passing style, their average pass length is very close to the average of their opponents over the course of the 18/19 season. A potential reason for this is to move the ball over a distance far enough to cause movement in the opposition block in order to gain an advantage via horizontal and vertical gaps in the block. Again, as one of the attacking midfielders, Ito is highly involved in this process, typically on the edge of the box of the opponent. Ito and the other players in attacking situations will also need to be the players to run into any spaces or in behind the defence.

Junya Ito 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Ito playing a long pass after drifting inside. The pass is into space, should the opposing team wish to close the receiving player down, other spaces within or around the block may appear.

The final section of Genk’s play which specifically relates to Ito is their pressing game. On average, Genk press significantly more than their opponents, in league ranking, the team were third for PPDA, highlighting their intense pressing when they lose the ball. Such pressing can lead to mistakes and retaining possession. Upon retaining the ball, the opponent may be un-organised if they have begun their offensive transition in possession.

As a right-winger, Ito is expected to press the opponent in order to try and win the ball high, or, at worst, make it difficult for the opponent to get out of a pinned deep position and resort to a clearance or risky pass, both of which may lead to Genk regaining possession.

Junya Ito 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Genk press high and mark all available out-balls, the keeper is forced to clear the ball long.
Junya Ito 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Ito, who has drifted into a right central midfield position, is able to win the aerial duel and start another Genk attack in the opponent’s half.

18/19 Belgian First Division A analysis

The statistics below, highlight Ito’s performance data in comparison to the most valuable wingers in the Belgian First Division A, a sample of 30 was included, but to keep the comparison concise, the table shows the top 10 ranked wingers as per mean rank for metrics in each section.

PlayerNon-penalty goals per 90xG per 90Shots per 90Shots on target %Goal conv., %Mean Rank
F. Selemani0.360.583.1752.4621.3113
T. Bongonda0.460.332.9552.9417.6474
M. Djénépo0.320.381.7362.518.755
D. Vanzeir0.390.322.4744.7418.4216
J. Ito0.280.32.3148128
L. Trossard0.270.373.4640.637.8139
J. Dompé0.180.383.9141.864.6519
M. Benson0.280.262.9637.59.37510
Ivo Rodrigues0.240.372.5936.369.09110
J. Paintsil0.220.292.3745.459.09110

The comparison shows how Ito matches up well with his positional counterparts. He is ranked sixth for goals per 90, eighth for xG per 90 an has a relatively high shot on target ratio and goal conversion rate. His stats suggest that he finishes chances at the average rate expected, therefore, his finishing ability is backed up by metrics. Genk can trust Ito to contribute multiple goals a season from a wide position if provided the opportunities.

In terms of a mean rank for all metrics analysed, Ito is placed eighth, suggesting that on average he performs well compared to other players, as opposed to excelling in one metric. Interestingly, on average, Ito is ranked higher in metrics than ex Genk teammate, Leonardo Trossard, who has recently joined Brighton.

PlayerAssists per 90xA per 90Crosses per 90Crosses, %Dribbles per 90Dribbles succ. %Passes to penalty area per 90Passes to penalty area acc. %Mean Rank
J. Dompé0.180.296.9242.119.5658.15.92605
M. Benson0.560.275.3736.2111.1156.674.63586
A. Saelemaekers0.330.224.5832.146.7153.664.4262.969
S. Amallah0.370.290.47807.5555.562.9868.759
T. Bongonda0.290.233.8729.859.7157.743.7650.779
J. Ito0.180.193.646.155.4561.023.666.679
A. Boljević0.140.235.7229.117.8360.195.5848.059
A. Gholizadeh0.30.533.9530.776.6927.276.085010
Ivo Rodrigues0.240.541.6542.864.0176.472.8366.6710
F. Selemani0.160.192.5436.737.9552.944.3664.2911
L. Trossard0.220.262.5931.255.5646.65.45612

In terms of creativity via passing, dribbling and crossing, Ito again fairs well. He is ranked 10th for assists per 90, of which his teammates finish well as his xA is very close to his assist output.

Ito is ranked eighth for crosses per 90, third for cross accuracy, 19th for dribbles per 90 and fourth for dribble success. Where Ito excels is his passing accuracy into the penalty area, while he is only ranked 12th for total passes into the penalty area, his accuracy is fourth-ranked, suggesting he consistently finds teammates in dangerous positions in the penalty area.

Junya Ito 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Junya Ito displays his composure and vision to spot and play a pass to a teammate in a dangerous position in the penalty area.

Ito’s high rank for dribbles per game and lower rank for passes into the box per game highlights what Genk need to do against teams that set up in a defensive manner. Accurate passes into the box are necessary to break an opponent down, rather than running at a deep, congested defence.

Ito’s mean rank for creativity metrics is eighth, again suggesting he performs well in comparison to the original 30 in the sample, posting top 10 stats within half a season. It will be interesting to see if Ito progresses or regresses against such comparisons throughout 19/20.

PlayerSucc. def. per 90Def duels per 90Def duels won %Aerial duels per 90Aerial duels won %Tackles per 90Tackle succ. %Interceptions per 90Mean Rank
Ivo Rodrigues6.138.0158.824.71201.18204.015
S. Amallah6.628.7753.192.8200.191004.386
F. Selemani5.045.7661.262.5446.940.1633.333.797
D. Lamkel Zé4.45.1353.255.443.210.33203.078
D. Vanzeir5.216.4451.523.4539.620.4603.648
J. Ito4.345.8258.733.0539.390.2833.332.958
A. Saelemaekers6.058.6745.282.2935.711.3112.52.788
Fernando Canesin3.966.751.522.44250.6116.672.549
P. M’Poku3.813.9757.143.3239.020.899.092.3510
L. Trossard5.787.2953.330.723.08003.9411

In relation to Genk’s pressing game and defending from the front. Ito again performs well against other wingers, posting a mean rank of eighth. Ito wins over half of his defensive duels, 40% of his aerial duels and 33% of his tackles. The player posts multiple per 90 number for each of these metrics, suggesting he is willing to operate in a defensive nature. While this list is based on half-season data, many wingers in this list have failed to register a single tackle, highlighting Ito’s willingness to the cause when compared to such wingers.

Conclusion

After a successful half-season at the back end of 18/19, Ito will be looking to push on in his first full season with Genk. Ito has demonstrated he is able to fit into Genk’s style of play and produce statistical performances which put him in the bracket of the best 10 wingers in the Belgian First Division A.

All offensive players at Genk will be looking to increase their output in order to pick up the slack left by the outgoing Trossard, who scored 14 goals and delivered 5 assists in the Belgian First Division A in 18/19, an involvement in 20.2% of Genk’s goals in the competition. While Ito plays on the opposite wing, he will be confident of becoming the star man for Genk and improve upon his statistics on a personal and comparative level to other wingers.

Ito’s career ambitions are unknown, but becoming an integral figure at Genk and impressing in a subjective and objective nature may lead Junya Ito to attract attention for European clubs in the top five leagues.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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