Why the signing of Saki Kumagai can add so much to Roma Women’s defence and midfield – scout report
Saki Kumagai is an international Japanese player who has just moved from Bayern Munich Frauen to Roma Women and will be participating in the FIFA Women’s World Cup very soon as the captain of the Japanese national team. She has been an international since 2008 as she started her senior career in that same year when she was just 17 years old.
She played at Urawa Reds during the first seasons, then she moved to Frankfurt until 2013 before making a big move to Olympique Lyonnais. In fact, her experience at Lyon lasted for a long period since she left the team in 2021, having played eight seasons for the French team and winning five UEFA Women’s Champions League titles, six Coupe de La France and seven Division 1 Féminine trophies.
Following this rich experience in France, Kumagai moved to Bayern Munich where she won the Frauen-Bundesliga this season. A few days ago, Roma Women reached an agreement with Kumagai and won the services of the Japanese international for two seasons. This means that Kumagai will be helping the Giallorosse in conserving their Serie A league title against teams like Juventus, Inter, Milan, Fiorentina and others while also trying to use her European experience to make Roma Women reach an advanced stage in the UWCL, knowing that they were knocked out in the quarter-finals this season against Barcelona.
In this tactical analysis scout report, our main focus will be on exploring Kumagai’s main traits from a defensive and playmaking perspective. The analysis will also aim at identifying her most suitable position at Roma and how she can be useful in the team’s tactics.
Most suitable position at Roma Women: Wenninger-Kumagai/Giugliano-Kumagai
First of all, it should be said that Kumagai started her career as a central defender both in the national team and at the first club she played for. Afterwards, she started to play as a central midfielder whenever needed at Olympique Lyonnais, with Japan and later at Bayern Munich. In fact, Kumagai can occupy the midfielder role perfectly since she guarantees defensive security and represents a mixture between excellent defending and a good playmaking contribution.
Kumagai moves well with and without the ball when being a midfielder as she gained the experience needed to cope with such a role and she knows how exactly to deal with continuous pressing that midfielders need to absorb. She can play in a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 formation as a second midfielder without issues as she did this successfully on multiple occasions.
At Roma, Alessandro Spugna will have the luxury to make the decision on each game whether to play Kumagai instead of one of Elena Linari or Carina Wenninger or Giada Greggi in midfield. Although this sounds like a complicated decision to make, Spugna will surely be able to determine where he will need Kumagai more based on the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and on the importance of the game as well. In fact, Kumagai can occupy Linari’s spot perfectly in some games where Roma will need more defensive experience, stability and compactness while it would be more adequate to play Kumagai beside Manuela Giugliano in midfield and to keep Linari and Wenninger as CBs when the team needs more aggressivity in midfield as well as in defence.
The Giugliano-Kumagai midfield duo would prove more balanced and more powerful than Giugliano-Greggi since the first one combines Giugliano’s excellent passing and creativity and Kumagai’s powerful physical abilities and impressive defending. As you can see in this heatmap, Kumagai is very familiar with midfield positions and has been playing a lot in midfield, even last season, which guarantees to Spugna that Kumagai is ready to play as a midfielder if he wants.
Kumagai’s traits as a midfielder
When playing as a midfielder, Kumagai can be extremely useful for the team she plays at. She proved that at Lyon and then at Bayern Munich plus with the national Japanese team. In fact, Kumagai has got some fairly good passing accuracy averages with 90.8% in passing accuracy, 77.3% in passing to the final third and 81.8% in terms of forward passing accuracy.
Moreover, with 60% of accuracy in long passes, Kumagai is among the best in terms of long passing in Europe since she relies on crossing a lot whether when playing as a centre-back or as a midfielder since this type of passing allows her to avoid pressing and serve her attacking teammates in a more direct and surprising way, which helps the receiver in finding less resistance from defenders and in avoiding marking.
The following example of a Kumagai cross from midfield showcases her ability to spot the most adequate passing option and serve the ball exactly to the needed destination in order to meet the player’s run while executing her cross quickly to not provide time for defenders to get close to the ball before her teammate.
Kumagai relies a lot on such long passing and she usually executes these crosses towards both wings depending on the unmarked player she spots. Plus, she uses both feet with almost a similar accuracy especially when it comes to short passes and assists. Kumagai’s vision and ability to make quick passing decisions inside the opponent’s half always make a difference and can be considered a very important trait of the Japanese player.
It is true that Kumagai can’t be considered as a creative attacking midfielder and that she doesn’t have a high average of assists per season compared to other midfielders mainly due to not being used as a midfielder regularly. Nevertheless, Kumagai proved on several occasions that her key passes are usually dangerous and that she often creates goalscoring opportunities through her passes towards the box. The next picture highlights Kumagai’s accurate left foot usage when she was providing a key pass to her teammate at the adequate time while completely breaking the defensive line.
The Japanese international can also be crucial in tight spaces when advancing during attacks and she is able to provide assists even when surrounded by opponents and having little time for decision-making. Although she is not a player who is used to play inside the final third, she proved on several occasions that she can deal very well with complex situations in this area, such as in the example below in which she was able to spot her teammate’s movement and serve her with a creative key pass between two defenders.
Overall, Kumagai can be a very useful midfield player for Roma since she can bring physicality, defensive contribution and playmaking, especially if playing alongside a more creative midfield player like Giugliano to help with more creativity and assistance to the attack inside the final third, while Kumagai would remain more often in her team’s own half.
Kumagai’s defensive abilities
In terms of defensive performances, Kumagai can be considered one of the most consistent and powerful defenders in Europe at the moment since she has already won all possible titles at Olympique Lyonnais and then had a very rich experience at Bayern Munich.
Her experience as a centre-back can be very fruitful for Roma since such players are capable of organising the whole defensive line when being on the pitch and her winning mentality would help her teammates develop as well and be more competitive on a European level. And that’s partly why Roma acquired a player with European experience like Kumagai.
As is detailed in the following graphic, Kumagai’s defensive positioning varies depending on the lineup and on the type of match. But overall, she prefers to play in an average defensive block and make her interceptions and clearances inside or near the box without resorting to fouls. The graphic also highlights the fact that Kumagai rarely commits fouls despite succeeding in making numerous interceptions inside the final third, which is a very positive aspect for a defender who plays regularly against tough teams with powerful attacking players.
In addition to her ability to always be attentive in set-pieces, aerial duels and one vs one situations, knowing that she wins 73.9% of her defensive duels per match and 57% of her aerial duels per 90. Kumagai has always been a saver to her teams. In other words, she always pushes herself to do the “dirty work” and execute clearances on the goal line or make decisive sliding tackles in dangerous areas which makes her a much more valuable defender to any team.
The following picture showcases one of her many crucial clearances and this particular one was a clearance on the goal line using a sliding tackle against Arsenal during this season’s UWCL.
Also, Kumagai proved long ago that she is not an easy defender to beat in one vs one duels as she is quick and able to read her direct opponent’s dribbling strategy while trying to anticipate their next actions. This duel against Arsenal highlights this ability to stop a dangerous attack from the right wing by intercepting the ball while the opponent was about to get past her. Making the needed interception at the right timing is never easy and requires a lot of concentration and agility, and these characteristics are available in Kumagai, even though she doesn’t always win these duels, which is the case for all defenders too.
Moreover, Kumagai is never afraid of making sliding tackles when needed and she is one of the defenders who use tackles in a very calculated way without falling into the trap of committing fouls or becoming aggressive without a concrete benefit. In fact, Kumagai executes tackles when put in complex situations that require such actions in order to intercept the ball, and she does so in a great fashion most of the time.
In the following duel against her opponent, she was marking the striker whose back was against the goal and who retreated to receive the ball and try to turn and shoot. Kumagai however was very attentive and marked the striker tightly, followed her immediately when she retreated and waited for the right moment to make a sliding tackle and intercept the ball when the striker was trying to turn before shooting.
It is true that Kumagai doesn’t always succeed in her tackling attempts, yet she is a defender who knows how and when to resort to such actions, knowing that her average success rate in sliding tackles equalled 43% this season.
Saki Kumagai will surely represent a valuable addition to Roma’s defence, midfield and to the team in general. She has the experience and the talent needed to succeed at this club and help them reach some even better results next season, especially in UWCL. Whether used more as a defender or as a midfielder, Kumagai’s addition will surely make the difference for the whole team as it would help them a lot in conserving their Serie A title.