Vissel Kobe: 2020 team analysis – scout report
During the 2019 J1 League season, Vissel Kobe fell some way short of expectations despite having a star-studded squad list. Despite boasting the talents of David Villa, Andres Iniesta and Lukas Podolski, amongst others, the side struggled to an eighth-place finish.
The criticism that the whole was not greater than the sum of its parts had frequently been levied at the Kobe side. However, after a mid-season switch in management from Juan Manuel Lillo to Thorsten Fink, Villa’s retirement and Podolski departing last summer, the ship seems to have settled.
To complement the settled ship, the side still has a star in Iniesta and the well-known European names of former FC Barcelona duo Sergi Samper and Thomas Vermaelen. The arrival of Douglas over the off-season from Shimizu S-Pulse has also added quality to the squad.
So, this tactical analysis will look at the key tactics of Fink’s Vissel Kobe side. The scout report will also use analysis to show what impact they will have over the 2020 J1 League season and if the side can be considered title contenders.
Sergi Samper’s pivotal role
To provide an obvious play on words, Samper plays a pivotal role in the Ushi midfield. In the side’s opening game of the season, a 1-1 draw with Yokohama FC, Fink deployed a 4-1-4-1 starting formation in which Samper played the defensive midfielder role. However, in the German manager’s set up, the Spanish middleman played an all-important pivot role which linked the defensive line to the midfield and attack.
As can be seen in this annotation, the 25-year-old defensive midfielder looks to bridge the gap between the centre-backs and the midfielders. The two wide midfielders in this image are actually the full-backs, however, it is Samper’s role which allows them to take this position – which will be discussed later in the piece. From Samper’s position, though, he is able to pick up possession of the ball and then have four advanced passing options ahead of him in midfield.
Here, despite Vissel being in possession, Samper has dropped deep from a more advanced position to support the defence. In this area, he remains in space, with time to turn on the ball and pick a pass. This role from the Spaniard is vital as he provides much-needed support to the two centre-backs, is able to link the defence with the midfield and can control the speed of the attack – either by continuing to play through the thirds or launch a direct and lofted pass into the wings.
Vissel Kobe’s in possession shape
While the J1 League side has a starting set up of 4-1-4-1, they look much more like a 3-5-2 when in possession and this is made possible by Sergi Samper’s pivot role. When the Ushi are enjoying possession, the two full-backs will join the midfield, one of the two wide midfielders will then become a second striker and Samper will slot seamlessly into being the centre centre-back of a back three.
As can be seen in this annotation, the home side has comfortable possession and have therefore adopted their in-possession structure. The two full-backs have joined the midfield to create a five and Yuta Goke has become a second striker from right midfield. Meanwhile, Samper has become the centre centre-back and the two centre-backs have split further apart.
What this 3-5-2 structure then allows Vissel Kobe to do, is to make the pitch incredibly wide as the five in the middle stretch across the whole of the pitch. As previously mentioned, when Samper has picked up the ball from the defence, the two wide full-backs provide the option for a lofted and direct long pass if playing through the thirds is a difficult option. If opponents this season attempt to stay narrow while defending, as Yokohama FC have done here, this will allow plenty of space for the wide full-backs to attack into.
Iniesta in the hole
While Andres Iniesta is currently 35 years of age, the Kobe club’s captain’s talents are still undeniable, however, his stamina is perhaps lacking. So, Fink intelligently uses this to his advantage by encouraging Iniesta to find the whole between the opponent’s defence and midfield when his side is on the attack. Irrespective of if his teammates are behind or in advance of Iniesta, he will remain in the same area.
As can be seen here, the Spanish midfielder has adopted the position ahead of the midfielders and just in behind the attackers of his side, making Vissel Kobe’s system look like a 3-4-1-2. Across the 2020 J1 League season, if sides fail to recognise this positioning from Iniesta, his range and technique will allow him to punish sides. In this instance, the ball arrives to Iniesta and he cracks a long-distance effort onto the crossbar, inches away from levelling the scores.
Here, Iniesta can again be seen in the hole, despite the midfielders and attackers now being in an advanced position of the Spaniard. During the game, the Yokohama FC midfield and defence failed to catch onto Iniesta’s smart positioning and he often found himself with room to dictate passing moves.
As is marked by the burgundy circle, no Yokohama FC player comes close to the 35-year-old and this is when Iniesta is at his most dangerous. As mentioned, if J1 League sides fail to pick up on Iniesta’s positioning over the remainder of the season, sides will be punished by his undeniable range and technique.
The major flaw in Vissel’s system
While Vissel Kobe are, in the most part, able to seamlessly transition between various different formations in impressive structural fluidity – which was seen across last season – it does lead to their major weakness. Sergi Samper plays a vital role in the system and when performed well, the side can remain solid and dangerous, however, should he be drawn out of position, Fink’s defence is left incredibly susceptible to a counterattack.
As can be seen here, possession has just been turned over to Yokohama FC while the two full-backs are high and relatively wide and Samper has been drawn far in advance of his usual position as the home side looked for an equaliser. This leaves Vissel with just two defending players and against an effective counterattacking side, Fink’s outfit could be fragile.
Here, after a short dribble and one forward pass, Yokohama FC are in a two versus one situation. A dangerous-looking attack for Vissel Kobe had been overcommitted to and that has presented a vital opportunity for the away side. However, in this instance the chance is spurned by Yokohama FC and Vissel are able to bag an equaliser shortly after.
This is one area which Vissel Kobe must tighten up in though if they are to enjoy any success in the league during this season. Even if the side is trailing, Samper must retain a regimented sense of positioning or the side face being overloaded on the counterattack. However, perhaps that is an element of high risk, high reward to Fink’s tactics with the Kobe side.
As discussed in this scout report, Vissel Kobe’s two Spaniards – Andres Iniesta and Sergi Samper – both play a vital role for Thorsten Fink’s side and will likely be key features if the Ushi are to enjoy any success this season.
An Emperor’s Cup victory under Fink’s guidance at the tail end of last season has proven that his tactics can live up to the billing, however, they must work on their defensive positioning in certain situations if Vissel are to be a threat in the J1 League.
This scout report has dissected the key tactics of Vissel Kobe and highlighted one key area where they must improve. Also, analysis has been used to show how the tactics can play a vital role for Fink’s side over the coming season.