Editor’s note: Hridyam Arora is a Real Madrid fan and writer who in the coming weeks will be covering Take Kubo’s performances for the site. His work has been featured on our sister site Managing Madrid in the SB Nation network as well as at fan site The Real Champs. You can follow him on Twitter @hridarora22.
Takefusa Kubo, or Take Kubo as he is now called, just had an eventful week. He played against Valencia for 27 minutes, coming on as a substitute for Chukwueze. He looked OK. There were things I liked, of course. But there’s nothing that stood out. Well, nothing very positive, anyway. He was there, he looked good on the ball. He always looked for open spaces to pounce, and made himself available to the passer. But he didn’t have enough touches to do anything productive.
In the game against Valencia (a game in which, by the way, he had the most minutes out of all his cameos), he had 11 touches, he completed eight passes, had two shot creating actions, and one goal creating action. Yes, even in those eight completed passes, two of them led to a shot.
Other than that, he was positioned in the right flank, but mainly operated in the right half-space, and tried linking up with other players, while also cutting inside every now and again. He had a sort of an assist (is that what you would call it?) for Villarreal’s second goal: The ball was stuck between his legs, so he tried to flick it away with his heel. It got deflected off of Kubo’s marker and fell perfectly for Dani Parejo who scored from 25 yards out, aided by another deflection. Other than that, he was linking up well with Moi Gomez whenever he arrived near Kubo either in the half-space or in the middle. He switched to the left flank a couple of times, and made a good chance on the 76th minute:
He was also involved on the defensive end, where he stopped Gaya and recovered the ball on the 67th minute, and helped out whenever Valencia came at them in numbers. It wasn’t a lot; but he did what he was supposed to do.
Now, imagine him being there for the majority of the game. When you have him on your team, you give the keys to him on the offensive end. That’s just how it works. He can create something out of nothing, and he showed that at Mallorca last season. But, it hasn’t been the case so far in the league for Villarreal.
Here’s the thing: Kubo needs minutes from the start to be at his best. And up till this game, for Villarreal, he hadn’t even played 90 minutes in total. Usually, he would use the abilities of his teammates and multiply them by a thousand. He makes them better, and they make him better. That’s just how he rolls. Even back in Japan when he used to play for FC Tokyo, he did the same thing.
That’s exactly what happened when Kubo got his first start for The Yellow Submarine on Thursday night against Sivasspor. He was at the heart of almost every attack that Villarreal started, in the first half. He was given the keys offensively that night, and he did not disappoint even a little bit. He was everywhere, literally, in the first 45, then shifting to the right flank for almost the whole of the second half due to a change in the offensive scheme. He instigated every Villarreal sequence. I know it wasn’t exactly the toughest opposition that Villarreal could’ve faced, but Sivasspor still gave in a pretty good fight. Other than that Kubo made the entire attacking third his playground. He had a free role from the right flank, so the formation when Villarreal went forward was a pretty flexible 4-3-3, with Chuckwueze occupying the right flank. The Japanese wunderkind was beside Carlos Bacca when the team was not in possession. His heatmap proves my point. He was everywhere in the opposition’s half:
He obliterated Sivasspor’s already rickety defense and provided for two goals in the first 20 minutes; scoring the first and creating the second. His first goal in the yellow shirt was a goalkeeping error; Sivasspor goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa parried a fairly easy shot into the feet of Take, who just tucked the ball in on the rebound. His run wasn’t really tracked by any defender, either.
When he turned provider for Bacca a few minutes later, Kubo had a lot of space between the lines. He took his time, kept his composure, and poked the ball towards Carlos Bacca, who slotted the ball near post in a pretty good finish:
He also won the penalty which was missed by Bacca. He was always asking for the ball, and he always wanted to do something productive. We saw that against Valencia, we saw that here. But the difference was: This time, he was actually getting the ball.
He is the kind of player whose offensive impetus multiplies when he’s the player that runs the offense, rather than being given a specific role to play (by this I mean he would still do his best regardless, but having the freedom is a lot better for a player of his caliber). You saw that difference in the first half and the second. Now, I’m not saying he was bad in the second half. He was just much better in the first. Because he was more involved. He was doing his thing. He had the freedom of the half. Nothing that Sivasspor did affected what he had in mind.
In the game, he had one goal and two assists (the other one being a wonderful corner towards Foyth, who headed it in), had 59 touches, had five SCAs and two GCAs, had a game high four key passes. As for his overall passing, he only had a 69% accuracy (32/46), but that’s just because he tried to create a lot of chances, but many of the passes were intercepted.
All this stuff about his attack is not to say that his defensive duties were compromised. In fact, he did his thing quite efficiently. He had nine presses (second most from the team in yellow) which, well, is a very humble number. But, hey, Villarreal had most of the ball, so the players didn’t have to press that much. Otherwise, he won two out of his two tackles, made six recoveries and just worked very hard all game long. One observation I made was that he tracked back in the second half a lot more than in the first.
Here are my additional notes from the game:
- Kubo’s deliveries into the box are something he needs to improve on, they either lacked the accuracy or the power many times during the game. Yes, he assisted the third goal through a corner, but he also took a bad corner, and another cross from a free kick which wasn’t the best. Not just corners, all long passes should be improved upon in general. He only completed four out of his eight long passes.
- He needs to be more efficient in his passing in the final third, which was the reason for a lot of his misplaced passes.
- He wasn’t always involved in the second half. In fact, there was a period from 60th minute to the 80th, where he didn’t see much of the ball
All in all, Kubo had a fantastic first start, and this must’ve impressed Unai Emery. Since his suspension for the next game got rescinded, I am intrigued. He actually might start. I can’t wait to see what happens in the future based on his performance today.
Your move, Unai.