I’m excited about every single Japanese or South Korean player joining Bundesliga clubs. I’m yet to see one whose technical skills aren’t impeccable.
Shinji Kagawa opened the door for players from the Far East and there are now about half a dozen sides to which they are crucial. Even in last night’s match between two Bavarian provincial clubs they took center stage.
Nuremberg fielded Hiroshi Kiyotake, signed this summer from Cerezo Osaka where he succeeded Kagawa. (Mu Kanazaki, signed just this winter, remained on the bench.) Augsburg fielded two Korean players, Koo Ja-Cheol and Ji Dong-Wong, both on loan from Wolfsburg and Sunderland, respectively.
All three were key to the match, if in very different ways.
Kiyotake played center midfield in Nuremberg’s 4-1-4-1 formation. Koo Ja-Cheol played as one of two holding midfielders in what I thought ended up as a pretty standard 4-4-2 formation. Augsburg has routinely used both 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1 this season, but the one-match ban for skipper Daniel Baier probably prompted Augsburg coach Markus Weinzierl to move Koo into a deeper role and change tactics. Ji played in more in a striker role close to Sascha Mölders.
The result looked tighter than the match really was, due to Raphael Schäfer’s once-a-career goalkeeping blunder. Aside from a brief period ahead of its equalizer in the 36th minute, Augsburg never really managed to threaten Nuremberg’s goal. In particular during the entire second half I hardly noticed any goal scoring opportunities for the side.
In build-up play, Augsburg’s holding midfielders Andreas Ottl and Koo dropped deep and moved very close to the full-backs. In particular Koo had plenty of space here to demonstrate his impressive technical skills as Markus Feulner struggled to close him down. Koo to me was the dominating player of the match (84 times on the ball).
But Ottl and Koo consistently failed to then link up with the rest of Augsburg’s midfield and its strikers and as a result the side broke up in two parts when in possession. In between, Nuremberg’s midfield controlled the centre pitch at most times.
This is where Ji disappointed. He was hardly to be seen during the entire match as he failed to drop into the space in the back of Kiyotake and Feulner that invariably opens up when the 4-1-4-1’s centre midfielders press high during the opponent’s build-up play. Koo and Augsburg’s defender were hardly ever able to play vertical passes through Nuremberg’s midfield.
Kiyotake’s impact on the match was less tactical in nature. He impressed with his clinical finishing, his two-feet ball control as well as his dribblings (a bunch of Augsburg defenders had to resort to a foul to prevent him from penetrating the box, and Alexander Esswein netted the resulting free kick).
Augsburg struggled in particular to prevent him from linking up with left-wing Esswein.
I don’t think any of these three players will stay in Bavaria for long. Wolfsburg has already said Koo will return (never quite understood why former Wolfsburg coach Felix Magath sidelined the player last year). Not sure whether Ji would return to Sunderland but it’s difficult to see him play in Germany’s second division where Augsburg will likely end up despite its impressive run lately. And Kiyotake will also be poached next summer at the latest by a club with more financial prowess than Nuremberg.