At the beginning of the 2019/20 season, Takehiro Tomiyasu decided to take the gamble to move from Sint-Truiden in Belgium to Bologna in northern Italy. Unbeknown to most Serie A fans, his signing went under the radar when first announced. For nearly €10 million, would he be a worthy investment for the mid-table side?
Despite Bologna flatlining regarding their league position, Tomiyasu has shown more than enough for them to sell him on for double that price. At just 20 years old, he has taken strides this season to become one of most promising full-backs in Serie A. Spending just a year and a half in Belgium, he is now used to impressing in a short space of time. Now a fully-fledged international for Japan, the only thing stopping him from being an elite full-back in Europe’s top five leagues is his mentality. With new tactics and new additions to the squad, Siniša Mihajlović has returned to Bologna to create a side capable of scoring goals but conceding few too many to make a push for European football.
Style of play
The Japanese is a physical right-back who is strong at reading the game, seeing passes happen before they are made, putting himself in positions to intercept the ball. His concentration and teamwork are impressive skills for a player his age to have, as it tends to be the case that young players lack these mental attributes, before their technical traits.
Due to his size and stature, he is also a player who very strong at winning aerial duels, which is useful to have against physical forwards, such as Josip Iličić at Atalanta. When he retains the ball, he is generally looking to dribble forward with the ball and take it past his opponents, to spawn a counterattack. When it comes to Bologna’s style of play this season, he seems to fit quite well. He is good at cooperating with his teammates, maintaining the defensive line, and can provide offensively when requested.
Bologna tend to play possession football and attack down the right-hand side, which is where Tomiyasu is located. They play an aggressive, high-pace style of football which is usually met with an aggressive style of play back. Mihajlović’s favoured formations are 4-2-3-1 and variations of the 4-3-3 which seem to fit Tomiyasu’s strengths fairly well. They play with width, which is where Tomiyasu is at his most comfortable.
Passing and build-up
Bologna do not aim to play counterattacking football. They prefer to use aggressive pressing out of possession, to get the ball back, and control possession in the opponent’s half. They can often go too far with their aggression, though. They regularly give away fouls and have conceded a league-high 82 yellow cards.
Tomiyasu roams up and down the right-hand side of the pitch, regularly looking to combine with his right-wing compatriot, Riccardo Orsolini. The young full-back helps during the build-up and is always looking to run at the opposition defence when on the ball. His passing activity is most commonly found to be in a passing rotation with either his right centre-back or Orsolini. As Bologna attack down the right-wing as their primary source of attacking threat, Tomiyasu plays a vital role in not only retrieving the ball but advancing the team forward too. That is how they tend to reach the final third.
Here, we see Tomiyasu has received the ball, and has acres of space around him, to pass in-field.
Further on in the scenario, Tomiyasu sticks to the right-wing and offers himself as a passing option to advance the ball forwards.
He is an important asset to the team, defensively and in the transition. He is most commonly placed in right inside channel, where he can combine with the midfielders. He tends to perform rotations between the midfielders and his right-winger compatriot, trying to open up space to bypass opposition pressure.
Impact on their defensive approach and attacking contribution
As mentioned, the team’s 4-2-3-1 formation fits Tomiyasu’s skill set very well. He is a well-rounded asset when it comes to his defensive contribution.
Due to his awareness and concentration, he can be utilised efficiently in 1v1 defending duels. He keeps an eye on the player on the ball and the other opposition players around him in tandem with his body movement, to dictate where the ball will go next.
Above, we see Tomiyasu move towards the wing. He has seen the pass and is aware that they may try to play a through-ball to one of their forwards.
In the image, we see Tomiyasu move into the space to block off the passing avenue for his opponent. Moving towards his opponent also applies pressure, which allows him to collect the ball.
As any modern full-back, he also has an important role offensively too. His teamwork and crossing ability allows him to get past the opposition defence and attempt to create a scoring opportunity. His dribbling ability and technique are also important he can effectively get past his man and produce a quality pass in the final third. He is a strong dribbler, as he completes more take-ons than he fails, with an impressive 66% take-on completion rate.
Here, we can see Tomiyasu approach the final third with the ball at his feet. He has averted the attention of three defenders to his location, which is useful for his teammates.
Above, we see that Tomiyasu feinted to go one direction, to then cut inside and dribble down the channel and into a strong crossing area. Unfortunately, in this sequence, he lost his composure at the last moment, losing the ball in the process.
Composure in high-pressure scenarios is not his strong point. Often in a situation where he is approaching the 18-yard box, he can succumb to the situation, and lose the ball. Though, this is common for a player as young as he is. There is a clear path for him to improve in this area, as players tend to improve in these situations with more match experience under their belt.
Although, when he is capable of applying his technique in the final third currently as well. His partnership with Orsolini down the right-wing is certainly one of high praise. Regularly, he facilitates his forward compatriot’s attacking efforts with his cover and his runs into space, leaving him available for a pass. Moreover, on occasion, he finds himself in a position to whip in a delivery into the box, creating a high-quality chance for his teammates. He has a variety of deliveries in his locker, which is useful to have in different situations.
In the image above, we see Tomiyasu a fair distance away from the 18-yard-box, evaluating his crossing options. Notice how Orsolini is distracting a defender with his clever movement.
Tomiyasu lobs the ball into the area, which is met by Andrea Poli, who nestles the ball into the top corner. Thanks to the distracting run by Orsolini, Poli manages to out-leap the defender and get contact first.
Tomiyasu is not a typically offensive full-back. He puts in a decent amount of defensive work, and as Bologna do not tend to dominate the ball every game, he finds himself in defensive duels more often than attacking rotations. From viewing his attacking efforts, it is clear to see that when he does roam forward, he is fairly competent for a defender his age. All this as a collective leads to an xGBuildup per 90 of 0.29. This is a figure looked favourably upon when compared to other defenders in Serie A.
Tomiyasu has become one of the most promising full-backs in Serie A, in just over half a campaign of football. He is responsible for a concrete amount of defensive work and fulfils a support role for his attackers quite well. He is useful in the early stages of buildup but could improve upon his composure when he reaches the final third. With a player like him, Bologna could sell on for a decent profit to clubs like Southampton or Schalke, or they could keep him for another season or two and aim to improve the team’s trajectory towards European football.