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scouting

What Masatoshi Ishida can bring to Gangwon

While players such as Kim Ji-Hyeon and Cho Ji-Hun have left to join Ulsan and Chiangrai respectively, one signing for Gangwon FC that could turn out to be a shrewd piece of business is the arrival of Masatoshi Ishida from newly-promoted Suwon FC. Football coach and Head of Coach Education for China Club Football Michael Booroff looks at what the attacker can bring to the side

Starting his career in his homeland with Kyoto Sanga in J2, Japanese attacker Masatoshi Ishida gained considerable minutes whilst on loan in the second division with Thespakusatsu Gunma and in the third division with Azul Claro Numazu. After 21 appearances and 2 goals for Kyoto, he finally made the permanent move to Korea with K League 2 side, Ansan Greeners.

This is where Ishida began to flourish. After an impressive season with the green wolves,  he moved to Suwon FC for the 2020 season. 10 goals and 4 assists helped earn promotion to K League 1, and an eventual move to Gangwon. For the first time in his career, he has a chance to prove himself in the top tier.


What Gangwon Lacked Last Season

To understand better how Ishida will be able to fit into this Gangwon side, first we need to understand what Gangwon was lacking from an attacking perspective last season.

Reflecting on the previous season in an interview with Footballist , head coach Kim Byung-Soo pondered on his side’s possession game. While they attempted to be more attacking with the ball, they often had issues with this coming to fruition:

“In the past, the idea was to play defence with the ball. It's a very bold way. This meant that we would give the opponent fewer chances by taking possession of the ball. I tried to attack a little this year. However, it was difficult to find a breakthrough. I am aware of the difficulties. You have to think about what to change."

While they’re known for their possession-based style, they often lack the fire power to add to their dominance. Ranking 1st in possession and passes in K League 1 last season, they only managed 36 goals. To put that into perspective, as a team they only scored 10 more than golden boot winner Junior Negrao. Part of this problem, was their caution through the season in order to control the moments of transition better and the number of goals conceded 

This has meant that during possession of the ball they will often have limited numbers in attack. This can be seen here against Seongnam, where Gangwon look to attack in, but with most of their attacking players in wide positions or behind the ball, breaking through the opposition becomes difficult.


This has also meant that attacking players will often move towards the ball in order to provide short passing options and maintain possession of the ball. This often occurs with central players, causing the central attacking areas of the pitch to be vacant, meaning that the ball will be forced into wide positions. This then becomes easier for the opposition to defend due to the ball being moved away from goal, and the lack of players in the box to cross to.



What Ishida Can Offer

So how can Ishida help solve these problems? First we need to know how he might fit into Byungsoo-ball. 

Last season, Suwon switched between a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1 (a good, but brief explanation of their shape can be found here). Ishida would often play either as a left-winger, a central attacking midfielder or even a second striker. Based on the signings that Gangwon have made this off-season, especially Kim Dae-won from Daegu and the Serbian, Vladimir Silađi, it would make sense that Ishida could be deployed as either a central attacking midfielder or a left-winger. In a recent interview, Ishida even mentioned that is preferred position would be more central:

"My favorite position is Shadow Striker. The middle was always comfortable. This is the best position where my characteristics are best revealed. You can get the ball between spaces and pass it forward. Penetration and dribbling can also be done comfortably."

Deployed either centrally or out wide, there are 2 main attributes that Ishida can bring to Gangwon this season to help with progression of the ball in the attacking third: his positional awareness in relation to teammates and his ability to position and receive between the lines. 


Positional Awareness

One attribute that stands from Ishida last season at Suwon was his ability to position himself in relation to teammates. Part of this can be attributed to Suwon using him in different positions within two different systems. His ability to understand where his teammates are and position accordingly to be able to combine with them from an attacking perspective gives him an advantage. 

When playing on the left, he is able to recognize when to move centrally to compliment the movements of forwards. An example from the 3-4 loss to Jeonnam near the end of the season shows how he interacts well with mid-season signing Lars Veldwijk. When Veldwijk moves into a wider position to receive, Ishida moves centrally to compliment, yet still being a viable passing option. Unfortunately, the ball is not played to him and eventually ends in a Jeonnam goal:

Even when in a central position, he is able to move in relation to the central forward (An Byong-Jun in this example). With An Byong-Jun dropping slightly deeper to win the aerial duel, Ishida moves to become the most advanced Suwon playing. This also puts him in a position to receive from the header, which he then is able to convert from.


Between the Lines

A lot of Ishida’s play revolves around his ability to find space and take up positions that allow him to receive and advance the ball. Positioning between the opposition’s defence and midfield lines can be of advantage as it causes, as George Jones puts it, confusion and a decisional crisis for the opposition defence.

He shows this versus Deajon Hana Citizen in round 23, he takes up a position where he can receive the ball and take out Daejon’s midfield upon receiving. Now with space in front of him, he’s able to carry the ball towards goal in a threatening position. With attacking players ahead of him, this decisional crisis occurs: pressure Ishida on the ball and leave the attackers or track runners and leave Ishida open? Ishida eventually shoots wide. 


And even something as simple as holding his position can create space. Again, versus Deajon (this time in round 11) as the ball moves to Park Min-Kyu, and the right-back moves to pressure the ball, all Ishida has to do is make sure the passing lane to him is available. From there he gets the ball, shifts it onto his right foot and scores.


Conclusion

Getting into positions like these is just what Gangwon will need this coming season. In these spaces, Ishida is able to cause K league 1 defenders problems. Not only his 14 goal involvements last season, but he also ranked 8th in the league for key passes (25). 

However, he is an unknown quantity when playing in K League 1, having yet to make an appearance in the top flight. Some believe it was wise business by Suwon FC to offload him in order to bring in more experienced players for the upcoming season. But there’s only one way to gain more experience and that’s to play. At Gangwon this season, he has an opportunity to play in a style that should get him on the ball more, and show why he can be such a valuable player.

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