Giant Killing Episode 12 – The reason to place Tsubaki as a central midfielder

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This episode finally saw a significant breakthrough in the psyche and mentality of the Eastern Tokyo Team. A huge part of the strategy to beat the Brazilian trio and Nagoya lies in the hands of Tsubaki, a player lacking in confidence and one that seems to do little right until this match. I must admit that I fully understand the reason to put Tsubaki in the starting lineup despite a lack of form. However, I cannot understand for the life of me why he is weirdly placed in a central midfield position. The answer is revealed in the last two episodes though.

What is it about him that makes him a central midfielder? Let’s have a good discussion on this.

The typical central midfielder (with offensive tendencies)

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I am not going to discuss the holding midfielder, because that will be more of a defensive anchor. The offensive central midfielder usually fits into three molds. One is the passer type like Carrick and Pirlo. They do not really have exceptional physical or dribbling skills to move them away from the hassling midfield battle, but have great vision and passing range to distribute the ball to lightly marked areas in the opposition half. Think of that as the quarterback who needs his players to protect his weak ass.

The other type of central midfielder is a mobile player who is nippy and has a good dribble on him (I consider Deco and Iniesta to be such players). He might not have a great passing range as the passer type, but can break through the middle of the field through technical or physical dribbling, and attracts players to him by veering away off center before distributing it to the flanks or the strikers.

The last type is perhaps the most prized midfielder: The all-action box-to-box midfielder. As literally speaking as I can, they are the most dynamic all-round/complete midfielders, who provide both defensive and attacking prowess. The top players, like Lampard, Gerrard and Essien are such types. Generally clear with the boring explanation so far about the types of central midfielders? Good, let’s talk about Tsubaki.

Tsubaki, the central midfielder

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Tsubaki is definitely not a playmaker by any means. This play maker role is played by Gino, also known as the Prince (did he get an animation upgrade or did he look more regal now?). He does not seem to possess the passing range, particularly long passing that is expected of a player in that mold. He does have a decent dribble in him but it is not physically imposing and he doesn’t have that many tricks in his feet to dance past players like Messi, Ronaldo or Eden Hazard.

In all truthfulness, I personally thought that Tsubaki will be best to play in a winger role, where his pace and willingness to run will be useful to stretch the play. However, I finally realize the reason to move him toward the center through the last episodes. It’s his mental attributes. In my opinion, if I have to align him with a real life superstar, he will be the Frank Lampard of ETO. Obviously, he does not have the long range striking prowess of Lampard, but essentially, they are very similar.

How so, you might ask? They both have very good awareness and positioning sense, and despite not having a crazy passing range has good and accurate passing that is useful for the team. They are also good defensive players. You will not see extremely excellent nut-crunching tackles from either two, but they know where to be at the right time in order to cut out a pass or stop a shot. They also know where to be in order to create space in a generally tight midfield area. This is evident from this episode where he appears in the empty space unmarked to leash in the opening goal. Only a player who has great awareness, vision (sadly without the passing range) and positioning sense can do that.

More importantly, he possesses something Lampard doesn’t really have: pace and stamina in abundance. Despite his lack of technical skills, he compensates by being able to reach areas that most central midfielders cannot reach due to his immense pace. That makes him very hard to pick as his acceleration and pace means he can run to pockets of space, creating all sorts of problems for the defense. He’s not really a player you want to deal with. All these combine to make a very compelling argument on why Tsubaki should be a central midfielder, rather than a forward or an inside winger. Do you agree or disagree? Give me your reasons. It will be nice to hear from everyone.

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10 Comments

  1. Posted June 20, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Good summary of midfielders there. In my opinion, Tsubaki is more like a young Gerrard in the amount of space he can cover while not being the most technically gifted player. The modern box-to-box player is gradually being phased out because of holding midfielders, though it works in Tatsumi’s 4-4-2 system.

    • Impz
      Posted June 20, 2010 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

      Very much so. The young Gerrard can be overly impulsive but I can see your point there. I personally do not think that the modern box-to-box player is being phased out though. In fact, I see it growing as teams start to play more compact because players now need to be both good at attack and defense, particularly those in the top teams who need to break down teams.

      Those that are defensive need a top midfielder in the mold of Tsubaki for quick counter attacking and creating/moving to space in order to assault the other team. I will say that the traditional way we see box-to-box midfielder is now reinvented for the new 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-3-2 formation.

  2. Posted June 20, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know enough about football to respond with confidence, but it does feel that your take makes sense with respect to what I’ve seen in the previous 2 episodes.

    It must feel amazing to be able to blast off with such pace and to do so for practically the entire match.

    • Impz
      Posted June 20, 2010 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

      It is, and the fact that he’s not even that tired after running like a mad donkey for close to 70 minutes (I remember they said, 20 minutes left) shows how good Tsubaki is at running with pace and stamina. Such things just cannot be taught or learned, just as the ability to sniff out space. It’s intrinsic and that differentiates the good players from the top players that can create a moment of magic.

  3. haZzeeM
    Posted June 21, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the next episode, as we see tsubaki with a determined expression i think here we will maybe see ETUs coming system – fast counterattacks (as seen with the goal). They got a solid defence with a good keeper, the prince as the passmaker, fast wings and of course tsubaki. He will surely be the key player – with his pace he can create open spaces for his teammates as well to take them for himself.

    My current impression of him is kinda like a rough and unclean ‘Kaka’ who is stated as one of the best counterattack players. So if tsubaki train his scoring/shoting ability that would make perfect sense…we will see…

    • Impz
      Posted June 21, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      I somehow feel that the attack by ETU is somewhat lopsided to be honest though, with Akazaki being way more prominent on the right wing than …ermmm whoever is in the left wing. I do see the resemblance of a young Kaka, except that it is not really accurate as Kaka doesn’t bother too much about defending at all. As much as Kaka is a good attacking midfielder, I see Tsubaki more of a dynamic midfielder that finds spaces in the opposition’s defense while covering for his slower team mates when they are being attacked.

      I do agree that ETU will work well with a counter attacking strategy since they do not really have the technical skills to play a control passing game. It will make sense to make full use of the pace they have in abundance from the young team.

      I do wonder if Tsubaki will ever refine his scoring boots. I really feel that he is not there to score, but to control the play. Yes, we will see for the next episode. Excited!

  4. bluth
    Posted June 21, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    The only difference between a young Gerrard and Tsubaki is that Gerrard does provide bone crunching tackles, he is more like Lampard in that regard, but Tsubaki is much more nimble and quick than Lampard, sort of a hybrid of the two but without the skill of either one. Also it seems like Tatsumi plays a 4-5-1. I think Sera is the lone forward, Akasaki plays on the right, someone else (not sure) plays on the left, Gino plays in the hole/attacking mid, then you have the two holding midfielders in Murakoshi and Tsubaki with Tsubaki given more freedom to move up into the attack.

    • Impz
      Posted June 21, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

      Let’s try to decipher the facts that we already know in order to decipher the formation.

      It is clear that ETU plays a flat 4 from the various episodes. Hence, it is likely to be a 4-???

      Akazaki is on the right wing, the other player stopping the attack this episode is in the left wing, I think? That said, it will be weird if they only have 1 winger, lolz! Murakoshi and Tsubaki are holding players in the midfield. I see Gino as the trequartista (second forward). Hence, we can conclude

      4-2-3-1 to be more accurate (or 4-5-1)

      He sure is playing a pretty modern game, having a deep lying hard man playmaker in Murakoshi and a roaming and more mobile Tsubaki as his partner. It’s a very good idea. Tsubaki is clearly a hybrid of the two but I think that his mobility compensates for his lack of technical skills. You can never beat speed because it comes naturally. ^^

      • bluth
        Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:47 am | Permalink

        The way that I imagine it is that ETU plays a 4-2-3-1. I remember very distinctly that Sera is a forward, Akazaki is a definitely a winger, Murakoshi is definitely an old school Mascherano/Gattuso type destroyer, Gino is certainly a classic second striker who drifts into the midfield at times to gather the ball and then distribute it to the wings. Tsubaki is unique in that he is a player that I imagine could play a multitude of positions, he is obviously still developing his technical skills, but his speed could allow him to play as a box to box type midfielder, but he could also switch onto the wing if needed. I could even see him eventually becoming a striker if he was needed there. Heck with his defensive skills and stamina he could also become a Dani Alves type wingback.

        Tsubaki just needs to refine his first touch which still lets him down it seems, he would also benefit from becoming a player who is a long distance threat as well if he stays as a box to box type player

  5. Posted October 24, 2010 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Excellent Review! Other animes lack this analysis! I see Tsubaki as some mentioned as a Young Gerrard and offensively as a Kaka, but not with lots of Scoring. He’s actually got the free role to run the whole field(i say this after watching all episodes)

    Great stuff!

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