Following the transfer of Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United, the arrival of Japanese duo Hiroshi Kiyotake and Takashi Inui in the Bundesliga was always going to spark debate about the player next in line to take the former Borussia Dortmund star’s place as Germany’s Japanese hero.
The similarities between the three Japan internationals are striking. Given that Kiotake and Inui are a year either side of Kagawa’s age, the trio are the same height, play in similar positions, have similar playing styles and all represented Cerezo Osaka in the J. League before moving to Germany, the comparisons were inevitable and when Nurnberg lined up against Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday night for the first time this season, it gave us a glimpse as to who would replace the new Man Utd signing in the hearts of German fans.
Having both played for Cerezo Osaka, it was Inui who first traded the Far East for Germany when he joined Bochum in the Bundesliga 2, spending just one year with Andreas Bergmann’s side before joining Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer following their promotion to the top league. Kiyotake then followed the lead of Kagawa and Inui, signing for Nurnberg straight from the Osaka club.
Throughout the match between these sides, Kiyotake and Inui were both very exciting to watch with the former getting off to the brighter start as Nurnberg pressed forward early on. The 22-year-old was constantly available to receive the ball and showed off his creativity with some intelligent passes forward to Tomas Pekhart and wide to Alexander Esswein and Robert Mak. He came within millimetres of bringing his side level after Erwin Hoffer’s opener as he fired from 25 yards but was denied by the post.
Inui, on the other hand, came into the game gradually before fully imposing himself with a wonderful strike from distance which tested Raphael Schafer, as the hosts’ shot stopper was at full stretch to tip it over the bar.
Kiyotake started from the centre and occasionally drifted out to the left flank to offer extra width when required, whilst Inui lined up on the left and repeatedly cut inside to set up Olivier Occean, and latterly Alexander Meier after the Canadian striker went off injured in the first-half.
Inui set himself apart from his former Cerezo Osaka teammate when he scored his side’s second goal of the game. The 24-year-old collected the ball from the left, cut in and skipped in between Timothy Chandler and Mak, teeing it up for himself as Kiyotake, standing just a few yards away, could only watch as his compatriot unleashed a fantastic strike which left Schafer with no chance as it bounced into the bottom corner.
Kiyotake was instrumental in his side’s only goal of the game with a superb delivery from a free-kick which made Sebastian Polter’s job easy as a nudge was enough to send it past Frankfurt goalkeeper Kevin Trapp and into the net. The youngster from Oita proved to be his side’s greatest chance of getting an equaliser as they continued to press forward with most attacks coming through him, but the visitors were able to hold on and it was Inui who went home the happier as his team headed back to Frankfurt with all three points.
Both players are extremely comfortable on the ball, regardless of the pressure they are under, and the pair are very dangerous playing from the wing and cutting in as well as picking the ball up from deep and driving towards goal. The Nurnberg attacker is adept at playing the one touch passes in advanced areas that the hosts’ high tempo style of play demands, whilst Inui posed considerable danger for Die Legende defenders as he charged towards his opponents’ goal when Eintracht burst forward in great numbers and with ferocious speed.
Their deliveries from set pieces are equally as accurate and dangerous, and when it comes to distribution in open play they are one in the same, although the Nurnberg man plays more passes because of his side’s playing style and he is slightly better at winning the ball back than his Frankfurt counterpart.
These two are very similar, but their differences make them perfect for their respective teams. Inui seems to play as direct as Kagawa whilst Kiyotake is as good at retrieving from deep and playing off the striker. Only the goal really separated them from each other as they were both very impressive on Friday night. The Frankfurt player’s crucial strike was his second of the season, which is just one more than Kiyotake has picked up at this early stage in the campaign, and the Nurnberg star-in-the-making’s assist is his fourth in as many Bundesliga matches.
Both Kiyotake and Inui will be desperate to shake the Kagawa comparisons off and look to create a legacy for themselves, but the similarities are unavoidable, and thus, so are the constant juxtapositions with the former BVB star. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially not for the fans or the clubs as there are worse players they could follow on from.