Yuya Osako: The Surprise Star of the Season in the Making?

Japanese international forward Yuya Osako has opened the 2019/20 campaign in phenomenal fashion – scoring four goals in as many appearances in all competitions.

Osako had amassed just five goals for Werder Bremen throughout the entire 2018/19 season, which was rather in correspondence with his underwhelming goalscoring form at FC Koln.

He arrived in Germany with 1860 Munich in January 2014, following an auspicious four-season spell with Japanese heavyweights Kashima Antlers. He had initially struggled to make an impact in the Japanese top-flight but marked his final season with an exciting tally of 24 goals in 42 appearances.

1860 Munich pounced at the opportunity to sign the fully-fledged Japanese international and he made an immediate impact by scoring six goals over 15 appearances during his brief spell at the club.

His inspiring form in the second-tier of German football encouraged FC Koln to sign him during the 2014 summer transfer window. But the step-up into the Bundesliga marked the beginning of a very difficult period for Osako, as he managed a mere four goals during his opening two campaigns with The Billy Goats.

Koln favoured French talisman Anthony Modeste, who scored 15 goals over the course of the 2015/16 season, leaving him in fifth-place in the race for the Bundesliga golden boot. Therefore, Osako was forced to play as a makeshift winger or an impact substitute and neither role inspired him to recover his form.

Markus Weinzierl preferred fielding either a 5-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation with Modeste leading the attacking line. Osako played as a second striker behind Modeste prior to the winter break and made two assists but Weinzierl often opted to select Simon Zoller, who proved to be far more prolific than Osako.

But just as his career at FC Koln looked to be drawing to a rather uneventful and depressing conclusion, the newly-appointed Peter Stoger reintroduced him into the starting line-up. Osako and Modeste subsequently forged a telepathic understanding in the final third – with the former finishing the 2016/17 campaign with nine goals and eight assists and the latter scoring a career-high 27 goals in 37 appearances in all competitions.

Yuya Osako: The Surprise Star of the Season in the Making?
Above: Yuya Osako during his spell in the Bundesliga at FC Koln.

Stoger inspired FC Koln to a remarkable fifth-place finish in the Bundesliga, securing qualification for a major European competition for the first time in 25 years. It was a monumental achievement in the club’s history and Osako was integral to the functioning of the team. Although he may have played in the shadow of Modeste, his work-rate and creativity was paramount to the system played under Stoger.

Anthony Modeste accepted a lucrative offer from Chinese Super League outfit Tianjin Quanjian at the end of the 2016/17 season and Stoger signed Jhon Cordoba and veteran Peruvian forward Claudio Pizarro from FSV Mainz 05 and Werder Bremen respectively to fill the void left by the Frenchman.

The Bill Goats plummeted to the foot of the table after failing to win any of their opening sixteen league fixtures. It was a royal mess and Peter Stoger was forced to bite the bullet when he was relieved of his duties at the beginning of December 2017.

Cordoba and Osako failed to build an understanding in the attack. Firstly, Cordoba wasn’t a natural goalscorer. He had scored only four goals for FSV Mainz 05 during the 2016/17 season and had only 29 league goals from 149 appearances to his name prior to joining Koln for an eyebrow raising fee of €17 million.

Meanwhile, experienced goalscorer Claudio Pizarro was used as an impact substitute, although he rarely influenced matches, scoring just once from four starts and eleven substitute appearances. Stefan Ruthenbeck was installed as interim manager and momentarily sparked a resurgence with three consecutive league wins against VfL Wolfsburg, Borussia Monchengladbach and Hamburger SV respectively.

Ruthenbeck made Simon Terodde his first signing from VfB Stuttgart in January 2018. Terodde had previously spent three years with Koln between 2009 and 2012, but was demoted into the second-team. He joined Union Berlin after failing to score in five league appearances for The Billy Goats and revived his career by following a successful spell in the German capital with equally prolific stints at VfL Bochum and Stuttgart.

Terodde provided FC Koln with a much-needed clinical edge in the final third and Osako improved during the climactic stages of the season. Koln were unable to avoid relegation following such a poor start but Osako finished the campaign with six goals, which incredibly made him the club’s second-joint highest goalscorer for the season.

Osako was destined to remain in the Bundesliga following FC Koln’s demotion into the second-tier and the Japanese international joined Werder Bremen during the 2018 summer transfer window. Florian Kohfeldt had a plethora of talented attacking players and Osako found it difficult to attain regular playing time.

Yuya Osako: The Surprise Star of the Season in the Making?
Above: Osako being unveiled as a Werder Bremen after completing his transfer from FC Koln in 2018.

Kohfeldt frequently fielded a 4-3-3 formation, meaning Osako was often played out of position as a right winger. He regularly failed to make an impact and finished his maiden season at the Weser-Stadion with just 5 goals in all competitions. But Kohfeldt was forced to seek replacements for key forwards Max Kruse and Martin Harnik, who joined Fenerbahce and Hamburger SV (on a season-long loan) respectively in the summer.

Niclas Fϋllkrug was acquired from recently-relegated Hannover 96 for £5.85 million, but nevertheless, Osako was raised up the pecking order ahead of the new season.

He boosted his chances of playing a regular role in the first team by enjoying a strong pre-season and opened his goalscoring account for the season in a 6-1 demolition of sixth-tier outfit Atlas Delmenhorst in the 1st Round of the DFB-Pokal. This set the tone ahead of the new season…

Osako may have failed to impact the game in a disappointing 3-1 defeat against Fortuna Dusseldorf in the opening fixture of the Bundesliga season, but it was rather poignant that he was preferred to Fϋllkrug, Pizarro and Sargent. Kohfeldt retained his trust in Osako for their visit to the Rhein-Neckar Arena to face Hoffenheim and he started behind Fϋllkrug to score his first league goal of the season in a 3-2 defeat.

The two successive defeats encouraged Kohfeldt to experiment with his formation and he opted for a diamond midfield with Josh Sargent and Niklas Fϋllkrug spearheading the attack. Yuya Osako played at the top of the diamond and was simply phenomenal as his first brace in the Bundesliga since January 2017 inspired The River Islanders to their first league victory of the season.

He is likely to play a decisive role in the fate of the club this season. Playing as an attacking midfielder in a four-man diamond midfield suits his style of play. He’s very fleet-footed in possession and is capable of taking the ball in his stride when fed short passes by his fellow teammates. With an expert nose for goal and a propensity to create for his fellow attackers, Osako has the making of one of the season’s most surprising stars!

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