Joining the list of rising Asian players in Europe, Kang-in Lee has been an interesting player to look from the Valencia squad of 2019/20. Having made his debut in the 2018/19 season with a few La Liga and cup appearances, the young South Korean really created a hype after being chosen the best Player of U-20 World Cup.
This tactical analysis will be a scout report on South Korea’s new sensation Kang-in Lee, his attributes and tactical awareness that make him the flag bearer after Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min. Similarly, we’ll do his attacking analysis, use of pace and some insights on individual tactics.
Making short cameos throughout the 2019/20 season so far, Lee Kang-in has been deployed as an attacking midfielder by Albert Cedales. However, the South Korean has occasionally started as both left and right winger occasionally under both Cedales and Marcelinho.
As the heatmap indicates, Lee is more of a player that likes to roam around zone 10, 11 and 12. Similarly, Lee is frequently seen carrying the ball towards the wider area, as he likes to cross the ball or cut inside with a dribble of his quick pair of legs. However, in his expedition with South Korean U-20 side, Lee was deployed as a number 10 aiming to utilize his pace and dribbling abilities to the fullest.
Similarly, the lateral occupancy is also due to Lee’s tendency to go close to the ball carrier and receive the ball. After receiving the ball, Lee likes to use the width of the pitch to drive it forward and we’ll look at the characteristics as the analysis progresses.
Another efficient left-footed dribbler?
Kang-in Lee comes from Valencia’s prestigious academy, which has produced the likes of David Silva and Juan Mata in the past. What can be drawn from this is that Lee’s individual attributes seem to be well-polished and evolving despite him being only 18 years old.
With a stout physique, Lee uses his ability to accelerate quickly and being able to get through crowded spaces to dribble past opposition players. As a result of the talent and the grooming he has received, the 2001 born attacker already boasts a healthy dribble completion rate and has other useful attacking attributes in his armoury. The figure below further explains the point on why he will be an asset looking at the comparisons he draws with the rest of the European players in his position:
Similarly, Lee manages to convert his dribbles quite well too. He boasts an average dribble success rate of 73.9%, which increases to 81.5% playing as a central midfielder. Similarly, most of his dribbles result in Valencia keeping possession and taking a shot, making him a progressive dribbler that is able to yield attacks.
In addition, the awareness to decide to shoot from central areas that provide a better view of the goal after dribbling, further adds to his identity of an efficient dribbler able to utilize pace and yield results.
Passing and attacking attributes
As an attacking midfielder and a number 10, Kang-in Lee has come to Valencia’s senior squad after impressing at every junior level that he enjoyed with Los Che. Lee is a brilliant team attacker and possesses the ability to make passes and get into spaces to receive the ball.
Starting from the wide midfield position, Lee also is a good passer of the ball and a great tool to use during pacey counter-attacks and quick-supply transition. Lee tends to pass laterally more than he does vertically. The long lateral passes are used to switch plays and make spaces towards the centre for him and his teammates to capitalize on.
Looking at Lee’s passing sonar, what can be drawn is that Lee tends to have higher accuracy and longer passing distance laterally, either towards the centre or towards the wide areas. The lateral passes result into two distinctive attributes of Lee’s movements after passing. When Lee passes towards the centre from wide areas, he makes a run in the wider side of the pitch to eventually land a cross to strikers in the box or to cut inside. When Lee passes away towards the wide player, he gets into a central position either to draw players or get into spaces to take shots at goal.
The later one can be distinctively seen during counter-attacks, as Valencia tend to stretch the defence with wide play and more players getting in the centre to utilize the void created.
In the instant shown above, Lee is seen carrying the ball, with three options towards his left and a wide passing option towards his right. Since the forwards in the left side have to go through an intact defence, Lee passes it to the right side, to stretch the right side and create space for him to utilize on the blind side of the right opposition defender, as shown below:
Similarly, Kang-in Lee is able to frequently notice progressing teammate and blindside runs towards the centre, which makes him a quality creator. Despite being used as a substitute often, Lee has been able to get his name in the provider’s list quite a few times now and is capable to repeat more for Valencia in coming fixtures. In the following instance, Lee is able to spot the striker and play a through ball for the run-making attacker to make use of the blind side and take a shot on the void. The move ends with a Kang-in Lee assist.
Use of pace in counter-pressing
Looking at Kang-in Lee’s recoveries map above, we can clearly see yellow dots outnumbering the other dots, meaning most of his recoveries come from counter-pressing moves. Kang-in Lee is a player gifted with pace and can burst into acceleration within a moment which makes him a reliable option to cover his opponent and thus provide support to immediately press the opposition maintaining numerical superiority.
Similarly, Lee himself gets into position to execute the counter-press effectively. The positioning that keeps him in the centre of the passing option means he can go towards the ball quickly, to support his teammate to build a 2v1 situation and ultimately win the ball.
In the instance above, Lee places himself in between the four probable opposition passing options. In this situation, he can go for the ball or wait for the pass to arrive after his teammate applies pressure on the ball carrier. The situation progresses with a fellow player pressing the ball carrier, ultimately resulting in the following situation:
As we can see, as soon as the pass is made, Lee joins his teammate pressing the receiver to create numerical advantage, forcing the opposition to lose the ball and regain possession for Valencia. Lee is frequently seen covering a lot of ground to perform these kinds of manoeuvres, making him an extremely energetic option not only in the attack but to initiate them through immediate regain of possession.
With the likes of Ferran Torres, Dani Parejo and Carlos Soler occupying Valencia’s midfield progression, it seems a bit unlikely for Kang-in Lee to immediately break into the side. For now, he’s young, has got plenty of time to flourish and more importantly, is a perfect substitute to counter on the tired opposition legs. Similarly, with the tactical awareness and position he’s got, Lee makes himself one of the hottest young talents in Liga, alongside fellow Asian Takefusa Kubo from Real Madrid.
As this tactical analysis pointed out, given proper tactics and a defined role and playing minutes to flourish, Kang-in Lee is definitely a prospect destined to succeed with all the attributes and awareness he possesses. We’ve seen only a little of this young South Korean till date and it’ll be exciting to see how his career moves at Valencia before big European clubs come knocking in.