Liverpool’s Midfield Dynamo Wataru Endo Shines at Asian Cup
It’s going so well for Liverpool, Wataru Endo has been a little bit forgotten about this month. It’s strange to think that at the start of the month, there were some fears that Liverpool would miss the Japanese captain while he was away at the Asian Cup. Although to Endo’s credit he produced a terrific some terrific moments in December – and was one of Liverpool’s best players.
Thankfully, in his absence Alexis Mac Allister has returned – and he has returned in spectacular form. With the Argentine in the side – Liverpool have been sublime in January – which means Endo will have a fight on his hands to get back into the side when he returns.
He himself hasn’t really disappointed while away either. Endo’s Japan are already through to the quarter-finals of the tournament and the Liverpool man has played a key role in that accomplishment.
Endo’s Impactful Performances at the Asian Cup
First of all it’s important to place Endo’s role in the Japanese national team into context. As the captain of his country Endo has a little bit more responsibility for Japan on and off the field.
That responsibility is even greater when the expectations are so high. Japan were the favourites to win the Asian Cup heading into the tournament. Everyone in the country expects them to win after a great World Cup in 2022, and an even better run of games in 2023.
But things haven’t gone entirely Japan’s way. Japan have been getting a taste of their own medicine so far.
At the 2022 World Cup, Hajime Moriyasu’s side caused upsets with their ability to drop deep, sit-back and counter-attack the opposition. At the Asian Cup this year though – this has been the exact opposite. Japan’s opponents have allowed Moriyasu’s side to have the ball – and this has sometimes caused problems for Japan.
Most notably against Iraq – in a game Moriyasu’s side surprisingly lost 2-1, with the underdogs catching them out on the break constantly.
Another problem for Japan has been the form of Zion Suzuki. The 21-year-old goalkeeper has made a few blunders at the tournament – even most recently against Bahrain – which made games trickier than they should have been.
Analysing Endo’s Contributions on the Field
Endo himself has not suffered in form despite Japan’s rocky performances at the tournament. For Japan’s national team he plays a slightly different role compared to the one at Liverpool.
Most of the time Moriyasu prefers to play with a double pivot in midfield. Endo anchors the right side of that pivot typically alongside Sporting CP midfielder, Hidemasa Morita. Out of the four games played at the tournament Endo has played in a double pivot three times. It was only against Indonesia where Moriyasu reverted to a single pivot.
You can see from Endo’s heatmap that even though he is more positioned towards the right – he still gets about all over the middle of the park. That is pretty much the same as what he does best at Liverpool as well.
Endo’s Mastery in Defensive and Offensive Plays
Endo has been one of the better players for Japan, and the numbers reflect that as well. In Japan’s opening game it was the Liverpool midfielder who registered an assist and got a pre-assist in a 4-2 victory against Vietnam.
In the second game against Iraq, even though Japan lost – Endo still won 3/3 defensive duels as per Wyscout, made nine recoveries and scored his side’s only goal in the game.
Naturally, Endo has been able to show his strengths at the tournament – most notably his ability to read the game, and break-up opposition counter attacks. As per Wyscout, Endo ranks in second place for possession-adjusted interceptions (7.95 per 90) out of midfielders who have played 400 minutes or more at the tournament.
He’s been really good at anticipating danger and sniffing out loose balls. Without his contributions, Japan may not have even made it this far. Just take a look at this example against Bahrain where he reads where the ball is going to go and then recycles possession for Japan.
These are the moments he is really good at providing for Liverpool as well. That’s why he ranks top for adjusted interceptions (8.81 per 90) out of midfielders in the Premier League as well. It’s good to see that Endo is still very much in form, and playing just like he has been for Liverpool.
On top of that in four games Endo has already made a whopping 50 recoveries for Japan which is the most for Moriyasu’s side at the tournament, and averages out to 12.5 recoveries per game.
The Implications of Endo’s Form for Liverpool
Something that is often underrated with Endo is his ability in possession. He is very good at bringing the ball out from the back, and playing slick passes into his teammates. Out of midfielders with 300 minutes at the tournament, Endo averages the second most passes so far with 71.39 per 90. Only South Korea’s, Hwang In-Beom averages more (85.4 per 90).
But out of the midfielders who average at least 60 passes, Endo has the best accuracy with 89.09%.
He also makes the second most forward passes (21.2 per 90) and has the best progressive pass accuracy (87.89%) out of midfielders who average at least seven progressive passes at the tournament per 90.
From a Liverpool perspective one of the most interesting aspects of Endo on the ball has been his link-up play with Takumi Minamino. Especially, in the opening game against Vietnam – where Endo set-him up to score with a brilliant assist.
As you can see Endo ran into acres of space – something he does quite regularly at Liverpool as well – it’s how he assisted Dominik Szoboszlai against Leicester.
He then gets the ball and threads a brilliant pass through to Takumi Minamino, who finished it with aplomb.
But this wasn’t the only instance of Endo breaking the line and linking-up with Minamino. He if quite adept at doing it from deep as well. In the same game, Endo instigated Japan’s third goal with another line-breaking pass to Minamino from his own half – who then ran into space and set-up Keito Nakamura to score.
A Boost for Liverpool
Liverpool will be pleased by Endo’s performances at the tournament. Everyone at the club will want him to do well. Japan now face a tricky test against Iran who haven’t lost a game in over a year – since the 2022 World Cup.
If Endo can get through that, he would face either Qatar or Uzbekistan in the semi-final. Japan should beat both teams on paper – which would then likely set-up a final against Australia or South Korea – who are the other two favourites at the tournament.
At that point you would back Endo to lift the trophy, and return with some silverware to Anfield – where of course there is even more silverware to be won. Starting with the Carabao Cup final – which is just over two weeks after the final of the Asian Cup. What a special two weeks that could end-up being for Endo. There are a lot more games to be played until then though.