Ater becoming a starter for the Seagulls back in October, the Japanese international hasn’t looked back since
Adding another dimension and bringing so much excitement to Brighton & Hove Albion's final third forays, Kaoru Mitoma's been a real bright spark for the Seagulls.
Having waited patiently for his opportunities in the early stages of the season under firstly Graham Potter then Roberto De Zerbi, the key catalyst towards him really stamping his mark came when he was handed his first start against Chelsea back in October. Grasping his chance with both hands, the Japanese international was a constant thorn in the side of Chelsea, as he played an instrumental role in the Seagulls' crushing 4-1 victory.
Mitoma hasn't looked back since, for he's impressively established himself as an integral figure within De Zerbi's exciting team on his way to notching three goals and four assists in his last nine appearances for Brighton.
Emphatically endearing himself to his teammates, the fans and his manager, who's started him in Brighton's five most recent league games, it's been a joy to watch him taking the league by storm with his unique skill set from his left-sided post.
Possessing so much quality going forward and proving an absolute nightmare for defenders to deal with, he's been a major force to be reckoned with.
To start with his dribbling, and this is certainly the standout aspect of his armory, for the man with a masterful first touch and Velcro-like ball control has consistently tormented adversaries and driven his team forward with his aptitude in this regard.
Able to beat foes both on the inside and the outside or go through them courtesy of his terrific repertoire of maneuvers to outfox, beat or gain separation from his trackers, he's got a move for just about any situation.
Direct, incisive and relishing every chance he gets to go one-v-one, his selection of feints, shimmies, cuts infield, stop gos, twists and turns ensures he frequently gets the better of opponents, gains territory in transition or methodical build-up, draws fouls in key areas and destabilizes backlines by drawing multiple markers.
So hard to read, wonderfully balanced, strong, with a low center of gravity, executing his actions so quickly so markers can't react fast enough, taking his touches so close together and blessed with a searing change of pace and direction, the fleet of foot and fast of mind attacker's such a difficult man to contain.
By the numbers using Wyscout's advanced data among attackers in the Premier League this season, the fact he ranks fourth for progressive runs (4.82 per 90), fourth for most meters gained for ball progression by runs (116.01 p90), fifth for dribbling success rate (65.22%) and 14th for dribbles p90 (6.52 p90) punctuates his wizardry on the dribble.
The graphics below serve as a further testament to what a menace he's been with the ball at his feet, as he's combined power, intelligence and finesse to devastating effect.
Brighton teammate, Pascal Gross, spoke insightfully on what a threat the explosive and agile Mitoma is on the dribble, stating: "For me, one-against-one Kaoru [Mitoma] is one of the best players I have ever seen in my life. When he gets it on the left he can go past anyone, he can cause any defender a problem on any stage.
"He can do it in the Premier League against any team and we saw it during the break, when he’s got the ball, if he gets it one-v-one then that defender has got a problem. He showed that with his national team when he was a substitute and created some of their best chances in the games. He’s exceptional.
"He’s very humble and his English is actually quite good. Before the break, he was exceptional, good around the group and in training. He’s got loads of potential. Now I hope that he comes back and does well for us.”
Supplementing the aforementioned with his creative passing, this is another vital string to his bow, for he's able to conjure chances, is alert to the runs of his colleagues and has the ability to parlay eagle-eye vision and execution.
Be it combining intricately in close quarters to unlock rearguards, hitting measured through balls in behind, striking penetrative line-breaking passes to feet, or obliging runners with measured crosses or cutbacks, this amplifies his worth.
Not afraid to attempt the more expansive, high risk, high reward passes and confident in himself, it's striking how successful he often is, as his composure, decision making and judgment under pressure have been real highlights.
Tying everything together with his movement, and gives him the platform to find space all over to impact proceedings on the dribble and in terms of his distribution, plus to put his polished finishing to good use.
While he typically hugs the touchline so he can be in advantageous one-v-ones, he's also shown how smartly he rotates infield with his colleagues to exploit central areas while forming positional and numerical superiorities.
Aware of unoccupied spaces and if defenders are out of position, preoccupied or ball watching, he's awake to gaps between markers to smartly run in behind or venture into the box to be a scoring outlet.
Clinical, instinctive and quick to get the ball under wraps before shooting, there's been much to admire about his finishing with his wand of a right foot. His shot map below illustrates how crafty he's been in this compartment on his way to bagging three goals from his last 502 minutes of club action.
Forever asking questions of his opponents and capable of hurting opponents in a variety of ways, the emergence of Mitoma, who's been gradually implemented and smartly managed, this crusade has been a major bonus for Brighton.
Having only cost Brighton £2.5 million, the Japanese maestro's electric impact has served as yet another glowing reference to Brighton's exceptional scouting network.
Going from strength to strength with every passing week, the man who was wisely loaned out to Belgium last season to find his feet in European football appears primed to continue his remarkable upward trajectory.
“Continuing to produce results is what it will take to stay in the starting XI,” Mitoma explained.
“The manager has the plans, the strategy, and I am doing all I can to stick with that. I love playing under him. There’s a lot of build-up for the ball to come to the wing (and) a lot of actions, which is fun. I want to continue to learn, playing in that style.
“The two main things are to help Brighton into the top rankings and to get more goals and assists.”
Producing the goods within this exciting, entertaining and expansive Brighton side, there's no denying what a crucial component he's become, as his case provides a brilliant example of how persistence, patience and hard work can eventually pay off from both the club and the individual's perspective.