Albion Analytics: Mitoma's impact in the last 12 months

A deep dive into the winger's sensational form since he broke into the team last season.

By Liam Tharme • 25 October 2023

By Paul Hazlewood
Kaoru Mitoma has made a brilliant impact for Albion in the last 12 months.

Kaoru Mitoma has signed a contract extension at Brighton until 2027, having last season had what was arguably the best rookie campaign by an Albion forward since Pascal Gross in 2017-18.

Across all competitions, Mitoma scored ten and assisted a further seven. Seven of those goals came in the Premier League, the most by a Japanese player in a single season in competition history, better than Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa’s jointly-held record of six. Only Alexis Mac Allister (who took penalties) scored more among Brighton players.

But it is the significance of Mitoma’s goals, and not just the volume, that make him stand out. Including this season, Mitoma has scored 12 goals in all competitions for Brighton. Four have been match-winners, away to Arsenal in the League Cup, at home to Liverpool in the 92nd minute of the FA Cup, and twice at home to Bournemouth in the Premier League, in 2022-23 and 2023-24. All in, seven of Mitoma’s 12 Brighton goals have put them in the lead.

There have been a variety to his goals. Only once, away to Leicester City, has he scored the trademark inverted winger goal, cutting inside to curl in a far-post finish. There were headers, including his first Premier League goal away to Wolves, and twice against Bournemouth. There was his run in behind from goalkeeper Jason Steele’s launched pass against Brentford, where he lobbed the goalkeeper, and a similar out-to-in run behind the full-back away to Everton. There was his slaloming run away to Wolves this season, which earned him the Premier League goal of the month, making Mitoma the first Japanese player to win a Premier League monthly award.

But Mitoma’s super strength is his ball carrying. He clocked a top speed of over 34km/h last season, while last season left-back Pervis Estupinan, who regularly played behind Mitoma and would overlap him, was the only Brighton player to record a higher sprints per 90 minutes than Mitoma’s 21.5.

On the ball, the most appropriate way to compare Mitoma is amongst his positional peers (wingers with 900+ minutes), looking at data since Roberto De Zerbi’s arrival last October. In that time Mitoma has the most outright take-ons in the league (188) and ranks third for take-ons in the opposition box, with his 36 only marginally behind Marcus Rashford (44) and Mo Salah (42). In terms of end product Mitoma’s 15 shots (excluding blocks) and key passes combined following take-ons are the most in the league.

Brighton’s high-quality attack means adjustments ought to be made for fairer comparison though. Mitoma has accounted for 23.3% of all Brighton dribbles in the Premier League since De Zerbi joined, second to only Wilfried Zaha at Crystal Palace (26.3%). For carries of 10+ yards, which highlight a players’ ability to exploit space with the ball without necessarily beating opponents, Mitoma has 14.3% of Brighton’s, the third-highest proportion in the league. His average carry distance of 7.2 yards is the seventh-longest. To summarise: Mitoma dribbles a lot, he carries a lot, and does it more than almost anyone else.

Dribbling is as much about output as it is volume. Of the 27 players to attempt 100 or more Premier League dribbles since De Zerbi’s arrival, Mitoma ranks 14th for success rate, alongside Rashford, Said Benrahma and Bukayo Saka. Impressive company to keep, particularly for a winger who is so often doubled up on and given extra defensive attention.

Ultimately, Mitoma’s broader impact on the attack speaks volumes, beyond just his individual contribution — there is a reason he was named Most Valuable Player by Japan’s Pro-Footballers Association for 2022.

Comparing Albion with and without Mitoma in the starting XI, since the start of last season, tells a story. Albion average 6% more possession, win 13% more games, have almost four more shots, score more goals (2.1 vs 1.7) and have a 5% better passing accuracy in the opposition half in games where Mitoma starts compared to when he does not.

“Kaoru is our top player” said De Zerbi when his new contract was announced. All the stats say that De Zerbi is right.