A Featured Analytical Article written by – Mizgan (Twitter – @mizgans)
The cliche of football is such that however much a team defends their own goal, it is the number of goals scored at the other end that helps them in winning a game.
Hence, as much as a good defence and goalkeeper will aid a team in keeping clean sheets, conceding less goals than the opposition – but the fact that the strikers will have to score at some point in a match to enable them to win is not deniable as well.
The above-mentioned point does not die down the importance of defenders and goalkeepers in football, rather they are vital if a team carries an ambition of winning trophies during a course of the season.
However, the main gist was that at the end of the day – winning a football match is all about scoring one more than the opposition.
Back in day, we saw managers deploying the flat 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 with two wingers and two strikers. The former will hold their width and whip crosses in the box for the latter to score.
The game has evolved a lot in the past few years, with managers tending to focus on how to be good in possession and how not to rely on one particular striker to score do the bulk of scoring.
Hence, we saw the emergence of the 4-3-3 system with a narrow front-line, where the wide forwards also get into scoring positions when the team is in possession. Recently, this was famously used by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp last season, where his wide men Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane were close to the number nine Roberto Firmino.
The other form of the 4-3-3 system is wingers holding their width when the ball is in their side, and making a far post run when the opposite side winger has the ball. (Manchester City’s attack pattern under Pep Guardiola).
Thus, the main striker is getting support from his fellow mates, even though he starts a game as a lone man in his position.
(NOTE – Since, we are going to focus on the different type of strikers in the “Premier League,” we gave two examples of the managers that are currently working in England’s top-flight.)
This modernization of the way managers want their front-line to function has enabled a flexibility in the forward players, i.e, a wide forward can be present in the box when a chance arrives and he has a the confidence of scoring.
On the other hand, a striker can move into different positions where the space is available to attract defenders out of position and create space for his mates.
Below we will analyse few of the top forwards (strikers or wide strikers) who are currently plying their trade in the Premier League:
Mohamed Salah – Liverpool
As mentioned above, the Egyptian began his Liverpool career last season as a wide forward in a 4-3-3 formation. His propensity of arriving in the box and scoring tonnes of goals meant Jurgen Klopp has used him as a number nine in the ongoing campaign, changing the system to 4-2-3-1.
If we take a look at his attributes in detail, he is high in crossing department, which means the trait of a winger is there. But equally, the 26-year-old is very good at hitting shots on or off target, creating chances around the box and scoring goals in abundance.
The Egyptian has attempted shots at a frequency of 2.4 per game in the league this season. He has created 13 big chances with seven assists in the 25 matches played so far. Finally, the Liverpool man is the top-scorer in the league with 16.
The kicker is Salah missing 12 big chances this season – imagine him being more clinical in front of goal. Something similar was the case last year as well, hence, we cannot deny the fact that he gets into good positions on a regular basis.
He is a proper example of a modern-day forward, who started his career as a out-and-out winger but is slowly turning into a lethal number nine.
Sergio Aguero – Manchester City
He is probably one of the best strikers in the Premier League, and the consistent numbers over the past few years suggest that. The Argentine is a proper number nine, who loves to stay in and around the box and make those runs off the shoulder of the last defender.
The Manchester City man isn’t shy of dropping deep into a false nine position either, and attract a defender towards himself to create space for other runners. He may not be physically tough, but the quick feet and sharpness when the chance arrives in and around the box is terrific.
If we analyse his attributes section, it is all about scoring goals, attempting shots on and off target and being a menace to the opposition centre-backs.
Despite missing a few games in the league this season, Aguero has impressive numbers. He has scored 14 goals in 21 appearances (two of those appearances from the bench). He has attempted 2.7 shots per game and supplied six assists, which is pretty good for an out-and-out goalscorer.
There is someone in the City squad who is marginally similar to how Aguero functions -Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian can play in wide areas but his chief traits are more of a proper number nine, mirroring his senior counterpart. He is still years away from where the City’s record goalscorer is at the moment.
Harry Kane – Tottenham
In the past two to three Premier League campaigns, the England captain has probably been the most consistent goalscorer. The best thing about him is his adaptation to the style of a particular game and find different ways to present himself into fantastic scoring positions in the box.
He is not shy of running the channels, playing on the shoulder of the last defender and be a significant presence in the box from crosses. The latter is one of the main reasons why Spurs succeed by having their fullbacks very high up the field.
The above image shows exactly what we have talking about Harry Kane. He is a proper number nine – sometimes old-fashioned type, who just focuses on doing things around the oppositions box. He will drop deep but preference is to run at the centre-backs, rather than the midfielders.
He is been injured since playing Manchester United in early January. However, in spite of that, the numbers are phenomenal, bearing in mind that this is a season just after the World Cup. The Englishman has scored 14 goals in 22 appearances, attempting 2.7 shots per game. He has missed eight big chances that would be welcomed as a surprise.
Heung-Min Son – Tottenham
In the last 12-15 months, the South Korean has transformed himself into quite a support striker in the Spurs team. Son was a winger by his trade but playing in a narrow front-line under Mauricio Pochettino has enabled him to be more of a goalscorer from in and around the box.
The above image shows he is still got it in terms of dribbling 1 v 1 against the defenders. Being a support striker, the chance creation plot is on the higher side as expected. However, it’s the change in the positive direction in on-target shots shows his quality in the final third.
Despite missing few games at the start and few mid-season, Son has impressive returns this year. He has featured in 19 league games (five from the bench) and scored 10 goals.
The South Korean attempts 1.9 shots per game and has missed only three big chances. It shows he is ruthless in front of goal. Supplying five assists epitomises his work of a goal-creator.
Roberto Firmino – Liverpool
Firmino is one of the unique number nines in the league. He is one of those players who doesn’t need to score goals to be an effective forward in the team. The Brazilian’s movements and selfless work on and off the ball is something incredible, to say the least.
Apparently, his work allows wide forwards Salah and Mane to be in the box and score more goals. It won’t be an understatement to say that if Firmino plays well – the front three of Liverpool functions so much better.
The above image depicts the work he does on the field. Chance creation and dribbling is higher than goal-scoring, something that won’t sit well if you are a striker. In short, it is Firmino’s system that works up top for the Reds when they are attacking.
Despite this being his slightly below-par season, he has scored nine goals in 25 league appearances. His shot attempt is on the lower side – 1.7 per game, which is understandable given what we explained above.
He has missed six big chances, which should improve. If the Brazilian starts to be clinical, then he can one of the most all-around number nines in world football.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Arsenal
The Gabonese international is one of lethal strikers in front of goal, but he has flexibility to operate on either wing, if required. At a time in Borussia Dortmund, he was one of the best finishers in the division.
In terms of attributes, Aubameyang has pace, height and correct positional sense as to where the right runs can be made.
With Alex Lacazette playing as a central striker for Arsenal, he has played out wide and teed up with the Frenchman very well.
As we can see, his plot points straight to the fact that he is one of the best when it comes to putting the ball at the back of the net.
The 29-year-old has netted 15 goals in 25 league appearances this season and is in the running for the Golden Boot. The only blemish is missing 17 big chances. Imagine him scoring half of those missed ones!
Marcus Rashford – Manchester United
Another one of those forwards who is at his best centrally but can do more than just a decent job out wide. Rashford began his United career playing through the middle and was as lethal as anything.
Since then, he has played out wide under Jose Mourinho, but the player’s overall effect didn’t come to much fruition. In the past couple of months, Caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has kept faith in the youngster and been playing him in the number nine role. Safe to say, the Englishman has thrived since.
Playing out wide has meant his crossing plot is on the higher side. But if we segregate his performances of the last two months, on-target and missed shots and goal-scoring has certainly taken centre-stage. He is a fast dribbler with the ball, making it ultra-difficult for the defenders 1 v 1.
Rashford has netted nine goals in 22 league appearances (five apps from the bench). He has tendency of missing some chances and has already done that 10 times this season. The 21-year-old has supplied six assists and is always one of those players who doesn’t shy away from shooting from distance.
All in all, we have covered a variety of strikers we have in the Premier League. All of them are different with regards to the different styles of play. The versatility has helped the narrow wingers to become a lethal striker or vice-versa. Such is the give of the modern-day football!
(Player Persona – FootballWhisper.com)
(Stats – Sofascore.com)