- The Modern Day Poacher
Fillipo Inzaghi and Robbie Fowler built enormously productive careers on their shared ability to suddenly, inexplicably (!!!) be open in the box when the ball broke their way. In their heyday, these ‘shot-takers’ converted sweetly timed runs and a PHD-level understanding of the tiny pockets of space around the 6-yard box into goals, and lots of them. The trouble with players who possess this specific, narrow skillset is that they are highly dependent on their teammates creating scoring opportunities for them. If those teammates can’t or won’t do that, then all the finishing ability in the world will go unrewarded. That’s a problem Javier Hernandez struggled with in 2013/14. Despite playing a similar number of minutes as he had the previous year, Hernandez’s NPG per 90 tumbled from 0.93 per 90 in 2012/13 to 0.42 per 90 in 2013/14. The root cause for this decline was worrying… His shots/90 had halved. Generally, that’s the sign of a striker’s declining abilities, either through injury or age. And so, Hernandez was exiled to the end of the longest bench in world football. Yet suddenly, at the tail end of the season, there he was. Converting shots into goals at… oh… almost exactly the same rate he’d been managing over the previous two seasons. For a pure ‘shot-taker’ like Hernandez, a decline in shots is less worrying than it is for other types of strikers, since it’s more a reflection of the quality of the surrounding team than the deteriorating skills of the player himself. Did I mention his beefed up assist totals and increased defensive work rate? Collarbone aside, maybe Chicharito’s stopover in Madrid is the template for the survival of the old school ‘poacher’ in the modern game…
- So then, what the hell happened to Roberto Soldado?
Many thought Soldado came a little dear when he signed for Tottenham two years ago. Yes, he had scored 24 goals for Valencia that past season in La Liga, but 5 of those had come from the penalty spot and he’d played heavy minutes. The closest comps for his 2012/13 season are Artiz Arduriz (2014/15), Germán Denis (2012/13) and Dimitar Berbatov (2012/13 at Fulham): very good, but certainly not elite, strikers. Still, what has happened to him in North London boggles the mind. In 28 games under Andre Villas-Boas, he scored 6 goals, 4 of them were penalties. Strangely though, his shot totals only decreased slightly. He attempted 3.1 shots/90 in his final season at la Mestalla and 2.7 shots/90 in his first year at White Hart Lane. Stranger still, his shot locations stayed the same too. He didn’t suddenly just start taking a bunch of bad long-range shots. Apparently, they just weren’t going in. There are a few clues in the stats… Shots on target went waaaaaaaaay down, which probably indicates a decline in the quality of shots he was attempting that’s not reflected in where he took them from. If you give him the benefit of the doubt as a ‘shot taker’, that could have a lot to do with the quality of service he’s receiving and less to do with his own deteriorating skills. Also, the percentage of aerial duels he won also tumbled. I’m squeamish putting that down to the oft cited “increased physicality of the Premier League”. It could be that, but it could also be that Premier League teams tend to sit deeper when they defend, giving defenders a better chance to win balls in the air. At any rate, in the shot charts, you can see he didn’t score any goals from headers at Tottenham, despite this being an area of some strength at his previous club. Other than that, I really don’t know. Perhaps it really is a chronic loss of confidence. I certainly believe the mental side of things can account for some things, I just don’t know if it can account for this much. At 30 (just), Soldado has value, but don’t make me laugh. Clearly, he doesn’t mesh with the rest of the Tottenham team and at this point, even if he did, he still needs a change of scenery. A deal for him, be it a loan, like the one Real Madrid agreed for Chicaharito, or a permanent transfer with a small fee and a short term contract, are options that smart teams should at least kick the tires on. Then again, apparently the market for Spurs’ castoffs is pretty high this year.
- How will Radamel Falcao age?
Radamel Falcao is 29. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that just two years ago, he was one of the most highly rated strikers in Europe, seen as just a cut below the 5 or so truly elite players in world football… Well at least it would be if people weren’t constantly reminding us of this fact. You’ve already heard it. Radamel Falcao is a natural goalscorer, a finisher, a poacher (i.e. a shot-taker). Wait. No he’s not. Radamel Falcao, at least the one we knew before his knee injury, was anything but a shot-taker. Shot takers float around inside the box hunting pockets of space and a well-placed pass. They take most of their shots from inside the box, specifically, from inside the danger zone. Diego Costa is a shot-taker. Here’s his shot chart from last season. Notice how few attempts he took from the wide channels and from outside the box. Now here’s Falcao’s shot chart from his final season at Atletico. I don’t know where this misguided notion of ‘Falcao the Poacher’ came from, (EDITOR’S NOTE: probably Jamie Redknapp), but it’s plain wrong. And that’s what makes his knee injury so troubling… It’s not that he won’t recover from it, but by the time he does, he’ll be slowed down by age. Unlike shot-takers, shot-makers rely on their athleticism to create shots. So what happens when shot-makers lose their athleticism? What happens when Falcao’s first step becomes merely electric? Where do shot-makers go to die? Italy. Move to a less competitive league – (mi dispiace, ragazzi… ma è vero!) – and continue with your shot-making ways, just against inferior competition. That’s cribbed from the Carlos Tevez textbook. Remind me, where he’s be playing next season? Another option is to turn into a shot-taker. Van Persie’s the most recent convert, but I seem to remember Henrik Larsson having some fun with this late in his career. Look how Van Persie started focusing on the danger zone when he hit 30. While we’re on the subject of Falcao, why don’t go through all the reasons Chelsea won’t sign him despite Mourinho’s words to the contrary… Reasons Chelsea won’t sign Falcao
- Monaco will do everything they can to arrange a permanent deal for Falcao in his last year as a 20-something.
- The Blues don’t have a good history signing (relatively) older strikers with knee problems (see above).
- Mourinho only said all that stuff about Falcao as a favor to their shared agent, Jorge Mendes.
Reasons Chelsea will sign Falcao
- As a favor to his agent… Jorge Mendes.
- How will Memphis Depay fit in?
What happens when you stick a bunch of high-usage players (shot-makers) on a team together? Basketball fans might know this as the ‘Miami Heat Conondrum’, but football has its own ‘super-friends’… This is what happened when Luis Suarez joined Lionel Messi and Neymar in Barcelona:
Together, they took less shots, yet scored more goals. In other words, they scored more efficiently. The person who sacrificed the most was Suarez. He went from taking over 5 shots/90 at Liverpool to taking 3.1 shots/90 in his first season at the Nou Camp. It’s easy to see where those shots came from. The critics will say that it’s easier to pass up shots for Messi and Neymar than it is to pass them up for Rooney and… Aubameyang (other idle guesses are welcome), but I’m pretty sure that we’ll see Memphis Depay become a more efficient and less voluminous scorer next season.
- Does Andros Townsend have a head?
Andros Townsend is one of the most unique players in the Premier League. I wonder if we will ever see another player like him… I commend him for the attempts he’s made to diversify his game over the last two seasons, (although I wonder if he wouldn’t be better off just focusing on his strengths – a la Robben). Still, something popped out at me while I was creating these shot charts. Of the 74 shots Andros Townsend has taken over the last few seasons, not a single one has been a header. Which makes it just too easy to say… [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8ONj28Tccw&w=640&h=390]  Repeat after me: “It takes TWO years to recover from an ACL tear.” It just does. Follow me on Twitter: @MaxOdenheimer