The Premier League has seen no shortage of great strikers since the time of its inception, and in the age of false nines and one-man striker formations, great strikers have become more of the exception rather than the rule. Gone were the days when the Premiership boasted a top scorer’s chart such as this: Thierry Henry, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres (lol), Nicolas Anelka. All world-class strikers. Let’s take a look at the top scorers chart of this season’s Premier League, and compare it with those of yesteryear:
Luis Suarez 22
Robin van Persie 19
Gareth Bale 16
Demba Ba 15
The first is a striker who leads the attack all on his own, and does the creating as well as the finishing. The second is a pure natural striker. Bale has benefitted from AVB’s successful revamping of Tottenham’s playing style, and is now a hybrid wide forward/second striker. Ba is a striker,and Michu another wide forward, but both could hardly be called great strikers. Four out of five are not strikers of the orthodox mould.
As the modern (lone) forward’s job becomes more about opening up space for his teammates to exploit rather than goalscoring, the traditional centre-forward sticks out like a sore thumb. Just as Luis Suarez, Mirko Vucinic and Giuseppe Rossi embody the creating centre-forward that is so in demand today, orthodox strikers such as Fernando Llorente and Mario Gomez are less in favour. If there is any doubt of this fact, a quick look across all goalscoring tables in the major European leagues point to the death of the orthodox, line-leading centre-forward.
In Spain’s top 5, only Roberto Soldado can count himself an orthodox centre-forward. That’s one in five, hardly a case for the traditional forward. Ditto Germany (Ibisevic). Even Italy, where the obsession with lone forwards is almost cultural, is not spared from the evolution of modern football.We have Cavani, Di Natale, and Pazzini, but the latter two have modified their game to such an extent that they are now effectively second strikers. Even David Villa, the one out-and-out forward of the Spanish national team, is required to be positionally-disciplined to the point of sacrificing his natural instinct for goal. The dearth of traditional centre-forwards is now pandemic.
So where does this leave Robin van Persie, a player whose game is centered so much around touch, instinct, and an explosive burst? It seems almost laughable for Manchester United that, having birthed one of the most flexible forward lines in recent history, would regress to the need for a traditional centre-forward. While many quoted goalscoring stats in van Persie’s case, a bigger tactical question loomed in the background. Where would United fit all their strikers?
The answer: the bench. Rooney and van Persie has played together most often this season, with Hernandez and Welbeck getting relatively less playing time, despite being at times fitter than Rooney. Why would Robin van Persie start ahead of those strikers who have been more established in the United team? What does he bring to a team who already seemed overstocked on strikers? Continue reading