In the last 100 years of football there have been developments in different styles of play as teams look to get the edge over their rivals and there will continue to be many more in the foreseeable future. A change that can currently be seen is the role of a striker in European football.
The most used formation throughout England is 4-2-3-1, or different adaptations of that, as managers set their team up to dominate midfield and see the use of a lone striker to be able score, hassle players and work the channels – Oliver Giroud being a good example of this. With this, an old breed of striker is dying out as they are not the flavour of the month and do not offer teams the all-round play that is needed in a possession-based football world.
Often named ‘poacher’ or nicknamed a ‘fox in the box’ due to the majority of their play taking place inside the opposition’s 18-yard box, their only focus is scoring goals. The standout of this type of player in the Premier League includes Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent. Both have seen their involvement with the England national team drop in recent years – although England’s lack of options upfront helps Defoe, as he still manages to get named in the squad – and their club careers stall, with Defoe linked with a move to Toronto and Bent spending the last two seasons predominately on the bench.
If their biggest strength is in the opposition area, most would think this is a good thing, but when they offer nothing else to the team the attacking build-up can suffer and make their inclusion more harmful than productive. The current problems at Tottenham are the perfect example for this as they continue to struggle to score goals, although Soldado is just as much to blame as Defoe.
The performance against Manchester City a few weeks ago was poor by every Tottenham player, but what was well documented on Twitter and by TV pundits was Soldado’s heat map which showed his effect on the match. As you can see below, his biggest influence was the 6 kick-off’s he was involved with.
In previous games, as well when Tottenham have been chasing a game, the inclusion of Defoe, most notably against Newcastle, has hampered the momentum of Spurs’ attacking play and less chances have been created. The anonymous performances up front don’t solely lie at the feet of the striker, as the midfield needs to support the forward to prevent them from becoming isolated and outnumbered, but the return of Defoe to the first XI in the last 2 matches has seen the England striker guilty of missing a number of guilt-edge chances, despite providing better link up play than Soldado has during other periods of this season and many Tottenham fans will tell you he shouldn’t be in the team.
Fulham have recently replaced Martin Jol as manager and this has seen a change in fortunes for the London side, but the change in the first XI, which doesn’t include an overwhelming number of ‘pedestrian’ players in the side, has had a bearing on that. The inclusion of Berbatov, Bent, Ruiz and Taarabt in the same team (only Bent is a real poacher out of those but the impact is still the same) is suicidal in the Premier League, where speed and velocity are still a big part of the game. A lack of pressing from forwards allows the opposition to comfortably bring the ball out of defence and pick a pass – high pressure from teams has been utilised brilliantly in the last few years, and it is no surprise it has been a big part in the game of two of the best teams in the world during this period: Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
This is not to say that it is a disastrous move to play with a poacher. If you’re playing against weaker opposition and expect to dominate possession in the opposition half the possibility is there, Manchester United playing Hernandez is an example of that. Also, on the opening day of the season Norwich striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel only had 12 touches during the match but one of them resulted in a goal which helped the Norfolk club to gain a point.
Obviously, if a player only has a few touches, the less impact he can have on the game, so it is no surprise to see 6 strikers who have struggled for most of the season also have the worst minutes-per-touch ratio.
The best strikers in the league, such as Suarez, Aguero and Van Persie, all play their part in the attacking build-up at their clubs, adding extra fluency to the attacks that defences struggle to deal with meaning they shouldn’t always be judged on the amount of goals they’ve scored. As the playing style continues to successfully work, looking at the Premier League’s current top 5, expect more and more teams to adopt it and the disappearance of ‘the fox in the box’ from the starting line-ups to remain.