Tactical Breakdown: Why Is the Pure Striker a Dying Breed in World Football?
You don't see too many Michael Owens these days.
The old-school striker—the one who ran the channels and picked up the second balls exclusively as an offensive threat—is a rare treat on our screens these days, but why is that the case?
If anything, going by current standards, they should be cropping up in batches. This article will look at the situation in football and ask why poachers aren't flourishing in an environment that would suit them.
It follows on from a discussion Richard Morgan, Will Tidey and I had on NASN Radio Monday.
The first sign of them disappearing was the demise of two-man strike partnerships like Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten and Kevin Keegan and John Toshack. What are the modern-day equivalents of these prolific pairs?
The closest you'll get is the 40-goal haul from Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba in 2009-10, but even then the former spent the large majority of his time playing from the right side.
Speaking of Drogba, he was one of the trend-setters that spelled the end for striking duos.
As teams shifted towards five-man midfields in an attempt to retain possession of the ball, the forward's role became more diverse.
Jose Mourinho set a blueprint for success which involved utilising every bit of Drogba's well-rounded game—holding the ball, passing creatively, buying his side time and being a presence in the box. Mourinho's 4-5-1 became commonplace, as did the "Drogba mould" of striker.
Everton paid through the nose to secure Yakubu; Aston Villa took on John Carew in exchange for Milan Baros. Even Arsenal, despite their free-flowing system, looked to Emmanuel Adebayor for a bit of help.
So with a lack of presence up top (other than the one striker), a player needed more than just an eye for goal inside the 18-yard box. Attacks were more gradual and thought through; players were more careful with the ball.
But that was then.
The 4-5-1 has paved way to the 4-2-3-1 formation, the new "norm" in world football.
The formation utilises a pure No. 10 behind the lone striker flanked by two wide players who are just as likely to step inside and shoot as they are to cross.
To put it bluntly, being a striker in a 4-2-3-1 requires nothing other than good finishing skills.
The easy example is Chelsea—a side packed with creative talent. Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar don't need a big burly forward to play off of, as they're perfectly capable of moving the ball up the pitch themselves.
What they need is a player to finish off the multitude of chances they create, and that's where the pure striker comes in.
Demba Ba was a fantastic January purchase for Chelsea because he does his job. Fernando Torres was never around to take the chances; instead, he was either creating the chances (for no one, because he's a lone striker) or joining in and being pulled wide with Hazard or Mata.
The 4-2-3-1 is the de facto best formation right now, and the top teams playing this system have enough about them that they do not require help from a contributing front man.
Mario Gomez is a relatively single-minded striker, and that worked for Bayern Munich last season.
Why? Because you can rely on Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribery and Thomas Mueller to deliver the chances. All they needed was someone to put them away, and alas, Gomez bagged more than 40 goals.
With the unbelievable amount of creative players able to play in an advanced midfield line and the penchant for the 4-2-3-1 teams are showing, it's odd that more Javier Hernandez-esque players aren't prospering.
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