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Perfect Modern Striker: Which Traits Are Required to Top the Game?

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 25:  Radamel Falcao of Club Atletico de Madrid looks on while warming up before the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Sevilla FC at Vicente Calderon Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJanuary 19, 2017

Football is a changing animal, and any regular readers will know I highlight the cyclical nature of the sport on a weekly basis.

For forwards, the last three or four years have been telling: Changing styles in deeper areas of the pitch have revolutionised their game. Those who stay on top and adapt survive, those who don't, falter.

Here, we look at four key parts of the 2013 forward's game that have emerged to count more than ever.

 

Centre of Gravity

It's not necessarily about strength—as in brute strength—anymore.

Barcelona showed us that by romping to a UEFA Champions League title with a bunch of tiny guys most English Premier League managers would sniff at, but those little 'uns set a precedent moving forward.

Strength has been redefined: It's no longer who weighs the most, it's whose core strength stacks up the best, and having a superb centre of gravity is a big part of that.

You cannot just barge Lionel Messi off the ball because of his immense relative strength and low centre of gravity—he's able to ward off challenges easily, skip away from heavier men and keep his head low.

Anyone looking for the next big business venture, work out how to "measure" someone's centre of gravity.

 

Back, Not Forward

Unless you're a Stoke City fan, it's pretty rare to see the ball being lumped up to a target man more than 75 percent of the time.

Target men are still used—but in a thoroughly different sense: Rather than flicking the ball on endlessly, they bring it down, control it and play it. Viola! You've lumped it but kept it, and now, you're 60 yards further forward on the pitch in possession.

Fernando Llorente epitomises the change in philosophy better than most. In Four Four Two magazine, he was interviewed on his drastic stylistic change brought about by Marcelo Bielsa.

He spoke of how flicking on had been abandoned and how he must now look to head back toward his own 'keeper to find a player.

Christian Benteke collects an absurd amount of high balls per game, using his chest to bring it down and quick feet to win the 50/50 duel.

If you're not gigantic, you're still required to hold it up. The likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Alexis Sanchez must collect diagonals and control them instantly several times per game.


Sweet Strike

Let's not get confused: You can be technically excellent, a dribbling maestro and a physical specimen, but if you cannot score goals, you're as good as useless in the front line.

The Emile Heskey-type player—the one who sacrifices himself for the team—is gone. Heskey may well have created space for his teammates, but at one point, it felt like even established managers were trying too hard to be football hipsters.

Even the penalty box poacher is dying, and players like Radamel Falcao are a dying breed: The Colombian sets himself apart from the rest with the ability to finish from outside the box as well as inside, but those Javier Hernandez-esque outlets are rarely used at top clubs.

A sweet strike is a trait forwards have always needed, but it's become even more important to the traditional No. 9s so they have a chance of staying alive in the game.

 

Buildup Variety

The early hype surrounding Benteke was unwarranted because of his woeful passing game.

The Aston Villa man had the strength and presence of mind to take the ball in and shield it, but his distribution was poorly executed and overly ambitious.

But coaching has cleaned it up, knocked his bad habits out of him and he now represents the complete modern forward.

A big striker who can distribute as well as a No. 10 is the biggest threat of all, as many teams are focused on shutting down the opponent's deep-lying creative influences or boxing the wingers out wide.

It gives the opposing side too many outlets to cover, and it creates serious mismatches when the right ball is played.

 

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