Weekend Debrief: Europe’s top clubs scramble for a striker to suit


Tactical football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) reviews the weekend, picking out a series of themes he believes we can exploit in future weeks. 

Weekend Debrief: 27th January 2020

As the transfer market enters its final week in January, the potential for a number of moves are hotting up, and there is a common theme emerging throughout Europe.

For a number of different reasons, clubs are desperate to invest in a striker, whether it is down to poor form for the likes of Atletico Madrid, a lack of depth for Chelsea and West Ham, or injuries forcing the hand at Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester United.

Without enough top-class strikers available to fill all available voids, similar names are being linked with a whole range of sides, and it is an interesting conundrum trying to work out which forward will end where, and how crucial this could be for the final furlong of the campaign…

Cavani on the move

Starting in France, Edinson Cavani has been linked with a move away from PSG as he enters the final year of his contract, and a fitting switch to Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid looks to be on the cards. The Uruguayan striker has been linked with a move to England as well, so how well suited is to each side?

Cavani has fallen down the pecking order at PSG after a combination of injuries and the arrival of Mauro Icardi, and 32 year-old striker will be keen to move on whilst he nears the end of glistening, trophy-laden career.

Chelsea a poor fit

Although Chelsea and Manchester United were linked throughout the window, a move to Madrid does seem most likely, and he would arguably be a poor fit for Chelsea, in particular.

From a tactical point of view, it is apparent that current striker Olivier Giroud doesn’t fit Frank Lampard’s style of play, as he is unable to press from the front like Tammy Abraham, whilst his movement in behind is unable to stretch defences, and it would be a similar problem if Cavani was to move to London.

At 9/2 (SkyBet), I would be avoiding this price, as it feels like Chelsea would be replacing Giroud with a more expensive option which wouldn’t solve Lampard’s current problems.

A striker such as Victor Osimhen from Lille would be a much more suitable, tactical fit for Lampard’s side, with his aerial presence, pace in behind and ability to find himself in scoring situations standing out in his breakthrough season for Lille, but Chelsea may need to wait until the summer before making a move on this striker.

Their woes in front of goal were referenced by Lampard after their late draw to Arsenal, highlighting that despite the underlying data on Expected Goals (xG), they are just not clinical enough, so there is a need to ease the burden on Abraham.

However, with no clear options for Chelsea becoming apparent as the window nears a close, it will be interesting how this impacts on Chelsea’s form, and top four ambitions between now and the end of the season, as by adding that extra depth, especially with Giroud’s expected departure, that could make the difference at the top of a congested league.

United's attacking woes

Although Manchester United have also been rumoured to be interested in Cavani, and a short-term loan would work for both parties, it has become apparent their interest may be elsewhere, with Odion Ighalo and Islam Slimani linked.

Cavani would fit exactly what the Red Devils need up front, with his presence and hold up play offering them something different in the striking area, allowing them that Plan B which was so evidently missed against Burnley in defeat.

The emergence of Mason Greenwood has helped shift some of the burden off Anthony Martial in Marcus Rashford’s absence, but rather than look to replace the England ace, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should be looking at the different mould of striker, which would allow greater tactical flexibility, particularly when struggling to break teams down.

Whilst the Uruguayan striker would be perfect, he looks most likely to be moving onto Atletico in this window, and United may be forced to look elsewhere.

Slimani is an interesting link, and would be available despite being on-loan in France at Monaco. He has looked a transformed player this season, with seven goals, as well as seven assists, and he would fit the mould of a physical striker that United require.

However, there are understandable reservations from his time in England, but if he could find the form that saw him net seven in 2016/17 at Leicester, rather than the struggles at Newcastle and the Foxes the following season, he may be a more astute signing than first thought.

A short-term fix to a long-term problem, it would at least offer United the much needed fire-power and add another dynamic to a currently predictable attack. If not opting for the Algerian forward, it is someone in this mould they require, and a requirement if they are going to challenge for Europe this season.

Cavani could be key for Atleti revival

Moving onto Atletico, it does feel like he would be the perfect fit for Simeone’s side, and whilst a summer move initially seemed more likely, the desperate run of form since Christmas may force Atletico into acting now, and with him best priced to move at 4/7 (SkyBet), this is beginning to seem more and more likely.

Taking chances have been the Achilles heel in Madrid’s season, and a lack of depth up front and alternative options to the misfiring Alvaro Morata have been exposed in by Diego Costa’s injury, whilst Joao Felix has struggled to make an impact since his summer move.

It was a similar story against a struggling Leganes side on Sunday, as Atleti drew a blank once again despite dominating, and it has left them with only 22 goals in 21 league games, and now sitting outside the top four with the pressure growing on Simeone.

The Mattress Makers’ defensive record is comfortably the best in La Liga with only 14 goals conceded, and the need for reinforcements up front is clear, with an Expected Goals (xG) tally of 34.64 highlighting the amount of chances they are missing, and how it is costing them dearly.

If factoring in Expected Points (xP) data for Simeone’s side, they would be sat second, so it is becoming clear that the need for the striker could be the difference between even getting a lucrative Champions League spot, with Getafe and Sevilla moving above them, whilst Real Sociedad and Valencia continue to impress behind.

A deeper dive into their xG data makes for worrying reading. Every striker is under-performing their data, with Morata 2.87 behind his xG, whilst Angel Correa (2.20) and Joao Felix (2.76) are also struggling to hit the expected numbers, a worrying trend for Simeone’s side.

Moving back to Cavani, his own underlying data would suggest that if given time to get up to speed, with only 320 minutes to his name in Ligue 1 this season, he is consistent performer, averaging an xG per 90 of 0.88 since 2014/15 at PSG, highlighting his ability to get into goalscoring positions, whilst he performs in line with this data, showing his ability to also take these chances.

The Uruguay would arguably be worth the investment now for Atletico, given the necessity to qualify for the Champions League from a financial point of view, and given the congested nature of the league up the top, he could be the difference needed to move them back into these spots.

With Champions League football returning in February, the need for greater depth is reinforced for Atletico, and it could be the difference between their domestic, and European hopes. Whilst the underlying data does highlight that they should avoid panicking on the long-term, it does highlight the need for reinforcements, and this could be the difference between any success Atletico can muster till the end of the season.

In the betting without Real Madrid and Barcelona, they are currently 6/5 (Betfair) to come out on top, and whilst their current form and goalscoring woes means this is a tough one to support, their underlying numbers, and any potential striking recruitment, could see it become a more promising prospect come the end of January.

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