Poacher is perhaps not a correct term for these style forwards, more just a natural goal scorer. The forwards featured in this article that tend to lurk in and around the box and do not get as involved in all round play as forwards such as Messi or Ronaldo who are everywhere in an attacking sense.
All of the strikes featured here have scored a significant number of goals for their clubs this season as well as recording a low level of passes and few dribbles. Reinforcing the view that they perhaps do not get as involved in all round team play as other forwards such as Aguero or RVP.
Gomez’s performance against Real Madrid last week probably epitomized this role as he was lurking in and around the opposition box, having only 33 touches of the ball as well as scoring the last minute winner from close range. Gomez allows the creative players such as Kroos, Muller, Robben and Ribery to do the dribbling and passing whilst he looks to provide the killer touch and get in-behind opposition defences.
Most forwards today tend to be complete players or as involved in attacks as midfielders sometimes, such as players like Aguero or RVP who get a large number of assists and tend to drop deep to contribute to build up play. The poachers featured above are again arguably somewhat of a dying breed, especially amongst top Premier League clubs. Ruud Van Nistelrooy for example was famously dropped by United despite being the clubs top scorer, in favour of Louis Saha, due to the latter’s increased impact on Man United’s all round team play. Van Nistelrooy famously only scored once from outside the box.
The low number of dribbles is again another indicator of this, with much of their work done in the opposition box running with the ball is less likely as most of their work is done off the ball. Milito is possibly the archetypal in this role, incredibly efficient in front of goal despite aging. When through on goal few would bet against Milito to score, his two efficiently dispatched goals against Bayern Munich in the 2010 Champions League final a fine example of this. If we observe the 5-4 win Inter had over Genoa at the start of the season, a game in which Milito scored a hat-trick, his heat map demonstrates how one of his main positions was in the opposition six yard box.
In this regard Benzema does see more of the ball than the others and is good at running with the ball and playing people in, as he was when he played a key role in the goal for Ozil against Munich. A factor that contributes to him having more of the ball than his opponents is that he often switches place with Ronaldo. Ronaldo goes central and Benzema often takes up a wide position as indicated by Ronaldo’s winning goal against Barcelona at the weekend, as well as at stages throughout the season.
The role tends to work best in sides where there are a wealth of creative, mobile midfielders in behind target men such as with Gomez at Munich as well as Benzema at Madrid. Both clubs tend to play a variation of a 4-2-3-1 with two holding players and three creative attacking midfielders who provide plenty of pace, creativity and assistance for a poacher to feed off, as a result a poacher such as Gomez or Benzema is not required to be that involved in build up play.
In this regard the poacher is similar to the target man as they record less touches than more dynamic forwards such as Suarez or Rooney, and adopt positions very high up the field, mainly operating in the opposition box. Rooney for example averages 51.2 passes per game demonstrating how involved he gets in the play, in stark contrast to the 15 odd passes per game played by Gomez. As well as this forwards like Rooney or Aguero, as well as Ronaldo and Messi complete far more dribbles per game as a result of being more involved in play.
This style of player probably contribute more than the likes of Van Nistelrooy who is a traditional goal poacher, probably the best the Premier League have ever seen, with more assists and more interplay due to an increased emphasis on ball retention in modern football. The use of a 4-2-3-1 in particular helps facilitate such a player due to the license given to the 3 in behind to create chances for a poacher. If a forward was to drop deep in such a formation they would end up over crowding the midfield and possibly even getting in the way. Thus they are better off running in behind and lurking in the box to finish off chances. This formation as stated is often deployed by Munich, Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Shalke, all of whom have a poacher featured in this article.
As stated with sides who have a wide range of creative players it is important to have players that can finish off such chances as is the case with the aforementioned forwards. This sort of striker is typically not very common in the Premier League with their forwards mainly being more all rounder’s especially at the bigger teams. I guess Torres in his prime would fit the bill here though, but Rooney, RVP and Aguero the league’s top forwards are almost support strikers converted to central strikers, rather than poachers per se.
Generally speaking a theme in modern striker play is that with the decline of the 4-4-2 strikers are supposed to do a lot more than they previously would have as now most teams play a 1 up front. The result of this has been a decline in the use of target men and also perhaps a decline in the poachers effectiveness, except for in certain tactical set-ups.
The next edition of our striker series will look at the role of converted support strikers into leading goalscorers.
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