Picking up the newspapers last Sunday morning I was shocked, if sadly not surprised, by the reaction Wilfried Bony received for his performance against West Brom. In the old days you would judge a centre forward’s contribution in one currency and one currency only, goals, but in today’s modern game the vogue is to play with a lone striker and what they bring to the team is a lot more than goals.
This current trend of a solitary target man has filtered down to the amateur and youth leagues, as every trend, good or bad, seems to do and watching the Boy on a Saturday morning I am constantly amused by the number of teams who line up with only one up front. With a striker who knows what their role in the team is, this lone striker can cause havoc amongst an opposing defence but as the Boy like to tell me, “they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Invariably the Boy and his partner are left marking a solitary, static striker who, whilst having a nose for goal, is not getting the service because they are not working the centre forwards and their midfield believes their jobs are complete once they have got the ball up to their front player. Watching Manchester United dismantling of Leicester I would argue that the man of the match was not Pogba or Mata but a player who seemingly had no contribution to any of the goals, Zlatan.
Against Leicester, Zlatan held the ball up when it was played to him allowing his midfielders to receive it back whilst their teammates ran into space behind the defence. This had the effect that the Leicester defence were being turned and their own midfield were having to expend energy to cover the gaps being created. But what sets Zlatan’s performances above most of his peers is the movement and running he does when he doesn’t have the ball.
Time and time again, against Leicester, he pulled out to the wings and when he managed to lure one of the centre-halves with him spaces suddenly appeared in the Leicester back into which the likes of Rashford and Lingard poured. Yet it wasn’t only this lateral movement which caused Leicester so many problems, when Rooney entered the fray Zlatan preceded to drop deeper, which allowed Rooney to play further up the pitch. This constant movement not only creates spaces for others to exploit but also plants a seed of doubt into the opposition’s minds because nobody knows just who is supposed to be picking him up.
Going back to Wilfried Bony and the match against West Brom, when he was on the pitch Bony held the ball up well and, whilst not as mobile as Zlatan, moved the defenders around to create the space which Shaqiri, Alllen and Arnie were able to run into. Yet when Two Meter Peter replaced him the only space Stoke was seeing was when we broke on the counter attack. Personally I am one of Two Meter Peter’s biggest fans, I think he is one of the most underrated forwards of the last ten years and his England record of a goal every two games should have brought him more than the forty-two caps it did but he is not a lone striker. As the Boy said after watching the match at the weekend, the way Stoke are set up he would much rather play against Two Meter Peter than Bony – out of the mouths of babes.