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ISL: Front Men Under the Microscope: Poachers and Advanced Forwards [Part II]

Ferran Corominas, Manuel Onwu, Roy Krishna, Bartholomew Ogbeche
Coro (FC Goa), Manuel Onwu (Odisha FC/Bengaluru FC), Roy Krishna (ATK), Bart Ogbeche (Kerala Blasters)

Here’s Part II of our analysis on foreign strikers currently playing in the ISL and how impactful they have been for their teams. In this post, we look at poachers and advanced forwards and also discuss the lack of playing time Indian strikers endure.

Indian Super League (ISL) 2019-20 Strikers and Forwards
As we can see, the graph shows dribbles p90 and aerial duels attempted p90.
The comparison of these two metrics should make it simpler to assess these strikers.
The colour shading has been added on the basis of ‘playing in scoring attacks’.
This serves as a means to show how involved the player has been.
The darker the dot, the more the player has contributed to the team’s goals.
Their contribution ranges from a simple pass in the build-up to scoring a goal.
We must keep in mind that a lighter dot does not necessarily mean that the player is inferior,
it could also mean they are less suited to the system they played in.
Indian Super League (ISL) 2019-20 Strikers and Forwards Expected Goals (xG) and Expected Assists (xA)
We compare xG (the number of goals the player was expected to score)
and xA (the number of assists the player was expected to provide).
Every player’s individual goal and assist record is also added to show where they over-performed
or under-performed with respect to the expected metrics model.
The color shading has been done on basis of effectiveness.

Effectiveness = (actual goals scored – xG) + (actual assists given – xA).
This gives us an idea on the player’s overall attacking output and whether they did better or worse than expected.

Poachers



Normally, seeing Amine Chermiti and Ferran Corominas in this section propagates a certain stereotype – foxes in the box, poachers. Both players are technically gifted and hover around Zone 14.

Ferrán Corominas (Coro)

Coro got on the scoresheet far more than Chermiti did. This comes down to the system he played in. At FC Goa, Coro was not asked to head in whipped crosses. Instead, he was aided by an extremely mobile attacking midfielder in Hugo Boumous. He was allowed to play to his strengths – smart, misdirecting movement and continuous penetration into the 18 yard box. He combined well with Brandon, Boumous and Jackichand by turning out as scorer as well as provider for the Gaurs.

His experience of playing as a no. 10 in the past clearly shows as not only is he proficient at carrying the ball, but also the weight and timing of his passes is golden. He was fairly involved with defensive actions despite being 37, and won the ball back a considerable amount of times.

After making the league look like a cakewalk yet again, Coro proves that he is evergreen. Now having announced the end of his dalliance with FC Goa, he leaves the Fatorda a legend.

Amine Chermiti

On the flip side, Coro’s Islander counterpart struggled at Mumbai City FC. Though, he performed in accordance to his xG, the service he received was far lesser than Coro.

For starters, Mohamed Larbi was far less mobile than Hugo Boumous and entered the box relatively less. This often led to Chermiti being deserted in the box and tightly marked by defenders.

The second issue was the support from wingers. For reasons unknown, Mumbai played wide and repeatedly sent in crosses to a striker who was 5′ 7″. With little to no use of the half-space, short passes or low crosses were a scarcity.

Even while pressing, Chermiti was often left isolated against two or more defenders. The lack of another striker or winger helping him allowed teams to keep the ball easily and cover Chermiti without much effort. As mentioned earlier, both players are gifted poachers, but the flaws in Costa’s system was the cause for Chermiti’s goal-scoring drought.

David Williams

David Williams would disagree with the “poacher” generalization as he tends to play a more withdrawn and supporting role.

If we compare Williams’ and Coro’s heatmaps, it is evident that the Australian covers more ground and drops very deep. This is a result of him playing a pivotal part in ATK’s press.

In Habas’ setup, it was Krishna who was on the end of most long balls and Williams who played as a supporting creator. Though, it was not just Krishna who Williams supported.

The Aussie showed great determination to cover the pitch and serve as a medium between the strike force and wing-backs. He could be found in half-spaces setting up Michael Soosairaj or Prabir Das, or around the penalty spot eagerly waiting to head the ball in.

Overall, Williams performed extremely well by crossing the average in both scoring and assisting. His Effectiveness score of +4.13 only goes to show how important he was in Habas’ set-up.

Manuel Onwu

An interesting case here is Manuel Onwu. Having fulfilled contrasting roles at Bengaluru and Odisha, putting him in this quadrant leads to a slight conundrum.

However, this article is to elucidate every striker’s patterns and not to push them into pigeonholes.

Whilst playing for the Blues, he was expected to have his back to the goal. His job was to be the first defender and press teams high up the pitch. When the Blues were not progressing from wide areas, he was the target of Juanan and Dimas’ long balls. His job was to cushion them and lay them on a platter for Udanta Singh, Sunil Chhetri or Raphael Augusto. Due to him playing a more withdrawn role, he was unable to get into the box as often and put his finishing abilities to good use.

At the Kalinga, he was asked to fill the big boots of Aridane. And fill them he did. Scoring 7 goals and assisting 1 in just 4 games went on to show how dominant he could be in the right system.

Defensively, not much had changed – he was still a relentless presser who enjoyed harassing the defenders. But under Gombau, he was allowed to spend more time in the box. Possession football, and a reliance on crossing were the perfect ingredients for Manuel Onwu’s feast of goals. Unlike Bengaluru where he was supporting the wingers, here the wide men supported him.

Had he spent the entire season at the Bhubaneswar outfit, he would’ve been on par on goals alongside Valskis, Krishna and Coro.


Advanced Forwards



Finally, quadrant 4 is full of strikers that love to have the ball at their feet. Time and again, we have seen Marcelinho, Roy Krishna and Deshorn Brown get on their bike and chase through balls played behind the defense.

Deshorn Brown

Marcelinho (1.47) and Roy Krishna (2.15) have significantly more attacking and key passes than Bengaluru FC‘s Deshorn Brown (1.14) – this is because Deshorn Brown played in a very counter-attacking setup with limited opportunities to set someone up in front of him or next to him.

Being a solitary centre-forward and the focus of long balls, he completed more dribbles than any other striker. Had his finishing been up to the mark, he would have been a darker dot on the graph.

He seemed to be a better fit for BFC than Onwu as they started playing a quick, counter-attacking style. With rumours of Miku and Ruben Jurado doing the rounds, Brown’s stay with the Blues is uncertain.

Bartholomew Ogbeche

Bart Ogbeche is an amusing case. Unlike other strikers, Ogbeche was used in a 4-4-2. His partner at Kerala Blasters was Raphael Messi Bouli – a physically imposing, energetic forward who regularly challenges defenders in the air.

Contrary to the other high volume dribblers, Ogbeche preferred slipping in between the defensive and midfield lines. His near-average dribble count and remarkable offside tally (1) suggest the same. This allowed Kerala to profit from his technical qualities and also gave him space to shoot from distance. His robust physique puts him over his compatriots in terms of aerial duels as he also managed to score three headers.

Having scored 15 goals out of an expected 10.11, Ogbeche has shown yet again why he is one of the best strikers in the country. His brilliant off-the-ball movement in and around the box has earned him plaudits from Sergio Lobera, meaning he could soon make his way over to the cash-rich Mumbai City FC.

Marcelinho

Even after an abysmal season with the Nizams, Marcelinho ended his campaign with 9 goal involvements in 17 games. Now linked to Kerala Blasters, he heads into his 5th season in Indian football. As a veteran of the league, he stands as a hallmark for fellow strikers.

Barring his (almost) non-existent willingness to challenge for the ball in the air, he is one of the most well-rounded players. He possesses a wide array of weapons in his arsenal – from deadly free-kicks to step-overs and feints.

His trademark move of receiving the ball wide, humiliating a couple defenders and rifling it into the net from a tight angle is simply unstoppable. Now add to that a dogged tenacity to win the ball.

Agreed, he gets in trouble with bookings, but his willingness to break play by committing a foul is a useful option for high-pressing teams. If all this isn’t good enough, he also created more than average xA (2.87) which just goes to show how gifted he is.

Should he find a system suited to him, he could very well show shades of himself from his time in Delhi.

Roy Krishna

Finally, coming to arguably the most prolific striker in the league – Roy Krishna. His acquisition from Wellington Phoenix was no small feat. He is a legend of Fijian football and carries a grand reputation in Oceania.

He hit the ground running as he arrived in Kolkata and ended the campaign with a trophy in his hands. His iconic style of peeling off the last man and scoring calmly in a one-on-one with the keeper is something to behold. His pace and strength often left defenders in his wake.

Though he may not possess the flair of Marcelinho, he is adept at getting around his man. He also recorded the second highest xA among all at 3.547, which he overdid by a small amount and assisted 4 goals. His chemistry with Prabir Das was particularly fruitful as he repeatedly scored from the wing-back’s delectable crosses.

With an extension on the table, ATK Mohun Bagan would be keen on getting his signature as they prepare for continental competitions in the new season.


Conclusion

Having analysed all the foreign strikers in the league, it would be convenient to say that the play-style of quadrant 2 (Target Men) is the most effective. However, the truth could not be further from this.

As discussed in the introduction, it all boils down to the system they play in. Would Valskis have gone supernova if John Gregory stayed? Would Chermiti rack up numbers similar to Coro if he played in Goa? These are questions that we cannot answer because a striker’s ability is strongly interconnected to the team’s ability and tactics.

However, there are definitely certain aspects which are valued more in India due to the lack of mental and technical progress in defenders. Fundamentals such as off the ball movement and dummy runs are effective traits to have in your main striker. With the league making a crucial shift from solo runs and shooting on sight to constructive play with rehearsed movements, this weakness too shall be covered soon.

Like defenders, these are also traits that Indian forwards have to pick up on. With only 3 Indian players scoring 5 or more goals, a dreary future awaits after Chhetri’s retirement.

Even if a striker is taught these concepts in their growing years, the short nature of the league scares coaches into playing foreigners up front. The trend of pushing Indian strikers out to the wing severely deteriorates their development and shows glaringly during every National Team fixture.

An entire generation of strikers is being exiled to the bench or out wide. If young starlets like Rohit Danu and Vikram Pratap Singh do not get the requisite exposure, this drought of goals could soon become a famine.

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