After bursting onto the scene at hometown club AIK Stockholm at the age of sixteen, it was clear that Alexander Isak had the potential to become a star. A move to Dortmund with their track record of utilising the full potential of young players seemed perfect at the time. However, we have only recently witnessed glimpses of his full potential since moving to Eredivisie side Willem II and now Real Sociedad hope to make the most of it. Isak moves to Anoeta on a five-year deal for ten million Euro which could represent the best value of the season if he delivers in a similar way to last term.
What can be expected?
Season in numbers
Despite only arriving in January, Isak’s numbers are very impressive. He provided thirteen goals and 6 assists in sixteen Eredivisie games, around a third of all of Willem II’s goals over the whole campaign. The most striking thing about the figures below are how drastically he over-performed against his xG. Whilst his xG per 90 metric shows 0.51, his actual goals figure sits just below 1 per game, reflecting on the quality of his finishing. His high number of goal contributions, particularly from inside the box could be explained by his ability to get into the box as much as possible. With 11.38 touches in the box per 90, it is expected that he would get into the positions to score goals.
Isak possesses all of the positive physical attributes you may expect of a 6 foot 3 inch striker. He provides a perfect focal point up top if a more direct approach is required, tying up defenders with his presence and pulling them deeper into midfield. It is his pace and movement which cause the largest issues for defenders, however. As can be seen in his goal against AZ below, Isak is able to pull off his marker into a pocket of space on the far edge of the area before driving into the box and finishing. This is a goal replicated a couple of times over for Willem II, showing off both his intelligence off the ball, physical attributes and ruthlessness in front of goal.
What is particularly impressive for a player of his build are his agility and balance. He averaged two dribbles per 90 over the course of his Eredivisie campaign, the most notable coming at De Kuip against Feyenoord. He was able to carry the ball from the right touchline past four opponents before firing past Kenneth Vermeer. The bursts of pace and nimble footwork and agile movements showing that he is far more complete than a lot of more traditional target men.
At this moment in time, it is difficult to isolate an obvious flaw in the game of Isak. It will be intriguing to see how he is able to make the step up to a more technical and possession based league with a higher calibre of players. While his overall link up was up to standard for the Eredivisie, some improvement will certainly be required to compete for Real Sociedad in La Liga due to the jump in quality and intensity. In a higher calibre league where the possession is a determining factor, it is imperative that Isak is able to hold the ball high up the pitch. Due to the slightly swifter tempo in La Liga compared to the Eredivisie, a loss of the ball could be costly as his teammates look to advance up the pitch quickly, leaving gaps behind them for the opposition to potentially exploit.
How will he fit in at Real Sociedad?
Fortunately for Isak and Sociedad, they are blessed with a plethora of players who can fill the attacking midfield roles. Creative quadruple Mikel Oyarzabal, Portu, Adnan Januzaj and 17-year-old Ander Barrenetxea provided a total of 10 goals from wide areas last season, almost a quarter of La Real’s final goal tally. Deploying an orthodox number 10 in either Portu or Oyarzabal could help Isak immensely. Using the number 10 as well as inside forwards will create space in behind for the pace of Isak to penetrate, as well as creating overloads out wide, allowing wing backs to bomb on and create chances for the Swede through crosses. This more traditional 4-2-3-1 may favour a lot of Sociedad’s current squad and provide the maximum number of chances for Isak.
When it comes to games when Sociedad believe they may be the weaker side, they opt for slightly more compactness in midfield, swapping out an attacking outlet for a more defensive minded player to tighten up the team. When playing the likes of Barcelona, particularly away, it will be key to restrict space and then hit on the counter-attack. Using a traditional 4-3-3 may do just this and favour Isak. Using players like Oyarzabal and Portu as more traditional wingers using their quality to cross for Isak is not the ideal strategy but one that could be effective considering his strengths. Games against superior opponents may favour him though, as they play high lines, leaving huge amounts of space in behind for quick outballs.
Despite consistent rumours about the future of Willian Jose, it seems he will be present at Anoeta next season. Last seasons top scorer netted 20 times in all competitions and could provide the perfect partner for Isak. Both men boast exceptional physical attributes, allowing them to occupy defenders and bring others into play. When operating in the half-spaces between full back and centre back, they effectively take four players out of the game, allowing others to benefit. Using both will free up space for the wide men to tuck inside and look for cuter balls in behind the back line for Isak to penetrate. As with the 4-2-3-1, using a narrow 4-2-2-2 will allow wing backs extra room on the flanks thanks to overloads slightly further in field, providing Isak with even more ammunition.
After his red hot season with Willem II last campaign, it is clear that Alexander Isak possesses all of the attributes to make himself a huge success at 19 years old. There will be immense expectation on the shoulders of the young Swede but with a decent amount of experience already under his belt, he should be able to handle the pressure and fully realise his potential at the Anoeta.
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