Real Sociedad have recently caught the attention of the footballing world after shocking Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey in a 4-3 win away at the Santiago Bernabeu. Some fans will have noticed the name Alexander Isak who scored twice for Imanol Alguacil’s side as the striker who was touted as the ‘new Zlatan Ibrahimovic’.
The 20-year-old was snapped up by Borussia Dortmund back in 2017 for £7m but had a rough time in Germany as he struggled to find game time. After two years of not featuring for die Schwarzgelben, he was sent to the Eredivisie in the winter of 2019 to play for Willem II. The Swedish international was superb contributing to 21 goals in just 18 appearances for the Dutch side.
His performances in Holland impressed Real Sociedad for them to part ways with £9m to sign him from Dortmund last summer and Isak has had a great debut campaign for La Real thus far. He has been used as a back-up striker for Willian Jose but has a lower goal per minute ratio than the Spaniard in La Liga. The performances in the Copa del Rey have also caught the eye scoring seven and assisting twice in five games.
His performances in 2019 had also helped him get him a call-up to the Swedish national team- two years since his last appearance for his country. Isak featured in all of the European qualification games scoring three times.
This tactical analysis will showcase why Dortmund inserted a €30m buy-back clause on Isak and why the wonderkid is a star striker in the making.
Style of play
As Isak is touted as the ‘new Ibrahimovic’, it comes as no surprise that the 20-year-old is quite tall and stands at 6’2”. However, he is much more than a target man as he is more of a complete striker. He can hold the ball up and win aerial duels with his size and strength but has only won 38% of his aerial duels. Isak’s real strengths as a striker lie in running in behind the defensive line especially in counter-attacking situations and dribbling with the ball with speed. The fact that the 20-year-old has a multifaceted game allows Real Sociedad to play a variety of different ways in their 4-2-3-1 shape. Since his appearances in La Liga come mostly from the bench, it allows Imanol Alguacil to switch up the tactics depending on the flow of the game without having to worry about Isak’s ability to handle the demands of the system.
His heat map is one that you would pretty much expect from a striker – most of his work done inside the box but a significant amount outside as well, with the map showing that he likes to stay just outside the box. This shows that Isak likes to drift into the box late or stay on the edge of the area waiting for cutbacks from crosses. It also suggests that Isak can hold up the ball and link-up with the attacking midfielder or try some shots from distance.
Dribbling and Movement
One of Isak’s best assets is his willingness and ability to drive with the ball with speed. Sociedad like to play very direct on the counter and the Swede is able to push the attack forward and attack the opposition’s defence. This allows La Real to stretch the opposition and Isak is usually able to find the open man or make the right decision.
As these images show, Isak drives and is able to attract the attention of the opposition defence, which allows his teammates to make great runs into the open space behind. If Isak doesn’t have the ball, he makes runs in behind that attract the defence leaving space for his teammates.
These examples of him dragging the defence and creating space for his teammates makes Isak an extremely dangerous outlet in a counter-attack. With Sociedad mostly playing a 4-2-3-1 system, it allows the likes of Martin Odegaard, Adnan Januzaj or Mikel Oyarzabal to get into great goalscoring positions.
Passing and Vision
Isak’s ability to pass is also one of his great attributes, a trait that a lot of top strikers still don’t have in their arsenal. However, La Real don’t often maximise his vision and passing skill as Isak only makes 15 passes a game.
Despite Isak’s passing quality, his passing accuracy is only at 77% – largely due to the nature of his passes. He tries a lot of flicks and layoffs as his teammates play quick and direct passes to him. The accuracy of these passes are quite low given that they require a high skill level and can be intercepted but work well when it comes off. Isak is also capable of executing a through ball after either driving with the ball or coming in from the wing –
Finishing is undoubtedly Isak’s best attribute and the statistical analysis proves it. He has had a great campaign so far scoring 14 goals in 28 appearances in all competitions despite only starting 26% of the time. His limited minutes, therefore, give him an astonishing 0.92 goal per game ratio. He is outperforming is xG per 90 minutes, which is 0.68, but that is not a huge deal considering his xG value is very good. His finishing quality is also showcased by the fact he only takes 5.8 touches in the box highlighting his ruthlessness in front of goal. What’s most impressive is the variety in his goalscoring. He can score from distance, the far or near post, from close range and all in different shot types.
This scout report shows that Alexander Isak remains a wonderkid with a lot of untapped potential but is on his way of proving to the world that he can become one of Europe’s elite marksmen. With the emergence of young strikers such as Erling Braut Haaland and Mason Greenwood, Isak has fallen under the radar.
With Dortmund signing Haaland in the January transfer window for a measly £20m, it would seem that Isak will not be bought back from La Real at all. His style of play and attributes fit well in Imanol’s side and could end up ousting Willian Jose from the starting spot.
The young Swede is gaining invaluable experience in a top-five league and has the potential to live up to the lofty expectation of being the ‘new Zlatan Ibrahimovic’. There are still holes in his game but the fact that he has an all-round game, it bodes well for the future as he can be tactically malleable – an asset that will prove to be invaluable.