St. Pauli’s season to date has been one of growing pains, a squad that has faced plenty of injury concerns which has seen an abundance of changes. One positive note from the St. Pauli squad of the 2019/20 season is the number of young players who have been able to cement roles in the starting 11. One of those players is Viktor Gyokeres. The Swede is on loan from Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion and has made a substantial contribution since joining in the summer.
Up top or out wide?
When you have a player who is versatile like Gyökeres, it does allow for tactical flexibility. Under Luhukay, Gyökeres has played in a variety of different position. From playing as the sole striker, on the left in a two forward set or out wide in midfield. While this doesn’t mean the 21-year old has a defined role, it does enable development in playing different roles. St. Pauli have used several different formations this season. Let’s look at his heat map and where Gyökeres fits into Luhukay’s tactics, and how he compares statistically playing in various roles.
The player heat map for 2019/20 showcases that Gyökeres operates significant time on the left-hand side. Interplaying with left-back Matt Penney or Daniel Buballa. There are patches on the right as well, in multiple situations you’ll see Gyökeres switch flanks with either Ryo Miyaichi or Waldemar Sobota. Being right footed, Gyökeres is deployed as an inverted left midfielder who can cut inside shoot. But what do the numbers say?
The graphs above showcase the season so far for Gyökeres at St. Pauli. With the three main positions he has played, centre forward, left midfield and right midfield. These are taken from Gyökeres’ starting position. What is clear is the average of goals, assists and expected goals (xG), Gyökeres is at his most dangerous playing upfront. However, it’s when Gyökeres is out wide where he is far more active on the ball in terms of pass completion. Given the 21-year old has only started two games on the right, we have a better statistical representation of his play on the left. As we can see, Gyökeres is far more active in the passing game, stronger aerially and is more involved defensively.
The number suggests that Gyökeres is more productive when playing as an inverted left midfield. Why? The ability to switch the ball into the middle and as we will discuss, his capabilities as someone who can dribble their way out of traffic.
Gyökeres is creative, loves to let his play on the ball do the talking. While his 37.1% dribble succession percentage mightn’t wow the masses, the Swede is a gambler, willing to take chances in a bid to create for his team. His tendencies require him to be technically strong in possession to which he is. This part of the analysis looks at Gyökeres’ strong dribbling skills and how he can create with his feet.
The initial situation comes against Osnabrück, with the game almost out of reach for the visitors it’s all on St. Pauli to close it out. Gyökeres is on the ball looking for an immediate option; this isn’t forthcoming. With the Osnabrück defence closing in, Gyökeres checks and pivots before coolly taking the space which was behind. Not only did Gyökeres force the defensive error but now St. Pauli are on the attack.
Again, another situation where Gyökeres has his back to goal. Much like what we were taught in junior football, play where you face. However, Gyökeres is someone who hedges his bets on his technical abilities on the ball. With Niklas Kreuzer pressing hard, Gyökeres lulls his defender into thinking he is going right. The Swede goes left and into a dangerous area. Gyökeres tees up Miyaichi, but keeper Kevin Broll thwarts the midfielder.
Lastly, in St. Pauli’s game with Stuttgart Gyökeres finds himself looking to go inboard towards the edge of the area. Although being well covered, Gyökeres could play the bailout ball to Penney which would see the left-footer most likely cross the ball in. Instead, Gyökeres uses Penney as a decoy to draw the Stuttgart players towards the Englishman and open up space for a potential shot on goal.
What is clear is Gyökeres is nifty with his back to goal, when you think he is covered the Swede will quickly dribble his way past. While the numbers aren’t indicative of consistent success, it’s a joy to watch someone play with such creativity on the ball
Finding the goal-scoring touch
An attacking player with a knack for goals, Gyökeres in his first season in the 2. Bundesliga has been steadfast in front of goal. Six goals in 17 appearances is a good return in a league where strikers with excellent physical attributes reign supreme. Gyökeres has the third most goals at St. Pauli with strikers Dimitrios Diamantakos (8) and Henk Veerman (8) leading the way for the Hamburg club. But how has Gyökeres got his goals this season? Let’s take a look.
The first of two goal-scoring situations will showcase different aspects of Gyökeres off the ball before the goal. Above comes the third goal for St. Pauli in a 3-0 win over league leaders Arminia Bielefeld to end 2019. With Miyaichi driving into the box, his number one goal is to try and draw players towards him. At the edge of the box is Gyökeres who is being loosely covered by Cedric Brunner. Veerman commands most of the attention with both Amos Pieper and Joakim Nilsson covering the lumbering striker. As a result, Gyökeres now becomes the first option. As highlighted, Miyaichi plays an intelligent ball into the space left vacated by Veerman’s drawing run to the near post. Gyökeres with time and space beats a stranded Stefan Ortega. The timing of the run is indicative of someone who knows when and where to be; the first time finish is also beautiful.
The second goal has been split into two parts to showcase where the play began and how it ended up being a Gyökeres goal. In the match-up with Wehen Wiesbaden, Gyökeres produced a man of the match display. This goal sums up the hard work he had put in. As we can see, the play commences in St. Pauli’s defensive box. They’ve just cleared the corner and now can counter. Gyökeres begins at the edge of the box.
In a trice, St. Pauli have progressed the ball into their attacking box. Kevin Lankford plays to Gyökeres who has four defenders surrounding him. Gyökeres could play back to Lankford and whined the clock down, or extend the lead to three and put the game beyond doubt. In this situation, Gyökeres rolls this dice with great success as his bullet shot beats Heinz Lindner to put the game out of reach.
In just 17 games, Gyökeres has become a linchpin in attack for a St. Pauli team that required it. Gyökeres showcases a high work rate to get into dangerous positions, and his ability to create goal-scoring opportunities in tight situations is a plus. For the time being, six goals are a good return for the Swede.
Gyökeres doesn’t have a defined role at St. Pauli but has shown plenty of promise so far that might have the 2. Bundesliga club is interested in keeping the talented Swedish forward. Although with no option to buy and the severe economic hardship that will ensue to follow, it might be a financial step too much for St. Pauli to buy the U21 international.
The player himself, Gyökeres has similar tendencies to fellow compatriot and Swedish International Emil Forsberg who has shone on big stages like the Champions League. Technically strong on the ball and a good user by foot; however, unlike Forsberg, Gyökeres is far more potent in front of goals which bodes well for the future. The question is whether he can become more damaging on the ball and add more assists to his game.