Michy Batshuayi is simply ten years too late. The Belgian forward is the sort of striker Europe’s elite would have broken the bank to sign in the past; a poacher who comes alive inside the penalty area.
But football has evolved and there’s a chance the on-loan Borussia Dortmund striker has been left behind.
According to Kicker, the Bundesliga side feel he’s not a tactical fit and are reluctant to bring him to the Westfalenstadion on a permanent basis in the summer. And that is despite the fact the Belgium international has been involved in seven goals in just 567 minutes since his January loan move from Chelsea.
The report goes on to suggest Inter Milan and Arsenal transfer target Lautaro Martinez is the man for BVB even though he’s yet to play in Europe. It’s quite the gamble and speaks volumes as to how Batshuayi is viewed at the club.
There’s a belief the 24-year-old offers very little else aside from goals and that’s not the profile Dortmund want from a player leading their line, even though the former Marseille man is eerily similar to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – the man Batshuayi replaced.
He’s an elite chance-getter and his xG90 since moving to the Bundesliga is 0.95, putting him second in the league behind Robert Lewandowski (1.05).
But if Dortmund are in the market for a more complete forward, it makes sense as to why they’d pass on the opportunity to sign the Belgian. Unlike yesteryear, goals aren’t purely the currency strikers deal in.
The evolution of a forward
There was a time a goalscorer was viewed as a luxury. They’d be in the team for nothing else other than to put the ball in the back of the net.
Managers didn’t task their frontmen with doing anything defensively and it wasn’t a necessity for them to assist their team-mates. To an extent, they were judged on goals and nothing else.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robbie Fowler, Alan Shearer, Andrew Cole and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink were pure goalscorers. Whether they tracked back or not wasn’t mentioned in the media. That’s not to suggest they didn’t do their fair share of defensive work but just that it wasn’t as much of a big deal as it is now.
All that mattered was how often these players managed to force the opposition’s goalkeeper to pick the ball out the back of his net.
Times have changed, though. What was once described as a false nine is now the profile for what Europe’s elite clubs want from their forward line. They want their No.9 to run the channels, drop deep to link with the midfield and be eager to win the ball back even if it’s 40-yards away from goal.
Managers want their strikers to be facilitators instead of executioners because they’re no longer relying on just the one goal threat.
A good example of this is Roberto Firmino at Liverpool. He’s now considered by many to be the best all-round forward in Europe yet he’s scored just 14 goals in the Premier League. The Brazilian isn’t even in the race for the Golden Boot but, if asked, many name him as their ideal striker.
His selfless movement gets the best out of Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah. He’s not as sharp as Daniel Sturridge but the team score more goals with Firmino starting than they did with the former Chelsea man leading the line.
Àlvaro Morata might not be viewed by many as an all-rounder but he involves Eden Hazard more than Batshuayi did. And there’s more to the Spain international’s game which makes him an even greater threat.
For context, Morata’s xA90 (expected goals assisted per 90 minutes) is 0.14, Aubameyang’s is 0.18 and Firmino’s is 0.28. All eclipse Batshuayi’s 0.08 xA90 at Dortmund.
There are plenty of examples at Chelsea of Batshuayi’s hold up play being way below par. He was easily barged off the ball, his touch was poor and he was predictable when in possession. He was scoring but so many attacks broke down because of the 24-year-old.
It’s a similar story at Dortmund. The team are struggling to score goals in general and Batshuayi appears to be the hero. But what impact is his inclusion having on others? He’s on the periphery for 89 minutes of the match, almost as a passenger, before springing into life for sixty seconds and bagging two goals.
In the recent 1-0 win over Hannover, Batshuayi netted the winner but had the fewest amount of touches (42) on the Dortmund team with the exception of goalkeeper Roman Bürki. In the 0-0 draw with Red Bull Salzburg, only Mario Götze and Bürki touched the ball fewer times.
Dortmund have Marco Reus, Manchester United transfer target Christian Pulisic, Maximilian Philipp, André Schürrle, Andriy Yarmolenko and Götze at their disposal. Injuries have played a part but they have just 23 Bundesliga goals between them. The quality is there for those six players to net around the 50-goal mark if they’re utilised properly, but that won’t be the case with Batshuayi as the man spearheading the forward line.
Matches still hinge on how reliable a goal-getter is. But nowadays clubs demand their forwards to offer more than just goals. And this is where Batshuayi falls short.
The Belgian has the traits to adapt but whether he has the mentality to do so is another question entirely. The frustrating thing for the ex-Standard Liege man must be that had be been playing a decade prior he would’ve been acknowledged as one of the best in the business.