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PLAYER ANALYSIS: Yussuf Poulsen and The Joy of Partnerships

With football being an ever-evolving sport, there are trends that will come in and out of style. Whether it’s the back three, natural wingers or target men, new systems and ideas will introduce weaknesses used in the past. One element of football that hasn’t faded from obscurity yet is the two strikers. In a world full of 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3’s, it can be nice to see a side deploy a relatively old fashioned style of attacking. This isn’t as much of an anomaly as many like to perceive, myself included. There are still a host of sides that deploy two strikers with true success. Jardim’s Monaco broke PSG’s monopoly at the top of the table thanks to a combination of experience and raw, youthful power in Falcao and Mbappe. Atletico Madrid found a lot of success in using a 4-4-2, reaching 2 Champions League finals in 3 years. Leicester is by far the most famous example, playing a very old fashioned way of playing. Full backs not leaving the halfway line, midfielders entirely focused on winning the ball back, and huge centre backs who used their strength to dominate opposition forwards. There’s something nostalgic about seeing sides play like that.

One side that has become famous for playing two strikers would be RB Leipzig. The Redbull club has been a success story based on smart investment and an endless scouting network that has enabled them to find talent across the world. All of their clubs are run very well and do not make the same risky signings as you see the big clubs take. While they did finish 3rd, they were arguably the second best side in the Bundesliga. They had a solid defence, making the most tackles and only Bayern facing fewer shots. Add that with strikers who scored a combined 31 goals this season and you have a side that deserved a top 3 finish. While Timo Werner has been a massive success since joining Leipzig, with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid both heavily interested in the German forward. However one of my more controversial opinions would be that Timo Werner does not work as a single striker. While he has been relatively good for Germany, he hasn’t been nearly as impressive as he has been at club level. Germany usually play a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, leaving Werner quite isolated. He looked lost at the 2018 World Cup and was arguably one of their worst performers at the competition. I do think one of the reasons why Werner has been so good is because the player next to him has allowed him to be.

This brings us nicely onto Yussuf Poulsen. While I am not nearly as romantic with football as others are, there can be some stories that do bring out the softer side in me. Poulsen has been with Leipzig since the club was in the 3rd division. He has made the most appearances for the side and is their third top scorer. While he has never been hugely prolific in front of goal, he has stayed by the club and contributed important goals in their race to reach the top. Since RB Leipzig earned promotion to the top flight back in 2016, Poulsen hasn’t reached the same heights as his German teammate, scoring 5 in his first season and 4 in his second. His role in the side has always seemed to be to give a more direct option for his side and help create space for Werner, and he excels in that. In an interview earlier in the season, Werner said “It’s great for me with him up front. We complement each other really well. He likes going for aerial challenges, which I don’t. He’s got an amazing set of lungs.” It perfectly sums up their relationship as forwards. His numbers even show this. He attempts 9.5 aerial duels per game with a 48% success rate, a solid number for a striker. While shot numbers aren’t high, taking 2.1 a game, it’s because Werner takes a majority of the side’s shots. He also creates 1.1 chances a game, showing the strong relationship he has with the forwards. When you watch the Dane play, you certainly understand why Werner loves playing with him. Poulsen constantly drifts out wide, effectively adverting pressure from his teammates. He is a player who uses his physical gifts to his advantage. His size and strength to push defenders away. His height to win balls in the air for his side. His speed to race down the wing. It’s why Poulsen is so highly regarded by his teammates. He does a lot of work off the ball to allow them to flourish.

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One of my favourite parts of Poulsen’s game is his fouling. While a strange thing to love, it does continue to highlight just how good he is off the ball. One area of strikers that becoming to be noticed is how often they foul opposition players. It can show how good the player is when it comes to recovering the ball or pressing. Poulsen commits more fouls a game than any other Leipzig player with 1.8. It’s actually more fouls than Diego Costa was committing during his best season at Atletico (he was committing 1.5 per game in the 2013/14 season). Managers are beginning to want a lot more from their strikers other than goals. Poulsen does all the off the ball work required. Rangnick has gotten the best out of the forward and got him playing to his strengths, while also scoring goals.

Poulsen is that aggressive, strong, hardworking forward that other teams would dream of having. While his goals have always been a question mark clouding his reputation, he has enabled Werner to be one of the most wanted strikers around. With very few teams possessing a player like Poulsen, it has left Leipzig with a valuable player, not in price, but in importance.

The striking partnership, while being old fashioned, can be so effective when given the right players. Watching Werner and Poulsen play alongside each other is a joy. It’s reminiscent of watching Heskey and Owen, Cole and Yorke, Ronaldo and Rivaldo, Rooney and Tevez, Shearer and Sutton and Costa and Falcao. Players who worked so well together, creating some of football’s fondest memories. Let’s hope Werner does decide to stay and let us witness such a strong relationship, and keep the striking partnership as alive as ever.

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