Written by Liam Lam
Alexander Isak has caught our eyes by scoring 10 goals in his first season in Allsvenskan, playing for AIK when he was still 16 years old. With such an exceptional performance for his debut season, it was inevitable that big teams like Borussia Dortmund came knocking on his door. He spent five years in Germany including a short loan-spell at Willem II, but his time with Dortmund did not go well as planned. In 2019, he moved on to La Liga with Real Sociedad to resurgent his career. Last season, he played 37 league games with 1502 minutes. But this season, he has been benefited from the departure of Willian José, who was loaned to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Isak is getting more game time and he has stepped up to fill Willian Jose’s shoes to become the top scorer of the team, one of the indispensable players under Imanol Alguacil. People started to notice him, and this season could be the breakthrough season for him.
In general, Isak is very tall with a good physique which shows good athleticism in his game. He could hold off the opponent with his back to goal. Due to his physical attributes, he could win some aerial duels, but he was not particularly strong at it, where we could see him struggled to win against some shorter players. He has a good pace overall and he has good acceleration which allows him to burst away from his defenders in a short distance. His touch and skills on the ball are excellent while he has a decent dribbling ability that he could create spaces and chances for himself.
Statistically, in terms of shooting, he has improved a lot comparing to last season. He scored 16 goals in 44 games of La Liga and Copa del Rey. This season, he has already scored 12 goals in the 21 league games. As per the below dashboard, we could see he has mostly outperformed himself in most of the metrics. He over-performed his Expected Goal per90 by 0.16 and 0.15 in last and this season respectively, which suggested it was not a hot streak or “One-Season-Wonder”. His quality of shots and non-penalty xG were very outstanding among the best players in Europe.
He usually plays as a lone striker up-front in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation. One of the strongest traits we could see from his game is how comfortable he is when dropping from the centre area to link the team up. He has a good body orientation where he would keep adjusting his body to receive the ball to make sure that he could make a first touch return pass or shield the ball from the defender. His link-up play is very neat and tidy where he would drop deep to make a simple lay-off pass, or he would be comfortably receiving the ball with his back to goal and hold it up. He would drop in between the lines and get into the half-spaces to open up spaces for his teammates to run into.
From the below, we could see Isak dropped into the centre area which pulls the centre-back out of his position. He then made a first touch lay off to his nearby teammates who had front foot to go forward.
The second example shows he moved into the half-spaces area and dropped deep to receive the ball. The timing and position of his movement were exceptional. While he was dropping to receive the ball with his back to goal, his teammates on his right were making a third-man run who had a front-foot facing forward. Isak immediately passes the ball to his teammates with first touch. Meanwhile, his movement opened up spaces behind for his teammates to run into and receive the through ball pass.
Off the Ball Movement
In this part, we will focus on his movement on how he gets into the box or a scoring position. He is very agile and quick where he could burst forward into the box after dropping into the centre or to the half-spaces area. He is agile enough to make a sudden change of direction in his run to increase the unpredictability. His movement is very intelligent which he could blindside the defenders to get away from them and he is constantly looking for back shoulder run into the box.
In the below example, we could see Isak made a side-step towards a deeper position to try to pull the centre-back out of his position which could create more spaces behind for him to run into. He then changed the direction and burst into the box to receive a through ball and scored the goal in a 1v1 situation.
In the second example, we could see from pictures one and two, Isak is adjusting his body orientation to make sure he could face forward while seeing the ball. He then burst into the centre of the box behind the defender and blindsided him to score the goal.
Out of possession
We will focus on his positioning and movement when he is defending. He could position himself to block the passing lane and switch of play up front which could create a pressing trap for the team and to disrupt the opponent’s build-up play by forcing them to go for a long ball forward. He has a very long leg that could increase the chance of intercepting or blocking the pass.
This example shows Isak saw the back pass from the opponent to their centre-back. He started to press the centre-back, and his position and body orientation had stopped the centre-back from switching side and forcing him to stay on his left side. This was important all the nearby options for the centre-back were closely marked by Real Sociedad’s players and he could increase the pressing intensity on the oppositions and hence, blocked the pass to the sideline.
We have mentioned he performed well in shooting in terms of statistics. The below picture shows all his shooting during this season. The red spot with a “G” means goal, the “X” mark represents the shot was either off target or blocked and the black dot spot means shot on target. We could see he is very versatile when it comes to shooting where he could shoot with both feet comfortably. He has a wide range of shooting from long distance to near the goal, which he could shoot with power or place his shot accurately. His heading is not particularly good, but his height gives him the advantage to score some goals in the six-yard box. He is also a free kick specialist in the team.
Room for Improvement
However, some parts of his game could be improved, especially in his decision making whether he should pass or keep dribbling by himself. By performing well in the pitch and getting more chances to play, he has been granted with permission to shot or try to dribble by himself more often, which in fact, he can do so. However, this has led him to not making the best decision in some situations. He might have over-complicated things when he could just make a simple pass to set his teammates up.
The below picture shows he chose to make a long-range effort while he had two options on both sides. If he passed the ball to either side, he could increase the chance of scoring for the team.
Another example shows Isak was in a counter-attack situation where they had numerical advantage upfront especially on both sides where they could create a 2v1 situation. Instead of passing the ball, he chose to shoot by himself.
Overall, Isak is a physically and technically gifted player. He is tall and athletic to protect the ball from the opponent and he is quick and agile to make runs and change of directions to get into the box and away from the defenders. He is excellent on and off the ball. When he is on the ball, he could dribble and take on players by himself. His ball control and first touch are very good where he can play in a tight space without losing the ball. His off the ball movement is very smart where he would always look for a blindsided run and back shoulder run to dump the defenders. He will observe the nearby situation and adjust his body orientation to optimize his next move which allows him to play efficiently in the game. He has a good positioning when it comes to defending. When he is pressing, he knows how to utilise his cover-shadow to block the passing lane and stop the switch of play. He has an immense work ethic on and off the ball. He definitely got what it takes to play in any top teams in the top five leagues, and he could potentially become one of the best forward players in the world.