False Nine Time?

This weekend saw a Premier League record broken with a whopping 29 goals being scored on a six game Saturday. Yet only slightly more than a third of these goals were scored by traditional centre forwards, this seems to point to a general trend of moving away from the use of a traditional centre forward. Liverpool have totally given up with the use of a centre forward, and Arsenal are having great success, as we saw this weekend, with moving Alexis Sanchez into the role dubbed the ‘false nine’.

Of the 434 goals scored so far this season, only 131 have been scored by those traditionally considered to be a centre forward, meaning almost 70% of Premier League goals are scored by players other than a traditional centre forward. Great, nice stat, so what? Well with Divock Origi scoring for Liverpool today Stoke became the side with the joint least goals from a striker, 2 level with Liverpool. The main issue here is that Stoke, unlike nearest low striker scorers Arsenal (3 all from Giroud) and Liverpool (2 all from Origi), have started a recognised striker for a majority of our matches.

In fact it has only been the last two clashes where we have lined up with a non-traditional centre forward, Walters against Burnley and Arnie against Arsenal. So this brings me to my point, bring Bojan back into the starting XI. Bojan, the false nine, the man so essential to the wonderful performances against the Manchester clubs this time last year.

One thing that has become prevalent in this new system is that in an emergence Mame Diouf has become the out ball. In fact Grant to Diouf was the second highest pass combination the Potters made, with it happening 8 times, only bettered by Pieters’ 9 passes to Muniesa. This suggests Stoke no longer need anyone to fill into the target man role at the head of the attack, as Diouf has taken this roll. Despite this Stoke are increasingly playing less long balls, with only City and Arsenal playing 5 or less long balls per game than the Potters. This clearly suggests that Bojan’s addition to the front line will come as no detriment to the build-up play.

Fluidity and flexibility of the front three, is something that has defined the 343 in its short weeks of use. The formation seems to possess the ability for any of the attackers to appear anywhere on the pitch. No central player seems to suit such a role as well as Bojan. The key to the success of the ‘false nine’ last season was the fluidity of the front three, specifically when one dropped short the other two made bursting runs into the box. Let’s not forget that Arnautovic’s best performances last season came with Bojan occupying the ‘false nine’ role.

Bojan is currently the most clinical player in the side with a goal every 180 minutes, a stat no other comes close to. Of Stoke’s league scorers Bojan has played the second least amount of minutes (363), only behind his compatriot Muniesa (286). It is clear that given time Bojan will be able to establish himself as the sides’ main goal scorer, as he scores a league goal every 230 minutes, better than any other player who has been at the club since the Spaniard joined in 2014.

Bojan’s inclusion would come at the cost of Joe Allen’s place in the attacking three, but hopefully not to his place in the side. Despite being the Potters’ top scorer Allen’s attacking frailty is beginning to display itself, with the Welsh Pirlo missing two gilt edged chances, one last week against Burnley and one this week against Arsenal. It clearly appears that it is time for Hughes to move Allen back into the centre of midfield, and build a partnership with Imbula, a pair with the potential to move Stoke into Europe.

Many are touting this week as being a season defining one for the Potters, two wins could push Stoke up the table and firmly set sights on Europe. Whilst anything else could see the Potters sliding down the table come the New Year, due to a difficult end to December. With Stoke struggling to find a permanent player to occupy the centre forward role, perhaps it is time to follow the trend and do in with the position all together.

Written by Tom Thrower

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