Alexander Isaacs to Newcastle: The perfect striker for Eddie Howe’s high pressure system

Alexander Isaac is used to the hype. Long dubbed the ‘new Zlatan Ibrahimovic’ and celebrated by his former Swedish coach for ‘rewriting history’ with the national team, the striker’s profile will grow even more now as he is ready to move to the Premier League to become Newcastle United – a record signing.

The 22-year-old has been repeatedly linked with major clubs in Europe – Arsenal is believed to be a long-time fan – but is tied to Tyneside in what the Newcastle hierarchy hopes will prove to be another inspiring coup d’état, following the addition of January Bruno Guimarães.

If the fee agreed with Real Sociedad, around 60 million pounds ($70.7 million) initially and with potential additions, looks dizzying, it highlights Newcastle’s belief in his abilities. However, there is a degree to which some across Newcastle accept that this is a calculated gamble, as the club did with Guimarães, in the hope that Isaacs fulfill his huge potential in Tyneside.

Isak celebrates scoring against Real Madrid in 2020 (Photo: Quality Sport Images / Getty Images)

Steve Nixon, Newcastle’s head of recruiting, has long been a fan of Isak, with the Sweden international seen as the perfect profile for a modern-day striker. Isaac is fast, tall, agile and adaptable. Part of a new breed of Heart Attack, along with Darwin Nunes and Erling Haaland.

It seems no coincidence that Newcastle took such an aggressive move during the week that he sent Callum Wilson to do a hamstring scan. The 30-year-old’s injury is not serious – he is expected to be out for about three weeks, although the club has not given a time frame – but it is the latest in a long line of fitness problems, and without Wilson, Newcastle are desperate. Lacks firepower.

Head coach Eddie Howe has been seeking offensive reinforcements throughout the summer and remains keen on a winger and midfielder.

But why did Newcastle select Isaacs as an essential part of solving their offensive shortcomings? who is this? And what will he bring besides Hao?

Isaacs will arrive at Newcastle in understandable excitement, given his undoubted ability, but also with plenty to prove.

Born in Stockholm to Eritrean parents, Isaac signed a contract with AIK when he was six years old and quickly established himself as a child prodigy.

He made his debut for the team at the age of 16 and became the youngest goalscorer in AIK history, before repeating the feat for Sweden by scoring for the first club at 17 years and 113 days.

These accomplishments have drawn clear comparisons with Ibrahimovic – it’s easy to make, given their shared nationality, similar height, Isaac’s 6 feet 3 inches (190 centimeters) and his location. The duo soon became international teammates as well, with Ibrahimovic describing Isaacs as a “brilliant” talent.

Alexander Isaacs, Sweden, Euro 2020

Isak scored nine goals in 37 matches for Sweden (Image: GETTY)

Borussia Dortmund, famous for sponsoring promising youngsters, acquired the then 17-year-old, but what seemed to be a clever move turned out to be a tough one. During two years in Germany, Isak played under four coaches and moved between the first and reserve team, scoring only one goal.

However, there was a successful loan to Willem II in the 2018-19 Eredivisie – Isak scored 12 goals in his first 12 league matches, the first foreign-born player to do so in the Netherlands – which caught Sociedad’s attention. The Spanish club acquired Isak for around €10m (£8.4m, $10m), and in 105 La Liga appearances he scored 33 goals.

With nine goals in 37 games for Sweden, Isak already has top-level experience for someone his age. He played in Euro 2020, when Gary Lineker described him as an “exceptional talent”, while lifting the King’s Cup with Sociedad in 2020 and appearing in the European League.

However, after a prolific season in the 2020-21 season, when he scored 17 goals in 34 league games, his level declined last season, as he scored only six times in 32 games. Perhaps that is why there are questions surrounding Newcastle’s decision to put their faith in Isak, given that scouts from the top European clubs have been following him for years and none have fulfilled the price Sociedad is asking.

Isak describes himself as a “modern striker”, pressing from the front and using his speed and power to shake up opponents’ defences, exactly the kind of striker Newcastle had hoped to add.

Last season, he mainly played as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation. But he’s also featured in Partnerships as well, being deployed in a 4-4-2 alongside Alexander Sorloth and in the mid-4-3-3, as seen below.

Howe’s favorite system since December has been a 4-3-3 – Newcastle have played almost exclusively that way – and Isak is seen as someone who can play in and on Wilson’s side.

There are suggestions that Isaacs, in the long term, could develop into Wilson’s successor, given that the England striker turns 31 in February and has fitness issues. If Wilson’s hamstring injury has kept him out of play for a few games, as expected, Isaacs and Chris Wood will be vying directly for the short-term attacking position.

Once Wilson returns, he and Isaac can appear on the same eleventh. Whether that means an alternative system is unclear, but it is understood that part of the reason why there is unanimous approval among Newcastle’s recruitment team for Isak is that he is seen as someone who can play across the front line. He rarely did at Sociedad, but as a player comfortable with both feet, he could, in theory, have come in on the right or left of Newcastle’s front three.

Isak prefers to be on a team with more ball share as well, and Howe is trying to increase Newcastle’s possession stats. “It’s easier for me when the team has the ball, it suits me,” Isak told Sweden’s Sportbladet. “We want football. It is a show of courage.”

To better display Isaacs’ style, we can use smarterscout – a free site that uses advanced analytics to break down the elements of a footballer’s game into different measures of performance, skill and style, which can be displayed in a “pizza chart”. The rankings are adjusted according to the Premier League standard of the player in his position and are out of 99.

As the clever Isaacs pizza chart below demonstrates, its main strength lies in its ability to dodge. Last season, in his 1,992 league minutes as a striker, Isak’s carrying and dribbling volume was 97 out of 99, indicating his willingness to run with the ball. Alain Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron, Joe Willock and Joelinton have the ball well, so Isaacs should complement their style.

Interestingly, Isaacs frequently receives the ball in advanced areas, with Isaacs rating 84 out of 99, while also being quick with his long shot, as the striker is famous for his first efforts. His shot size in offensive touches is 93 out of 99, which is a high percentage.

Despite his height, Isak is not particularly strong in the air, which is why his number of aerial duels is only 17 out of 99.

There are amazing similarities to Wilson when it comes to Isak’s ability to move forward with possession and shooting frequently. Shown below is Wilson’s smarterscout pizza chart for 2021-22, his shot size is identical to Isak’s (93 out of 99), while his carry and dribbling size is also high (75 out of 99).

Their shared eagerness to snap shots early with one touch contributes to their elegant resemblance.

According to smarterscout, Wilson and Issack had a “similarity score” of 90.3 percent. Only three players under the age of 30 who played in the Premier League last season – Danny Welbeck, Romelu Lukaku and Ole Watkins – are considered by this model to be more similar to Isaacs.

Given that Wilson is the perfect forward for a high-pressure system with his forefoot, Isaac should fit in seamlessly with the Newcastle squad. Armando Broja and Dominic Calvert-Lewin appeared on that list as well, both considered potential options for strikers this summer, with Howe a longtime fan of the Everton striker.

Isaacs’ most prolific season came in 2020-21, when he scored 17 goals in 34 league games at a rate of 0.65 goals without penalties per 90. This was the fourth-highest in La Liga and equal to Atletico Madrid’s Luis Suarez. .

A map of Isak’s shot from that season is shown below, with his average effort distance of 12.9 yards. He beat his expected goal (xG) – a metric that measures the quality and probability of a shot – by 14.7 during that campaign.

However, last season Isak underperformed notably when it came to xG, which itself was roughly half of the season. He scored four goals, though the xG is 8.6, while the xG per shot has dropped from 0.19 to 0.12.

He tends to be a sweater player, and he goes on with great scoring competitions. In 2019-20, for example, he scored 12 goals in several matches, including two against Real Madrid and one against Barcelona.

But Isaac is also an innovator and terminator.

The chart below shows his campaigns that created his chance last season, some ending with his own picks and others leading to chances for his teammates.

This provides a visual representation of Isaacs’ tendency to catch the ball at “half distances” and drive centrally from wider positions. Although he did so primarily as a striker at Sociedad, Newcastle probably feel he can also do it successfully from the right or left positions, if he plays alongside Wilson.

It’s clear that 22-year-old Isaac is far from the final article. But, like Hugo Ekitike, another priority target this summer who opted to join PSG instead, Isak is seen as a brilliant young talent who could turn into a top-tier operator at Newcastle.

(Main illustration: Eamonn Dalton)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like