Strike partnerships: A dying trade?

372 goals for Los Blancos between them.
372 goals for Los Blancos between them.

Strike partnerships are a rare breed in football. When perfected they can lead to an almost telepathic understanding between two men up front who share the same evident goal in a game of football, to score. The great partnerships of yesteryear as Butragueño and Sánchez, Yorke and Cole, di Stefano and Puskas and Rush and Dalglish have gone before us, and yet this unique bond between two forwards is becoming a rarer and rarer breed as new-age tactics and formations pave the way for future generations of football. But the question at the lacking of such a pedigree is quite simply, why?

The rise of 4-5-1.

Pep perfected the 4-3-3.
Pep perfected the 4-3-3.

By 4-5-1 I incorporate its many many varieties in the game most notably the particular use of 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3. These formations have dominated the forefront of Europe’s best teams in recent years. It appears to be the perfect blend of deadly attack whilst also leaving plenty of coverage in defense when required. With a lone striker spearheading the formation it leaves no room for a fellow forward to partner him. However the formation does not isolate the lone striker. The 3-man line behind him gives more than enough support with two wingers either side and an attacking midfielder sitting behind him. But I come back to the first point, in that it leaves no space needed for another partnering striker. 10 out of the 16 teams that reached the UEFA Champions League knockout stages in the 2012/13 season used a format of a 4-2-3-1 formation, with both finalists in BVB Dortmund and FC Bayern München following suit. The question stands, is there a need for another striker?

The lone striker.

Forwards are becoming increasingly more independent than in previous decades whereas they can withstand being up front alone, to an extent. Ideal examples of these strikers that are becoming more prominent yet remain in scarce supply, would be the likes of

Lewandowski.
Lewandowski.

Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Radamel Falcao. In many respects these players can be referred to as ‘old-fashioned’ strikers: big, strong, good in the air, and an ice-cold finisher. It is somewhat then hard to believe that these outlying and isolated strikers averaged 36 goals between them last season. The use of a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 has meant that one targetman up front is easy to identify and can bag the goals. The constant support from three attacking midfielders behind him can only make his job easier in retrospect.

Outdated.

We have come a long long way from the days of 4-4-2 and we simply have to come to terms with the fact that strike partnerships are outdated. The game has evolved and so have formations. The winners of the past 5 UEFA Champions Leagues have adopted a more attacking branded formation and the only recollected recent winners that did not apply this were Manchester United in 2008 in which they used a more 4-4-1-1 outfit. Although this can be interpreted as a 4-5-1. It does appear to be more efficient for managers to adopt a single striker at the head of the attacking lineup and to shape the forward play around them. The most evident example of this being the FC Barcelona team of late who have adopted a curious approach in centering Lionel Messi around all aspects of attacking play as he drops deeper and attacks from the centre-forward role.

The exception to the rule?
The exception to the rule?

Although it appears to be the end of enduring and prominent strike forces in today’s football there does appear to be a slight revolution to the cause in some cases. The duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge with the form of the latter half of last season and most recently in the 3-1 win over Sunderland (in which Suarez hit two and Sturridge one) are proving to be the exception to the rule. With Sturridge scoring 11 in as many appearances and the Uruguayin adding to his 30 goal haul last season, they are a pair not to be taken lightly. Other examples lie in Dutch maestro Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney blending tastefully together and also the mouth-watering prospect of Zlatan Ibrahimović and Edison Cavani for PSG is also one to look forward to with keen eyes in the season to come.

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