On the 30th of August 2016, F.C. Barcelona signed Paco Alcacer for €30 million from Spanish rivals Valencia. The move came after years of steady development, as he went from a promising youth prospect to one of the most talented forwards in La Liga. What followed, however, was a less than spectacular, as Alcacer failed to establish himself in Barcelona’s starting line-up. He was part of Barcelona’s squad for two full seasons, but at the beginning of 2018/19, he was deemed surplus to requirements. He arrived in Dortmund on loan and after a brilliant start to his career, Borussia Dortmund signed him permanently for €23 million. Armed with a 5-year contract, fans will hope Paco Alcacer can continue his excellent goal-scoring form and bring glory back to the Signal Iduna Park.
Alcacer was born on the 30th of August 1993 in Torrent, Spain. It was at his local club, Torrent, where he developed the foundations of his game before joining Valencia’s youth academy in 2005. He developed his abilities at a fast pace and in 2009 at the age of just 16, he made his senior debut for Valencia’s B team in the Segunda Division B. A year later, he made his first-team debut in the Copa Del Rey, whilst scoring 27 times for the B team. In 2011/12, he made La Liga debut, before being sent on loan to Getafe the following season. In 2013/14 he returned to the Mestalla and made 23 appearances scoring crucial goals along the way against Barcelona and F.C. Basel. In the next two seasons, he established himself as a first-team player and he shone brightly during that period. After 30 goals in 90 games, Barcelona recruited him as a backup option to their start forward line of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. His career progress stunted over the next two seasons as he achieved very little game time because of the incredible performances by Suarez at centre-forward. Now at Dortmund, he has scored an unprecedented 12 goals in his first 15 appearances. How he’s managed to do so is quite interesting, but first, let’s take a look the player he is, his strengths and weaknesses.
Alcacer’s biggest asset is obviously his goal-scoring ability. Key to that is his movement in and around the box. His small stature and quick, zippy running style allow him to explode and accelerate to create space. He’s quite adept at both creating space for his teammates and himself as well as just being in the right space at the right time to convert his opportunities. Alcacer was developed in a football culture that prizes intelligent footballers over those with technique or physical prowess but very little football I.Q. Being the size that he is, Alcacer clearly learnt that he was going to have to interpret space really well, especially as a centre-forward. Teams tend to defend really well collectively and are very pragmatic in the way they do so. Thus this was probably the reason he understands where why and how to make the right runs, for who etc.
So far this season in the Bundesliga, teams just haven’t been able to find a counter-solution to Dortmund’s new style in possession. Alcacer has had much more space to use compared to what he would’ve got in Spain. For example, many teams have tried to press in advanced areas against Dortmund. This has allowed Alcacer to find more space in behind opponent’s defensive lines or by dropping deep in between midfield and defensive lines to link play during counter-attacks.
So far, Alcacer hasn’t shown any glaring weakness in the centre-forward position as he’s played a very small set of games with only a few minutes in between. If there was a weakness to his game, it would be a direct result of a tactical issue Dortmund have faced all season long. The inability to systematically break down deep defensive blocks. Most of Alcacer’s goals have come from finishing counter-attacking movements or set-piece routines. However, Lucien Favre rarely plays him against teams that defend conservatively, usually opting to play Mario Gotze as centre-forward instead. Gotze offers his passing and dribbling abilities in tight areas and can rotate positions with Marco Reus fairly easily. Alcacer is not a player who can drop into midfield and make a substantial impact from deep. This makes him a liability against tough-to-break-down sides. It’s easy to isolate him by congesting the space around him so that he cannot create space on his own.
Dortmund have shown glimpses of how to break down sides positionally (see Alcacer’s first goal against Leverkusen). However, it’s not a big feature of their attacking game. Rather, their attacks are concentrated on horizontal passing, with the half-spaces being the focus of their attack. Ideally, their centre-forward would have to have a much larger skill set than Alcacer has at the current moment. Napoli, for example, are much more fluid in attack because of the rotation and synergy between their forwards. Atletico Madrid, who also use horizontal passing patterns whilst in possession, play with two strikers. Paco playing as a lone forward makes it easy for opposing defences to negate his goalscoring threat by outnumbering him in defence.
Even more worrying is how clinical he’s been. Any player who scores 12 Bundesliga goals in their first 469 minutes with only 23 shots is clearly overperforming. Last night against Fortuna Dusseldorf, he became the first ever Bundesliga player to score 10 goals as a substitute. His goal-scoring form is obviously unsustainable and his goals to game ratio is likely to regress to the numbers we saw at Valencia, where he had regular game time unlike at Barcelona.
Barcelona- 1 goal every 3.33 games
Valencia – 1 goal every 2.88 games
So taking all things into consideration, it brings me to a very important question. Just how will Paco Alcacer add value to this current Dortmund team going forward? Especially given the tactical issues Dortmund face and the strong run of fixtures at the business end of the season? It remains to be seen.