It’s no secret that Paco Alcacer has had a thrilling start to his tenure at Borussia Dortmund. In the 48 total minutes that he’s been on the pitch for Dortmund, he’s managed to score 3 (!) times. While that pace is surely unsustainable, if he could maintain a pace anywhere near that, Borussia Dortmund could potentially challenge for the title.
What excites me even more than the goals he’s scored, though is how he’s played on and off the ball. It’s clear that unlike the wingers-turned-strikers that Favre has played so far, chiefly Marco Reus and Max Philipp, Paco displays a deadly striker’s instinct for goal, and a deep knowledge of what a striker is supposed to do in the buildup. In my opinion, his first goal against Bayer Leverkusen, the one that put Dortmund in front for good, perfectly demonstrates his instincts as a center forward.
First, let’s watch the goal. Fox Sports doesn’t allow embeds, but here is a link to the goal on their YouTube account.
Here is the buildup that led to the goal. Jadon Sancho is currently in possession, with Hakimi to his immediate right. Paco (circled in yellow) and Bruun-Larsen (to Paco’s right) are both pushing against Leverkusen’s back line, who have elected to play the two forwards onside. Marco Reus is the player to Sancho’s left. Leverkusen are in a decent defensive position: Leon Bailey is marking Hakimi. Wendell, who had been fantastic all night, is in position to stop Sancho from carrying the ball towards the penalty area. Finally, they effectively have three defenders to cover only two forwards.
In this screenshot, Paco has already decided to act. You can see him turning to run towards Sancho. This is because he knows his current position is no good, and he needs to do something to create more space. He’s going to do what many center forwards do, which is to turn his back to the goal and basically act as a wall off of which his teammate can bounce a pass.
Sancho lays out a pass to him, and Paco rebounds the ball to Reus. At first, the ball is a bit behind Reus, so he has to run backwards to get it. While this seems to take the immediate sting out of the attack, it actually has a positive secondary effect: Leon Bailey now moves to press Reus off the ball. After this, he neglects to track back. Just with a simple passing combination, Dortmund have taken Bailey out of the play, and given Hakimi a bit more space.
This is what Hakimi is facing:
If you look closely, Paco is calling for a pass at this moment (Of the three Dortmund players forming a vertical line on screen, he’s in the middle.) He can see a play developing: Marco Reus is just off his right shoulder, and Dominik Kohr, the Leverkusen player between Reus and Hakimi, is running to join the back line.
Hakimi hits Paco with a pass. As Paco steps back, he draws out Lars Bender (circled in red). Reus cuts in front of him, which prompts Paco to one-touch pass it to Reus. Reus finishes the combination by immediately returning the ball to Paco. Here is what the play looks like now:
This simple combination was also significant: it drew Lars Bender forward, and now, Paco is facing the goal with the ball in his possession. To be frank, it isn’t a bad shooting position as far as long shots goal. Paco knows this, Leverkusen Sven Bender knows this, and most importantly, Paco knows that Sven Bender knows this. He takes several steps, as if here were winding up to take a shot. Sven Bender takes the bait: he steps forward and sprawls out to take the shot.
It’s at this point that I’d like to point out another interaction that has transpired. Jacob Bruun-Larsen, Dortmund’s left winger, has moved into the box (He’s the one standing on the 18-yard line in the picture above). Jonathan Tah is now marking him. Bruun-Larsen is about to do something small yet very significant: he’s going to cut across Jonathan Tah and make a near-post run. This will come into play in a second.
Paco is now on the ball, and he’s just duked out Sven Bender. With Hakimi now in acres of space on the right, Paco lays the ball out to him once again. Here is what the play looks like now:
As you can see, Tah has moved to mark Bruun-Larsen (circled in blue), as has Wendell, who has left Sancho in an offside position. Hakimi is completely unmarked. Here is what the play looks like only milliseconds after Paco has passed it to Hakimi:
Leverkusen are in serious trouble. Sven Bender is out of position (and by the way he’s about to sprint back into position, he’s probably very aware of this.) Hakimi has all the time and space in the world. Paco Alcacer, a product of Valencia CF’s youth system, immediately does something that strikers are taught to do while they’re still in grade school: he’s going to follow his run. He’s sees space between Jonathan Tah and Tin Jedvaj, Leverkusen’s right back. He’s sees an opportunity, and he’s going to take it.
He makes a mad dash straight for goal. Hakimi, who is completely alone on the edge of Leverkusen’s penalty area, spots the run, and sees a goal just waiting to happen. He takes a few steps forward, and pounces.
Remember Jacob Bruun-Larsen’s run? As a result of that run, Jonathan Tah is entirely focused on Jacob (circled in red). Tah has just seen him run back away from goal, so he thinks that the young Dane is comfortably out of the picture. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that Paco has made his run directly into Tah’s blind spot. If one of Leverkusen’s players were to simply shout, Tah would be aware of this. It’s unclear whether or not this actually happened, but regardless, Tah makes no attempt to block the cross. He likely thinks that, either Hradecky is going to block the cross, or that no Dortmund players are running in behind him, and that the ball will simply roll to the other side.
He’s wrong. The Real Madrid loanee lays out a perfect cross to the Barcelona loanee, whom every Leverkusen defender has ignored. The Barca man deflects the ball in, and Dortmund take the lead for good.
Paco’s finish is a deceptively difficult one. Hradecky has made himself very big, and Paco is at the near post: if he just blasts the ball with his right foot, there’s a good chance Hradecky saves it, or he just shoots it wide. Instead, Paco redirects the ball so that it floats into the far corner. It’s a brilliant finish, the culmination of a brilliant play.
Paco Alcacer was not the lone creator of this goal. Jadon Sancho, Jacob Bruun-Larsen, Achraf Hakimi, and Marco Reus all played varying but important roles in its execution. However, the quick decision making, the hold-up play, the timing of the run, and the finish are all things that I just can’t see Max Philipp doing in the same position. Marco Reus might have made similar decisions, but he was also an integral part of the play as a midfielder. I’m confident that Paco Alcacer was the only member of Dortmund’s squad who could have done what he did, and I believe that it’s just further proof that Paco should be Dortmund’s starting center forward this season.