The sight of Bayern Munich lifting the Bundesliga Schale and Robert Lewandowski parading the Torschützenkanone was a familiar sight after the final round of matches of the 2018-19 season. But it could all have ended much differently had Borussia Dortmund kept their nerve and finally ended the Bavarians’ dominance.
Lewandowski’s 22 goals saw him take the leading scorer award for the fourth time in his career, but the Pole was pushed close by Dortmund’s Paco Alcacer, who bagged 18 goals. The Spaniard’s goalscoring feats from the bench following his August arrival from Barcelona saw him breaking all kinds of Bundesliga records and grabbing all the headlines, but despite all that, questions still remain.
Spectacular goals (his 96th minute free kick against Augsburg), the winner against Bayern at the Signal Iduna Park on matchday 11, twelve goals in his first eleven appearances, seven in his last eight games all point to his arrival being an unmitigated success. But……there is a but!
All that glitters, is not gold
A but? Surely not. The statistics alone speak for themselves. The 25-year-old became the epitome of German efficiency with his scoring record. He only required 1212 minutes of Bundesliga action to achieve his season tally of 18 goals (whereas Lewandowski played 2957 to score just four more). He attempted 52 shots on goal with a 34% success rate, while Lewandowski had a 15.2% conversion rate.
It seemed that Paco was pre-ordained to score when sent on by coach Lucien Favre and I was lucky enough to witness this on matchday 13 when I was in Dortmund to see them beat SC Freiburg 2-0. With the Schwarzgelben labouring to a 1-0 win over the Breisgauer, Alcacer was sent on for the final 20 minutes and you could palpably sense that a goal was coming. As if on cue, he duly slotted home in the last minute to put more of a sheen on BVB’s win.
With his breath-taking scoring feats, is there really a question mark over the former Valencia hitman? At Barcelona he had Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez stopping him from hitting the absolute heights as a regular starter and putting his ability beyond doubt, but at Dortmund there is another factor.
His ‘success’ at Dortmund came almost entirely from the huge impact he made from the substitute’s bench. Twelve of his eighteen goals came after being sent on as a sub- he only actually started eleven games and of those he completed the whole 90 minutes in just three.
Muscular problems, thigh strains, shoulder and arm injuries have all contributed to him missing 81 days and 8 games in total, which seriously interrupted his rhythm and ability to string together a sustained run in the starting XI.
Can Lucien Favre adapt?
His injuries clearly had an impact, but is there another factor leading to the Alcacer doubters? There were occasions when the team sheet was crying out for the Spanish striker in the closing weeks of the season, but Lucien Favre seemed to favour Mario Götze to lead the attack in BVB’s 4-2-3-1 system.
The Swiss trainer has long been an advocate of playing a ‘false nine’ in the central striker’s berth rather than an out-and-out goal-getter in the traditional role. During his time at Hertha Berlin, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Nice favoured the likes of Raffael to play in the central position.
Granted he doesn’t have a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or a Robert Lewandowski at his disposal, but the signing of Alcacer was supposed to provide him with the ‘striker’ that the BVB squad was missing. However, with Götze excelling in the role and Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt being signed to add to the attacking options, will we be seeing Paco Alcacer once again being used as an impact option from the bench more often than from the start.
The Spaniard’s ability to get himself 100% fit will play a big role, but so too will the tactical preferences of coach Favre. Dortmund came so very close to toppling Bayern last season and will be going all-out to actually usurp them next season. It will be fascinating to see whether Paco Alcacer proves to be a talisman or an enigma.
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