While just about everyone sits down to enjoy this summer’s World Cup, Derek McInnes and…
It’s no secret that Aberdeen struggled in front of goal last season. Adam Rooney wasn’t as prolific as previous campaigns and Stevie May didn’t really make the impact many had hoped he would at Pittodrie. Derek McInnes needs to take action as this isn’t going to get any better given two of his other top five scorers have now left the club. Top scorer Kenny McLean is now at Norwich City while Ryan Christie has returned to parent club Celtic. Simply put, where are the goals going to come from?
Sure, we could see a Rooney resurgence, but he looked a shadow of the player he has been in previous seasons. Similarly, May may hit the ground running in his second season, but not reinforcing his frontline would constitute a massive risk on McInnes’ part. My colleague Stefan Bienkowski recently wrote about how desperately the Dons will miss Ryan Christie next season. And part of that was down to his goals, but also his all-round creativity and the attacking threat he posed.
Aberdeen have had a relatively quiet transfer window so far, but there have now been stories linking them to ex-Ross County striker Alex Schalk. The former Dutch Under-21 star performed well last season which is all the more impressive when you consider he was playing in a Ross County team who finished rock bottom of the Premiership. Is Schalk the answer to Aberdeen’s attacking problems? It’s the intention of this article to dig a little deeper and find out.
Of course, a striker’s contribution to a team is more than just goals, but they are a hugely significant part. It’s all well and good having a forward that works hard for the team, but if they aren’t scoring on at least a semi-regular basis then they aren’t doing their job. Just look at Alfredo Morelos at Rangers. The Colombian enjoyed a successful first season and finished as the club’s top scorer. However, the goals dried up in the second-half of the campaign which led to many criticising the young South American.
Bottom line, Aberdeen need to bring in a player who they know can find the back of the net at Premiership level. Step forward Alex Schalk. The 25-year-old finished the 2017/18 season in red-hot form and could be just what McInnes and the Dons are looking for. He has pace, is a natural goalscorer and has also proven he has the quality to succeed in Scotland’s top division.
Schalk was playing in a lowly Ross County team but still managed to score 11 goals last campaign. There’s absolutely no doubting that’s an impressive return. As the table shows this is more than any individual Aberdeen player managed to score last season. You have to wonder whether Schalk would thrive in a top-half team where he’d be playing alongside players of significantly better quality. In the end, Schalke scored over a quater of his club’s overall league goals. Truly remarkable.
The other interesting aspect of Schalk’s goalscoring is that he didn’t actually receive much game time. He started just 15 games and of those, he only played 90 minutes in nine of them. That suggests this is a player who scores when given the chance which is emphasised by his performance in the goal per 90 metric. The Dutchman averaged 0.53 goals per 90 compared to the 0.43 of Rooney (his nearest competitor).
It should be stated that his stats here might be slightly inflated given that he scored a brace on two occasions and a hat-trick on another. Nonetheless, this is a striker who has a knack for goalscoring no matter the quality of team he is playing in. Moreover, his expected goals for the season was 7.8. Compare that to his goal tally of 11 and it shows that Schalk is actually taking opportunities in front of goal he’d be forgiven for missing.
If Rooney does remain at Pittodrie he needs attacking players around him that are able to create. Stevie May has chipped in with assists this season but you wonder whether that’s been to the detriment of his goalscoring? Simply put, the Dons don’t need another Rooney. They need someone who can score goals but also create them and who will work hard for the team. McInnes will also be looking for a forward who can fit into his style of play and the formations he deploys.
The numbers are pretty telling. Rooney didn’t produce any assists last year for Aberdeen. And maybe that’s OK if he’s still banging in 15 to 20 goals a season, but that’s no longer the case. Aberdeen’s other main striker, May, chipped in with five assists which is a decent return for a centre-forward. Schalke returned four assists last campaign which is fewer than May and Christie but still level with or more than McLean, Mackay-Steven and Rooney.
Scoring 11 goals and setting up four is a good return for a player in pretty much any team in the Premiership – perhaps excluding Celtic. The point has already been made, but it’s pretty impressive that the Dutchman was able to do this while at a struggling County. It also makes you think where they would’ve been weren’t it for his creativity and attacking threat.
Aberdeen could do with bringing in a striker with not only a decent goalscoring record but one which can also provide. There are going to miss Christie and McLean in that department so it’s imperative McInnes addresses that problem. Schalk ticks both boxes and, as we’ll go on to explain, he looks like a good fit for the types of formation that Aberdeen use under their current manager.
Aberdeen played a 4-2-3-1 last a season with a Number. 10 and two attacking wingers supporting the lone striker. That forward role would usually be occupied by either May or Rooney. They’d have the likes of McGinn, Mackay-Steven and Christie behind them so it meant even the striker always had pace around them.
Schalk, on the other hand, found most of his success in systems that deployed two strikers. He is, however, able to play up front on his own and did so on a few occasions for County last season. At Aberdeen, he would also have more support up there. The likes of McGinn and Mackay-Steven would likely present him with more chances as a lone striker. That said, he did look more effective when he had someone up there with him.
Schalk could slot into the preferred 4-2-3-1 of McInnes, but he could also give the Dons more options were he to sign. The last time they started a game with a front two pairing was in October against Hibs. The duo of May and Rooney started and Aberdeen ran out 1-0 winners. That’s not to say Aberdeen sign Schalk, play 4-4-2 and all is rosy, but signing him or someone of a similar ilk would mean McInnes could switch it up.
The likes of May could very well thrive if he had someone to play off of. The latter scored 20 goals and provided seven assists for St Johnstone in the 2013/14 season. Throughout that campaign, the majority of these came when May was playing in a 4-4-2 setup or in a formation where he had a strike partner. Perhaps with the likes of Schalk next time, another goalscorer who can chip in with assists, we would see May rejuvenated.
Is Schalk the kind of player Aberdeen need? On paper yes. He’s a goalscorer at Scottish Premiership level and has shown he can do that even when playing for a bottom of the table side. He has the ability to create and set up goals in the final third and he could well fit into the system McInnes currently plays. Furthermore, at the very least he would give the Dons manager more options for the upcoming season.