They go hand in hand. Two of Spain’s leading strikers today, first attempting to carve out a reputation for themselves away from the big two in La Liga and forcing their names permanently into the mind of Vicente Del Bosque, and now making the joint trip to the Premier League.
You can’t talk about one without acknowledging the other. Roberto Soldado and Alvaro Negredo have always stayed firmly in the niche of traditional strikers in the modern game. When many clubs are exploring the option of false 9s, hybrids and anything else that will see them ahead of their counterparts, Negredo and Soldado have become the other option, and not necessarily the Plan B, that many clubs still need.
It’s funny that both have taken to leaving Spain at the same time. Not much separates them. Both Negredo and Soldado are the same age and they both failed to make a name for themselves at Real Madrid, though through little fault of their own. They’ve since become two of the most talked about strikers in Spanish football, having taken up important roles in the Sevilla and Valencia sides, respectively. It also says a lot about their value to their former clubs, with both commanding similar fees in order to make the switch to the Premier League.
Even now, in a new league and unfamiliar environment, there isn’t much that forces one to stray well away from the other.
Soldado is a striker who has always been in the mould of a poacher. His link up play has improved, as has been seen with his call ups to the Spanish national side. But any questions or concerns that have arisen since moving to Tottenham should become a thing of the past once Andre Villas-Boas has his team set up to make the best of their first-choice centre-forward.
Soldado can drop deep and is the more mobile of the two, but he shouldn’t have to move away from his best position in the penalty box. Playing for Spain has given him the freedom to roam across the opposition backline, sometimes barely moving from one area of the pitch. When one of the team’s midfielders slices through the defence, Soldado will be there to snap up the opportunity. Of course, it may take him three or four chances to find the goal, but he’s unrelenting and he’s persistent.
The problem that both he and Negredo are having to face at present is that neither have arrived at their new clubs to become the star name in the team: that role has already been taken up or will fall to someone else.
Negredo has been fortunate, though, arguably settling in quicker. The Spaniard should have had a goal on his debut against Newcastle had it not been wrongly ruled offside. He then went on to add goals from open play in his next two league games. He’s not too dissimilar to Edin Dzeko, and Negredo surely knows that. He’s taking his chances, he’s a well-rounded No.9, possessing the strength to hold up play but also the variety in his game to attempt shots on goal which are contrasting, whether from his position on the pitch or in the manner he chooses to execute. His goal against Bayern Munich, while pointless, was nevertheless a memorable strike. It was the goal of a traditional centre-forward, making the most of the one chance he had.
Negredo has found slightly more joy into his Premier League career at this point than Soldado. He’s playing in a Manchester City team where his teammates can provide for him. On one flank, Jesus Navas knows what it takes to get his former Sevilla teammate scoring. Elsewhere, the City midfield can regularly consist of David Silva, who is seen as a create-first midfielder. On top of that, partnering Sergio Aguero has many benefits, with the Argentine’s clinical scoring record and his creative style combining the best of both a No.9 and No.10.
Thus far, that has largely been what’s separated both strikers. Manchester City are setup to create chances for their forwards. At Spurs, Soldado isn’t capable of fashioning his own scoring chances in the way that, say, Aguero can. One of the flanks is taken up by Andros Townsend who, while doing a lot for his own reputation in the game, has provided little service to the lone centre-forward. Andre Villas-Boas is tasked with finding the right balance in his side, namely identifying the player who will pull the strings from the midfield. At Valencia, Soldado had a host of players who would provide for him. At Spurs, we’re just not seeing that. Soldado doesn’t have to be the key individual in the team, but when you buy a striker in that mould, you have to offer him a consistent supply line.
Last season, all of Soldado’s league goals came from shots taken inside the box. The same, coincidentally, was the case for Negredo. They both hit numbers well into double figures, being separated in the end by a single goal. Not much has changed in either player’s game since swapping Spain for England, and you can tell. At this point, though, it’s telling how well their respective teams are setup to bring the best out of each forward.