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The Paco Alcacer Effect: A tactical analysis of Barcelona's newest signing

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Paco Alcacer can make Barça’s already-incredible attack even more potent

Romania v Spain - International Friendly Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

After a long wait and some drama, Barcelona has finally closed their summer transfer window with the recruitment of Paco Alcacer’s services. In contrast to the efficient frugality with which the transfers of Andre Gomes and Lucas Digne, Alcacer’s was a drawn out one, carried out rather publicly over the course of nearly two weeks.

It was hard for Barcelona fans to treat this entire saga with abience, as wherever one gazed the excessive use of the word "imminent" neighbored the Valencian’s appellation. "Deal imminent," read countless reports across the interweb as Culés like myself went through our daily ritual of skimming through Twitter and other online news sources eagerly awaiting developments in the story.

That ‘imminence’ eventually bore fruit, with Paco proudly posing in Blaugrana colors as news of the official announcement swept across social media. Barcelona fans breathed a sigh of relief in unison; finally, the last and most exhausting part of the entire summer transfer window was over.

For Culés, Paco Alcacer has been a name mentioned with uncertainty a few times too often during the past few weeks, but behind the scenes it’s almost certain the operation lasted much longer. Paco is definitely the final piece in the Barcelona gestalt – the one highly coveted by Luis Enrique and the team, identified as the ideal cog to not only be the backup to Luis Suarez, but also an additional integer that gives the Catalan club immense tactical headspace.

Paco Alcacer’s Profile

Although Paco is fairly popular in Spanish football, his attributes and style of play are alien to many Barça fans. The young 23-year-old CF is in the mold of modern-day strikers – a selfless, mobile number 9 who prefers to utilize technical ability and instinct in order to create and finish off chances.

Though not as pertinacious as El Pistolero, Paco like the Uruguayan prefers mobility and link-up play to a tunneled approach often taken up by targetmen and poachers. This inherent philosophy of pass and move is embedded into Paco’s game, which makes him a natural fit in Barcelona’s forward line-up.

In addition to his unselfish link-up play, Paco’s second real asset is pace. Sure, he’s unlikely to win a sprint against the likes of Jamie Vardy or Gareth Bale, but Paco is a lot faster than other modern-day strikers who like to pass the ball (names like Benzema, Suarez, Lewandowski, and Lacazette come to mind). This gives him an edge against most CBs, as he attempts to combine with teammates in quick one-twos and shadow his off-the-ball run within that entire move.

At Valencia he lacked the players to execute this astute maneuver on a frequent basis, but playing alongside Messi and Neymar (and even Suarez) will give him the necessary helpmates to leave his own mark on the pitch through a style he feels at home with. The young Valencian is also adept at holding on to the ball, using adduction of his body parts to shield it and time a pass perfectly when required.

Of course, as a striker, Paco’s primary duty is to put the ball in the net. Many have falsely termed him as a poacher, but in actuality Alcacer is a finisher in the mold of David Villa. In fact, his play-style is strikingly similar to Villa, with the only major difference being that he isn’t as prone to being offside as the ex-Barça man. The striking similarity (pun intended) to the New York City man will certainly make the likes of Messi and Iniesta feel at home whenever Paco plays.

Under ideal circumstances, 2015-16 should have been Paco’s breakout season. Unfortunately for him (and in hindsight fortunate for us), the ongoing managerial struggles of Valencia CF (and their direct influence on the performance of individuals on the pitch) have tugged Paco’s progression back a bit the same way fullbacks desperately tug on Messi’s shirt.

Despite being held back by his team’s performance and Valencia’s turbulent season, he still managed 13 goals and 6 assists in La Liga. Many would claim that Paco should’ve led from the front with his performances, and while there is a degree of merit (albeit a small one) to the argument, it’s worth noting that Alcacer only managed a rather miserable 2 shots per game in the league, a declarative stat that reflects Valencia’s failures last season in and around the opposition penalty box.

With Barcelona, Paco will see the sight of goal more often whenever he plays, taking aid of the immense creative machines who will partner his assault on opposition penalty boxes.

Tactical Options with Paco Alcacer

Now we get to the meat of the entire acquisition. Getting the player is just the beginning – the real challenge is integrating him into the squad, and this becomes vastly more tortuous when three of the four best players in the world play up front for your team.

The most obvious role Paco Alcacer could play in the team is be a replacement for Suarez (the biting one) if and when needed. However, those who see this as the sole purpose of Paco’s recruitment may find themselves surprised.

Paco gives Barcelona additional tactical options to play up front as a substitute for either one of MSN. Due to his ability on the ball and his pace, he could adequately slot into any one of the front three positions and offer directness, particularly on the left-hand side. Alcacer’s role may not be restricted to CF exclusively – just as David Villa was cleverly played as a pseudo-winger under Pep, Alcacer could do the same.

In fact, he may benefit from it more than Villa did, as with Messi now in and around the right side of midfield, Alcacer could utilize his clever movement and good pace to intercept the Argentinian’s incredible cross-field passes, which have been the source of demise for countless opponents under Luis Enrique.

We could also witness some unconventional tactics from Luis Enrique is certain league matches as well as when circumstances are dire and where scoring a goal becomes an utmost necessity. The notorious 4-2-4 formation used last season by Pep Guardiola (on paper a 4-4-2, but very different in application) at Bayern Munich could makes its way to Barcelona. This formation would utilize Messi and Neymar as wide players (which Messi predominantly as the free-roaming ‘midfielder’) whereas Paco and Suarez form the striking pair up front.

Paco Alcacer at Barcelona
4-2-4 Formation With Paco Alcacer and MSN

Paco could also play the shadow striker role in such a formation, offering late off-the-ball runs after a build-up when Messi or Neymar are in possession and Suarez has already occupied the box. Such tactics could in particular work effectively well against opposition who pack the penalty box with 9 players and have little intention of scoring. Having capable crossers like Roberto and Digne would offer extra lethality up front with Paco, as despite his average height (176cm), his nag for scoring headers by running into zones makes him a fantastic option for crossing fullbacks. All in all, to limit Alcacer as a poacher would be a fallacy – one I do not expect Luis Enrique to make with the attacking arsenal at his disposal.

Whether or not the additional options win us trophies is something no one can assure with certainty. However, what can be averred is that exciting times await Barcelona fans. We’re in for some incredible football this season, and it’s a great time to be a Culé.