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Paco Alcacer and his tactical fit at Villarreal

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Will the striker regain his form under Unai Emery?

Villarreal CF v SD Huesca - La Liga Santander Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

One in every five shots Paco Alcacer takes ends in a goal. In the last eight seasons, he has 80 goals from 382 recorded shots (whoscored), meaning 20.9% of them have gone in. For some context, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has converted 19% of his shots recorded on whoscored and Robert Lewandowski, 19.2%, Gerard Moreno is at 16.1% and Carlos Bacca at 21.8%. If you want a crazy high number, Cedric Bakambu converted 29% his chances while at Villarreal, but for his career (including his time in China) he’s at 20.7%. All of these stats include penalty goals, but only 3/80for Paco have been from the spot, whereas you have 6/116, Bacca 16/104, PEA 18/228, etc. Paco’s conversion rate is one of the least inflated by penalty kicks.

My point is this, when it comes to shooting a football at a goal, Paco Alcacer is an absolutely excellent player. What’s interesting, though, when compare him to some of the other strikers on this list, is that for wide sections of his career he did not get nearly as many shots off per 90. That’s where guys like PEA and Lewandowski set themselves apart. They have really high shot volume and still convert at a high level. For his career, Paco averages 2.6 shots per 90 minutes, Lewandowski 4.1.

Paco’s shots and conversion rates over his career are extremely similar to Carlos Bacca’s peak spell of five seasons where he had 14, 20, 18, 13, and 15 goals at Sevilla, Milan, and his first year at Villarreal. Paco’s last five league totals? 11, 13, 6 (in about 850 minutes), 18, 9. Bacca’s run of his best five years begain in 2014-2015 when he was 27 years old, the age Paco is now.

In fact, that’s the age when a lot of players start to hit their peak, so as far as I’m concerned there’s every indication that Paco, who was significantly better in his early 20s that Bacca was, still has a lot of good football left in him, which is why I’m so frustrated by the negativity I’ve seen from Villarreal fans about the player.

Without question the best run of form in Paco’s life was 18-19 at Dortmund. He scored 18 goals in about 1200 minutes despite struggling with muscle injuries most of the year. During that run he averaged 5.9 touches in the box per 90 minutes and 3.79 shots per 90. Fast forward one calendar year to his January move to Villarreal? Since coming here, he has averaged 4.48 touches in the box per 90 minutes and 2.4 shots per 90 minutes.

Now, Paco’s finishing ran hot during that Dortmund spell as well. More than a third of his shots went in that season, but even if he had lowered his conversion rate to his career average he still would have had eleven goals in 1200 minutes, which is outstanding. The key difference between Dortmund in here is how often he’s shooting and how often he’s getting the ball in the box. During both the Dortmund spell and his time here, Paco shot 61% of his shots within the penalty area. He doesn’t want the ball outside the box. What he knows is receive, turn, finish.

If he is going to be as useful as possible at Villarreal, we have to find ways to get him touches inside the box. So far during his tenure, I would argue we have not done a good enough job of that. I should also point out that Paco’s not entirely a one trick pony, either. His expected assists per 90 is in the 75th percentile in the top five leagues for strikers since joining Villarreal, and he averages about one key pass per 90 minutes in that time (Gerard is about 1.6).

We have a good player here. He was too isolated against Huesca and he’s been too isolated in a lot of matches. He’s not the sort of guy who creates the offense- that’s Gerard, Kubo, Chukwueze, and Parejo’s job- he’s the guy who finishes off the play.

I think the addition of Estupinan will give us more offensive life on the left than we had against Huesca, but getting Paco the touches he needs won’t be as simple as lobbing in crosses from out wide. As a team, we pressured Huesca very well (succeeding 40% of the time) last Sunday but we did not do it enough. I think those situations are how we are going to create chances for Paco. If we are going to see more of the 442 (and let’s be realistic, we know we will) this is something that is going to have to improve if Paco is going to give us the best version of himself.

Editor’s note: Worth noting that I put Paco’s Dortmund tenure into the ‘similar players’ algorithm on smarterscout.com. This looks for similarities in style of play. Notable names that came back were Mauro Icardi while at Inter, PEA while he was still at Dortmund, and Ciro Immobile at Lazio. For all of these strikers, if you get them plenty of shots they will reliably give you goals.