In his debut article, Josh Hallmark wonders if our Mexican striker is being unfairly blamed for our scoring woes.
With the loss of Alexander Mitrovic to Saudi Arabia, Marco Silva is left with the tough decision of who is going to replace our number nine. Raul Jimenez increasingly looks like he was signed this in hopes that he would be the one to do so.
Our striking options of Jimenez, Carlos Vinicius and Rodrigo Muniz have big boots to fill. Mitro’s 111 goals in 206 appearances will live long in the memory.
Raul’s performances haven’t gone down well with a lot of fans. He’s yet to score for the Whites with the exception of his opening goal in a pre-season friendly against Hoffenheim. During his time at Wolves, he scored 57 goals in 166 appearances. While his goal to game ratio isn’t as good as Mitro’s, we still know he is capable of more. However, since clashing heads with David Luiz against Arsenal on three seasons ago, he has only scored nine goals in 56 appearances, which implies a lack of confidence.
In the Premier League, Fulham have scored only eight goals nine games so far this term, which shows how much we are suffering without Mitrovic. We seem less creative and it is almost like we are lost for a plan now that he’s gone as fewer chances are being created. When goals haven’t been going in, in the same fashion as last season, it’s easy to point fingers towards our strikers. Vinicius’s energetic performances and the fact that he is already off the mark has meant that, Raul has become a bit of a scapegoat for the lack of goals.
Iwobi the difference?
When Vinicius is on the pitch, it always appears that he has more chances to score, giving the impression that he is the more threatening player. An important factor which is often overlooked, is Alexander Iwobi’s presence alongside each striker. Iwobi has taken the spotlight in terms of this season’s signings due to his calmness on the ball and work rate off the ball. In all competitions, he has started twice and come off the bench three times. When he’s brought on, he noticeably makes a difference and gives us more hope in the second half.
Vinicius has played alongside Iwobi five times this season and scored both his goals in this time – one against Luton after both being substituted on at half time and the other against Norwich in the Carabao Cup. Contrastingly, Jimenez has only played with Iwobi one time, which was against Spurs. While Jimenez missed a few opportunities, we looked more positive going forward when either of them came on as Iwobi allowed the transition for defence to attack which we lacked throughout the game.
One of Mitrovic’s best qualities was his hold up play due to his strong presence. Last season, it was frustrating when Vini came on as he just couldn’t do it to the same effect and possession was given away much more easily. This season, it has improved slightly, especially when the ball is played to his feet rather than in the air, but Jimenez seems more comfortable when receiving these kinds of passes and retaining possession. I think his ability to do so goes under the radar and is often forgotten when people are quick to criticise him.
Jimenez has been provided with the opportunity to stick the ball in the back of the net on some occasions, such as Palace and Spurs, but has also been quite unlucky. The first chance in the Palace game saw him bring down Pereira’s pass well and almost beat Johnston with a powerful effort. The second chance was what caused him to receive criticism, as he was given the chance to shoot or square it to Pereira to which he went for the latter.
Reviewing it back, Raul was on a hiding to nothing. While it didn’t end up in a goal, it could be argued that he made the correct decision due to a tight angle and the lack of anticipation from Andreas to find that space and receive the pass. Had he missed the shot, people would have said to pass it, therefore, not matter what he does, if it doesn’t end up in the back of the net, he is going to be criticised.
However, his opportunity against Spurs is less forgiving. Late on in the game, he was put through on goal by Wilson, splitting their defence where he shot towards the far-left post but was saved as it could be considered a good height for the ‘keeper and he should have perhaps shot along the ground.
Lacking in attributes
Both Jimenez and Vinicius don’t have as good positioning as Mitro, which can get tiring when good crosses are put into the box and no one gets on the end of them. The ball seemed to be a magnet to Mitro’s head, whereas Raul and Vini don’t have that same aerial dominance. The team is struggling to adapt to the new playing style where we can’t rely on Mitro to head in every cross, so more awareness is required to get more efforts on goal.
Furthermore, there were a few situations against Spurs where a ball was played through to either Carlos or Raul with them being ahead of the defender yet were still beaten to it. This is essential as, against bigger teams, such as Spurs, where we’re on the back foot for a lot of the game, we require pace from our strikers to punish them on the counterattack which we have attempted more recently but with little success. We cannot rely on our wingers to provide the pace especially when players, like Willian, provide balls to run on to.
Raul’s loss of confidence from his injury may not be an entirely accurate assessment, as he still tries flick on passes or even a “rabona” in a painful game against Brentford. It’s worth noting that Jimenez was in all probability brought in as a back up to Mitro, rather than a replacement, before he was set on leaving so we cannot have the same expectations of our attackers. Having not found a replacement, he has the expectations of one putting more pressure on him to deliver.
The criticism that Jimenez has received is understandable, but somewhat harsh. People on social media are outraged based on one chance in a game when his whole performance must be looked at. Possibly, with the return of Adama Traore from his hamstring injury, we may see better link up play based on their time together at Wolves.
It is up to Marco to pick a more creative team by potentially opting for Iwobi, or Adama when he is fit, to provide more chances for Raul and to give an honest assessment on his quality. Jimenez has showed positive signs throughout his performances with solid hold up play and a few chances here and there with luck not being on his side. He must not rely on luck however, as goals must go in if he wants to earn his spot back in the starting XI.