With the advent of contemporary football and the rise of new tactical trends, the role of a classical striker began to be neglected by a lot of sides. The archetypical target men became increasingly obsolete with new demands in terms of pressing and possession-control. In Portugal this was particularly evident, as both coaches and directors opted to move away from the “standard striker”. This transpired not by producing new offensive references in their ranks with modern characteristics, but by searching for them overseas, often paying large sums of money.
Despite this being initially successful, this practice started to be reversed due to a large number of failed signings. It was a blessing when André Silva, a then 20-year old Portuguese academy graduate , appeared in the first team of Porto and soon enough, in the Portuguese national team.
Born on the on the 6th November 1995 in Baguim do Monte, a small village to the north of Portugal, André Silva started playing football at a very young age. Although he demonstrated natural ease in finishing offensive manoeuvres, he mostly played as an offensive midfielder or a winger. This has certainly played a pivotal role in his identity as a player, enabling him to be a complete striker, not just one capable of scoring.
The success he attained in these clubs granted him the opportunity of playing for FC Porto. This is where Silva burst onto the scene, netting 21 goals in the 2016/17 season. This is a tally he has not yet beaten, until the current campaign that is.
His form convinced AC Milan to sign him up for £33.6 million, which turned out to be a bad decision. Milan were going through a tough spell and Silva did not adapt well to Serie A. While he scored 10 goals in his debut season, his league form saw him score just two times in 24 games.
He had a loan at Sevilla where he scored 11 times and was then again sent on loan to Eintracht Frankfurt for a two-year period. He was brought in to replace Ante Rebić, who went the opposite way in a swap-deal. Rebić had just come off a successful World Cup campaign with Croatia and had a great season at the German club. Silva had a productive campaign where he scored 16 goals, which convinced the club to buy him permanently for a fee described by AC Milan Info as ‘ridiculously low’, around £8 million.
This season under manager’s Adi Hütter’s preferred setup of a 3-5-2, the German likes his centre forwards to drift wide to create space centrally, while also adding unpredictability in the final third. Silva has on multiple occasions shown an innate understanding of how attacking rotations work via a multitude of quick short passes which draws pressure from the opposition to open up pockets of space for his teammates. His decision-making in this regard has been strong, knowing when to drift wide and ask for the ball down the wings, and when to wait for the right opportunity inside the opposition’s penalty area to get on the end of a goalscoring opportunity.
Style of Play
Standing at 185 cms, André Silva does not possess the physical build of a traditional striker, but this only constitutes a mere illusion as he has the power and strength of a good old-fashioned centre-forward. But what makes André Silva truely unique is undoubtedly his qualities that transform him into a modern forward. Able to keep possession, to help in the team’s build-up, to maintain a constant high-press off the ball, while being able to construct and distribute opportunities for his teammates. As mentioned earlier his background as an attacking midfielder/winger surely helps him in these aspects.
He has excellent composure and a poacher’s nose inside the opposition’s box, which led to comparisons with Sevilla club legend Frédéric Kanouté during his time there. His speed of thought is what makes him such an effective centre-forward, paired with an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. He links up play is well developed as well, which is vital to Frankfurt’s quick passing play.
Silva is able to combine his vigour and resilience with generous pace and incredible agility, often appearing in the wings as the game unfolds and demonstrating incredible ease at providing successful crosses for a striker. (Note this, I’ll be coming back to this later).
Finally, he has the athletic ability and the willingness to work hard and press when his team are out of possession. This is perfect for a Hütter side who apply a high line of pressure to force the opposition into errors.
Positioning and Finishing
Frankfurt are a team who tend to cross the ball in the final-third, their wing-backs look to overload the oppositions flanks. In fact, they had the second-most crosses into the penalty area (not including set-pieces) in the Bundesliga this term, with 118 completed. Their wing-backs are crucial to ball progression down the wide channels, and also in the final third, to stretch the opposition defence and create space for their forwards inside the penalty area.
While Silva is not the quickest or strongest player, he negates these difficulties by his immaculate positioning. This ability has allowed him to find those spaces others wouldn’t see. His spatial awareness allows him to see those half-spaces vacated between the full-backs and centre-backs or when one of the centre backs gets dragged away by his own teammates.
From the above it is clear Silva has been among the most dangerous strikers in the Bundesliga, over the last year, ranking above the 90th percentile for xG per 90 as well as non-penalty goals scored per 90. His xG per 90 is ranked third in the Bundesliga, only behind elite forwards Robert Lewandowski and Erling Braut Håland while being ahead of the likes of Marco Reus and Serge Gnabry.
He is taking a high number of shots despite not getting too many touches in the box, which is an indication of his efficiency, while the high percentile rank for xG/shot shows that he is taking those shots from generally good positions as well.
Silva’s creativity this season sees him take up positions within the half-space or down the wings. He will shift from his position in central areas, drawing a defender with him, when the team is progressing the ball up the flanks. This creates an overload down the wide channels, while simultaneously creating space in central areas for teammates to run into. As the ball enters the final-third, Silva will pick up the ball and run with it towards the byline, to produce a cutback towards his fellow forward.
His shortcomings are exposed here as he is very one-dimensional with his approach, he often makes it far too obvious where he intends to travel with the ball, making it easy for a defender to anticipate and recover the ball. Dribbling isn’t one of his strongest suits with the Portuguese only completing 51% of his attempted take-ons.
He is also near the 80th percentile for xA per 90, showing his creative threat alongside his obvious goalscoring impact, which ranks in the 93rd percentile of all forwards in Europe’s top five leagues.
Out of possession, Silva is often the player who leads the press. He is relentless in trying to regain possession for his side, even going as far as to track back into the defensive third to recover the ball. Silva is an energetic presser and more often than not, he will run at the opposition player who is receiving the pass, rather than look to block off the passing lane. This in turn, puts the opposition player under immediate pressure to release the ball or to try and bypass the press through a progressive run of their own, which is difficult under the circumstance.
Under Hütter, Silva likes to commence the press as the highest situated individual for Frankfurt on the pitch. His awareness of where the ball is going to go, gives Silva an advantage against the opposition, as they are allowed a very small window for success in keeping possession or progressing the ball forwards. He attempts fewer pressures in the attacking third (8.86) but his success rate is quite high(36.3%), indictive of his effectiveness in the press.
Although he scores a lot of goals, he often spends enormous periods of time without any sort of contribution, compensating for subpar performances with brief moments of pure magic. This is an aspect he has improved upon in the last couple of months however.
Also, he sometimes finds trouble when facing more experienced defenders or defensive setups. He constantly and sometimes needlessly, attempts to solve this kind of situations by forcing countless 1×1 duels which he loses out on.
When his team is playing extremely organised sides which leaves little space for him to receive the ball, he tends to aimlessly roam around the field. This kind of movement impedes and harms his chances of scoring goals when he goes too far from the opposite box. He should opt to vary up his approach instead of driving up the byline everytime to attempt a cutback, while in possession in the final third, which has made him increasingly one-dimensional.
Looking to the future
To summarize, the 25-year-old has experienced a jumbled career so far, going from a teenage wonderkid at Porto, to a ‘flop’ at Italian giants AC Milan, to a promising but inconsistent striker at Spanish side Sevilla until finally settling in at Eintracht Frankfurt.
While he has started getting his strut on, while on the pitch; he deserves credit for his mentality to recover from his ill-fated spell at Milan and finding a place to succeed. It wasn’t easy for him being labelled a big money flop at such an early age, just a year after being touted as a wonderkid.
He is still only 25 and has amassed plenty of experience, at international level too. Silva has scored 16 international goals for Portugal where he has the benefit of playing alongside Bruno Fernandes. This is a link up which could help both players if he signed for United.
If United wanted to sign Erling Haaland this summer he will cost in excess of his £66 million release clause which only comes into effect in 2022. Clubs are likely looking at £100 million plus(before his numerous add ons with his agent, Dad, his nan and whatnot). He’s on the wanted list of Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich and admired by all teams in the world, making his acquisition very difficult , if not impossible.
Silva presents a more sensibly priced alternative. He would cost more likely in the £30-40 million price range, considering the low fee Frankfurt paid for him last summer. This would allow United to spend more money on other areas, namely central defence and possibly bringing in another RIGHT winger( Yes, I believe right wing is a place which is still problematic with Pellestri and Amad still not ready for a place in the starting XI and Greenwood’s longterm future as a centre-forward).
There are problems which need to be addressed nonetheless, firstly that Silva flopped at Milan. How will he cope at a big club again, and what if the same happens again?
Frankfurt’s two other top strikers in recent times, Luka Jovic and Sebastien Haller, have also found it difficult after leaving the club. With Jovic now back at the club on loan from Real Madrid, where he had a nightmare debut campaign. Haller left West Ham, rather unceremoniously after being their most expensive player at 50 million dollars after abysmal performances each match day, for Ajax where he has since found his feet
Silva is increasingly being a system player i.e he performs much better in a front 2, rather than as a sole striker. It is also worth noting that six of Silva’s 24 Bundesliga goals have been penalties. He wouldn’t get those at United, with Fernandes taking them.
Silva is an intriguing option though. He can score with both feet, and his head, and he is on course to score more Bundesliga goals in a single season than any Frankfurt player ever. It’s only late April and he has 24 for the season. United would be acting sensibly by taking a look at this early stage.