The Reworking of the Unconventional Top Scorer in Europe

The unconventional top scorer is a player that fans around the world are very familiar with. They are the players that seem to do everything on the field (in an attacking sense) from scoring ridiculous bangers to playing the perfect assist. This article explains the reworking of the unconventional top scorer and the possible future for some of the most talented names in football.

Unconventional (Top Scorer) – noun

Definition: A number nine that runs most or the entirety of a team’s attack. This player is likely to drop into midfield or take wide positions depending on what is most needed at a given moment. This player needs to be given space and positional freedom to operate at the highest level.

Examples: Vivianne Miedema, Jennifer Hermoso, and Pernille Harder

Conventional (Top Scorer) – noun

Definition: An out and out striker. This player stays in forward positions, mainly making runs to receive a pass or cross in space behind the opposing back line.

Examples: Lea Schüller, Marie-Antoinette Katoto, and Sam Kerr

Goalscoring Data Trend

The figures below show that Miedema, Hermoso, and Harder each averaged more than one goal per game in the 2019/20 season. Over the past two years, these numbers declined. 

Figure 1 — Vivianne Miedema Statistics (2017-2022)

Season Goals/Game Goals Games Club Age
2021/2022 0.64 14 22 Arsenal 25
2020/2021 0.82 18 22 Arsenal 24
2019/2020 1.14 16 14 Arsenal 23
2018/2019 1.10 22 20 Arsenal 22
2017/2018 0.36 4 11 Arsenal 21

Figure 2 — Jennifer Hermoso Statistics (2017-2022)

Season Goals/Game Goals Games Club Age
2021/2022 0.70 16 23 Barcelona 31
2020/2021 1.19 31 26 Barcelona 30
2019/2020 1.21 23 19 Barcelona 29
2018/2019 0.86 24 28 Atlético de Madrid 28
2017/2018 0.32 6 19 Paris Saint-Germain 27

Figure 3 — Pernille Harder Statistics (2017-2022)

Season Goals/Game Goals Games Club Age
2021/2022 0.38 6 16 Chelsea 28/29
2020/2021 0.41 9 22 Chelsea 27/28
2019/2020 1.29 27 21 Wolfsburg 26/27
2018/2019 0.86 18 21 Wolfsburg 25/26
2017/2018 0.81 17 21 Wolfsburg 24/25

In the case of Miedema and Harder, their managers dropped them into midfield or on the wing. For Hermoso, a lack of form and inconsistent fitness saw her goal tally fall behind that of teammate Asisat Oshoala.

Tactical Changes – Vivianne Miedema

As the WSL becomes more and more saturated with international and domestic , teams must rely on more advanced tactics. Before the World Cup in 2019, the WSL was a three-team league. The best players in England were concentrated in Manchester City, Arsenal, and Chelsea. Two of these teams were practically guaranteed a Champions League slot for the following year. 

Vivianne Miedema was arguably the best player in the league during this period. Joe Montemurro preferred a free-flowing, possession-based style that highlighted midfield play and allowed fullbacks to get forward. Miedema’s role was central to the team’s tactics and she was given full creative license. In these seasons, Miedema to score upwards of a goal every 90 minutes. This skyrocketed her to become the WSL’s all time top goalscorer. 

In this system, Miedema dropped into the midfield and teammates made runs beyond her to take up forward spaces. However, as WSL teams began to exercise different tactical methods and invest in their squads, Miedema’s creativity was nullified. Teams either isolated Miedema from the rest of the attack, or prevented her from creating chances as she dropped into midfield. Miedema only scored 0.82 goals per 90 minutes in her final season under Montemurro. This number is still ridiculous, but also significantly lower than those of Sam Kerr (0.95 goals per 90) and Marie Antoinette Katoto (1.11 goals per 90).

In contrast to Montemurro, Jonas Eidevall prefers a high-intensity press and quick transition. This transition mostly occurs down the wings with the midfield playing a less important role in possession. Eidevall’s tactics allowed Arsenal to be flexible in attack and exploit gaps in the areas behind the fullbacks. 

Without a sticker constantly on the other team’s back line, Arsenal was unable to fully execute a transition based model. Miedema was not able to be as creative on the ball and her ability to create chances in deeper roles was largely absent. The signing of Stina Blackstenius freed Miedema to drop into midfield to play a more creative role and create scoring opportunities for her teammates. 

Last season, Miedema’s scoring rate was only 0.62 goals per 90. However, teammates Stina Blackstenius and Beth Mead each averaged 0.50 goals per 90 or above. Both Mead and Miedema topped the chart for assists last season with eight. Arsenal are shifting from a dependency on Vivianne Miedema from past seasons to a flexible attack with many different options to break down different types of opposition.

Squad Depth – Pernille Harder

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At Chelsea, Pernille Harder has been a midfielder or a winger from the get-go. This is not simply because Sam Kerr is the better striker. Harder averaged 1.3 goals per game in her final season at Wolfsburg.

In the past few years, Chelsea made some of the biggest money transfers in women’s football. With a goal to win the Champions League, this type of investment is necessary. As a result, Emma Hayes has been able to pick and choose players that suit her game plan on a given day. As the women’s game continues to develop, having more varied and assured tactics is more important than ever. Unconventional top scorers limit tactics to revolve around one person.

As wingers, Fran Kirby and Harder cut inside, leaving room on the flanks for wing backs or attacking fullbacks. Sam Kerr is unlikely to drop into midfield. Having Kirby and Harder turn providers both ensures someone is always in a dangerous forward position and that the midfield movement is unpredictable. In the 2020/21 season, Kerr and Kirby averaged 0.95 and 0.89 goals per 90 respectively. Last season, Hayes switched to a back three following an inability to sign preferred fullbacks. It is safe to say that Hayes hasn’t quite figured out where to maximize Harder’s talent. With Kerr in the picture, it is questionable if she ever will.

Pernille Harder looked dangerous this Euros against Finland and Spain, but it came with a caveat. Denmark left Harder isolated up front. Yes, Harder can single handedly take on an opposition’s defense better than anyone else in the world, This does not mean that she should, however. Denmark’s over-reliance on maximizing Harder’s tournament potential backfired in a predictable manner. Emma Hayes has known this from the beginning.

The Outlier – Jenni Hermoso

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Hermoso was the outlier in the 2020/21 season out of the three, scoring 31 goals in 26 appearances. But if you are looking at Hermoso, the whole of Barcelona must be considered.

Barcelona is heavily reliant on possession and flexibility in its movements. Hermoso’s false nine role lines up perfectly with the Tiki-Taka style Lluís Cortés wanted to play. In his style, each player interchanged with those around them.

Under Jonaton Giráldez, transitional options have been built into the Barcelona system. Especially as injuries plague the 2021 UWCL champions, players from outside of Spain continue to reinforce the squad adding different visions of the game. With this comes less inherent chemistry on the field. Hermoso’s movement lacks compatibility with certain players used to a true central striker. In addition, the Spanish league has taken longer to develop due lack of investment and infrastructure. Real Madrid are true competition for a Barcelona side used to winning.

Hermoso’s reign as pichichi came to an end in 2022. With an injury-laden season, the 32-year-old may be falling out of her prime. If Asisat Oshoala or Bruna Vilamala were not plagued by injuries themselves, it may have been their time to claim a spot in the starting eleven. Hermoso moved to Mexican side Pachuca this summer.

The Rise of the Conventional Number Nine

The reality is that unconventional top scorers were simply ahead of their time. Now, players such as Vivianne Miedema, Jennifer Hermoso, and Pernille Harder are stuck in limbo. They cannot play their best without creative freedom. Creative freedom cannot be granted given the increased skill of opposition, and teammates. At the same time, these players cannot be benched because of their technical skill and ability to read the game.

Players such as Lea Schüller, Marie-Antoinette Katoto, and Sam Kerr showed their prowess in the past couple of seasons. Alexandra Popp and Alessia Russo showed their ability at the Euros.

As the women’s game continues to grow, what will the future hold for the unconventional top scorer?

Written by Madeleine Metz

Creator of Only Women’s Soccer

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