Slovakia may not be the kind of nation that gets you really excited when you’re talking about young talents with fellow football enthusiasts. However, there are actually some high potential ‘hidden gems’ there that, if found and nurtured properly, may even turn into world-class talents. One of those ‘hidden gems’ is David Strelec from Slovan Bratislava.
Despite playing at perhaps the biggest and most dominant club in Slovakia as well as having to compete with a number of very talented and well-polished players in the club, 2001-born Strelec managed to ease his way into the first-team squad starting from last season.
And now, after working hard to develop and keeping up his impressive form from last season, Strelec has managed to cement his place in the senior side. This is even more impressive considering he managed to keep Andraž Šporar – who was the club’s top scorer last season (34 goals) and still the temporary leader this season with eight goals already – on the bench.
Strelec is a physically well-balanced player with all the right tools which give him a great advantage in his main role as a striker.
Standing at 1.85m (6’1) tall with a lean body build, Strelec is quite an athletic player. He seems to possess quite a strong upper core and lower muscles, despite seemingly not looking particularly developed yet. To add to that, he is also quite agile whilst also being very well-coordinated, and he seems to have good body balance which can be seen by the way he dribbles or challenges for the ball. Due to his strength and balance, Strelec is pretty good at holding off defenders and hard to muscle off the ball, both with his back facing the goal or even when dribbling.
This makes him a good link-up player as he’s able to receive the ball, hold off his direct defender and then distribute the ball to his teammate. Even when having to play against a much larger, stronger defender, he is able to comfortably hold them off and link up the play.
He is as strong on the ground as he is in the air – plus, he is a pretty good header of the ball as well.
Stat-wise, Strelec made around six aerial duels per game this season, completing at least around 40% of his duels. Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, for comparison, made around 5.5 aerial duels per game this season, succeeding in a slightly smaller amount of 36%. Tottenham’s Harry Kane, however, made at least around seven aerial duels per game this season whilst winning 40% of them.
The stats do show that Strelec is actively engaging opposing players for aerial duels. Most of his aerial challenges are made in around the middle third, final third, and inside the box. His average numbers aren’t that far from what top strikers in Europe recorded this season as well. Despite the fact that the level he’s playing at was quite low, it could still be an indicator of how good he actually is at the moment and how he could potentially be even better.
Strelec’s excellent aerial duels records are mostly down to his strength and ability to reach great height when leaping. He seems to have the explosiveness that could launch him both vertically and horizontally.
Aside from his ability to win the duels in the air, he also seems to be able to direct the ball well with his head, thus making him an instant threat in the box, a good link-up player who can bring the ball down from the air, and a useful player defensively.
Strelec’s explosiveness can also be seen in the way he bursts to reach his top speed. He accelerates quite fast, reaching his top speed rather quickly. He possesses an impressive amount of pace as well, able to easily outrun most defenders with ease. Combined with his excellent burst of acceleration, his pace is extremely useful and he seems to be quite a pacey player in short, medium, or long ranges.
However, Strelec’s only physical weakness looks to be his stamina. This is apparent by the way Strelec occasionally refuses to make attacking runs on the break. He can be seen just jogging as he tries to conserve his stamina instead of sprinting into a perfect attacking position in some situations.
His lack of stamina can also be seen in his long-distance sprints where he often looks to be losing his pace and slowing down after a long run (which is why he tends to avoid long-distance runs). Long-distance sprints could also cause him some trouble as he’d lose his balance as well as power and/or accuracy in his strikes/passes.
However, despite his seemingly poor endurance, Strelec is still an active player overall, covering a lot of areas up front.
He’s active both offensively and defensively, applying pressure as well as moving around to provide a passing option or open up spaces. This shows his willingness to work hard and push himself for the team whilst also being quite smart, picking out his runs rather than making a lot of them and subsequently wasting his energy. This makes him a good fit for his team’s tactics which is based around aggressive pressing and high-intensity, high tempo attacking play.
Aside from having good physicality as just mentioned earlier in this tactical analysis, Strelec also has quite a decent technical ability overall. Some of his technical attributes (especially in attack) are very solid, but he needs to improve on some of the other attributes as well.
The 18-year-old striker has a good touch and control of the ball. He seldom loses control of the ball when receiving it although, on some rare occasions, Strelec can be seen knocking it too far when controlling.
It’s a bit hard to see which one is Strelec’s weaker foot. It’s probably because he doesn’t really have one. He has the tendency to mostly use his left foot which can be seen when he’s taking a free-kick or penalty, but he seems very comfortable with using his right most of the time in a game as well. He can control the ball, pass the ball, or take a shot with either foot and the quality is pretty much the same.
His good ball control and his ability to use either foot comfortably helps him a lot when dribbling. He may not be a flashy or tricky dribbler, but he’s quite proficient and fairly effective.
Strelec made 3.6 dribbles per game this season, completing at least around 41% of them. These numbers may seem low but are actually quite normal due to him mostly playing as a centre-forward where spaces are much tighter around him, and most of the dribbles he makes are progressive dribbles from the middle third.
Take Lewandowski and Kane again for comparison. The former made a slightly less number of dribbles per game this season with 3.3. However, he recorded a higher success rate of 51%. The latter, meanwhile, made more dribbles this season with 4.1, successfully completing 51% of them.
Strelec is a pretty good dribbler, however, he’s not really a very impressive passer overall.
He is able to deliver decent short passes. However, sometimes he lacks the ability to control the direction and the power of his passes. The timing to release his pass seems a bit off at certain times as well. These flaws are even more visible in his long passes (around 15-20 yards passes).
Despite rarely distributing or having the need to distribute long-range balls due to his position and role (mostly as a striker or a shadow striker playing behind the main one), when he does launch the passes they just lack accuracy and often are not well-weighted.
Still, his short passes aren’t bad and are very useful as he is often tasked to help link up the play by dropping slightly deeper from his position and distributing the ball to a more creative teammate or one who’s already in an abundance of space.
Looking at his passing stats, Strelec is still inferior to other top strikers with similar roles. This season he made an average of 17 passes per game with only 72% of them finding the target. Again, comparing him to the likes of Lewandowski and Kane, the Polish striker averaged even more passes per game with 22 passes and he’s much more successful – recording an 80% success rate. The England international, on the other hand, managed to average 20 passes per game with a 76% success rate.
This is something that Strelec still needs to improve. However, he seemed to slightly improve his passing ability as this season neared its end. He often played behind the main striker and therefore was tasked to link up the play and actively distribute the ball as well as help create chances with his passes.
Even in the 2019/20 pre-season friendly, he can be seen playing in a deeper role as a centre-mid, therefore forcing him to distribute more passes and perhaps unlocking his inner-playmaking ability. He definitely has time to improve upon this.
Now, let’s talk about his most impressive technical ability – shooting.
Strelec is an outstanding striker of the ball. His shots are powerful and accurate. Short and long-distance shots aren’t really a problem for the Slovak wonderboy. He is also Slovan Bratislava U19’s direct free-kick taker last season where time after time he showcased his excellent ball-striking ability.
However, despite being able to shoot quite accurately and powerfully from long-range, Strelec routinely refuses to do so. The shot map below shows where the 18-year-old prospect takes his shots from most often.
As you can see, he mostly takes his shots from inside the box, but you can also see that he’s very good at it. He is not just good at creating chances, but he is also truly exceptional at converting them. He is someone you don’t want to leave unmarked inside the box, because if you do, he’ll always be at the end of his teammate’s passes, striking one past the goalkeeper and into the net.
Statistically speaking, Strelec doesn’t seem to release a lot of shots per game, but he’s quite effective and accurate with his strikes. He averaged around 1.3 shots per game with an impressive 52% accuracy, as well as recording a 0.4 xG per game. Milan’s Krzysztof Piatek for comparison took a higher amount of around 2.9 shots per game this season, albeit with a lower accuracy of 48%. The Polish striker also recorded at least 0.4 xG per game on average. Inter’s Mauro Icardi is a bit different in style of play than Strelec, but the Argentinian is a very good ball-striker as well. He took on average 2.3 shots per game with 43% accuracy this season as well as collecting an average of 0.6 xG per game.
Perhaps if Strelec doesn’t shy away from taking more shots in a game, he could probably bang in even more goals judging by his excellent shooting accuracy as well as expected goals per game despite his lower number of shots taken.
Strelec’s strongest aspect of the game is his overall tactical attribute that massively lifts his game up a lot.
His excellent tactical intelligence and impressive understanding of the game can be seen by the way he positions himself and moves with or without the ball.
Strelec is a clinical and quite opportunistic player in front of goal. He excels at beating offside traps, losing his markers, and finding spaces inside the box due to his excellent positioning, awareness, reading of the game, quick reactions, and off-the-ball movements. He is always in the right place at the right time at the end of his teammate’s passes.
This picture below shows Strelec’s awareness and tactical understanding as well as intelligent off the ball movements.
In this picture, Strelec’s teammate pinned the ball-near opposing centre-back, then dragged him out of position as he dropped slightly deeper. Strelec, meanwhile, was tightly marked by the ball-far centre-back but saw his teammate drop and was aware of the opening as the other centre-back left his post. He waited a little bit and then made the run with perfect timing, finding himself in an abundance of space as he broke through the opposing backline.
Timing his run is also very crucial in his game and it is something that he’s really good at.
Strelec was only caught offside 10 times since last season from the whole 48 games a season across all competitions. That means he recorded only 0.2 offsides per game which not just shows his teammate’s perfect timing to release the pass, but also Strelec’s timing to beat the offside trap.
The Slovakian hot prospect tends to drop deep to link up the play as you can see from the heatmap below.
Aside from being quite active in the final third and inside the box, those yellow patches around the middle third and the halfway line also shows Strelec’s activity in those areas.
Slovan Bratislava’s tactics revolve around playing with technically proficient wingers who can both hug the touchline and then deliver a cross or even cut inside and drive into the box to take a shot (namely Moha Khadfi, Dejan Dražić, and Aleksandar Čavrić). In this case, Strelec is often used to drag the centre-back out of position. This allows the winger to exploit the space in the middle while the full-back makes an overlapping run, stretching the opposing backline whilst also confusing the opposing full-back as he needs to decide which player to mark.
Strelec is a confident player with the desire to always have the ball at his feet by dropping deep and roaming wide as well as actively moving around to open up space for himself and his teammate. He seems to work well with his teammates and also communicates well.
He actively contributes in defence by making challenges, pressing, and depriving the opposing player of a passing option by marking the passing lane. Despite not really having such impressive endurance as mentioned earlier in this tactical analysis/scout report, Strelec shows the grit and determination to help his team get the upper-hand by always contributing both offensively and defensively, with and without the ball. He does his tasks quite efficiently, saving his breath for only when he’s needed but still not slacking around.
Strelec’s excellence in front of goal is also not just because of his technical proficiency when it comes to ball-striking and goalscoring instinct – but it’s also because of his calmness and composure. This can clearly be seen when he’s in a one-on-one situation in front of goal.
As you can see from the picture, Strelec looked up to see where the goal and the goalkeeper was, made his decision, and in turn took the shot. Strelec is quite a straightforward player in this regard. When he’s in a one-on-one situation, he picks a corner and then takes the shot rather than going around or chipping it over the goalkeeper.
Strelec seems to be the kind of player that’d appreciate every minute that the coach gives to him in a game. He seems to always give his all despite often being played as a substitute and/or being deployed in an unfavourable position.
With the right guidance of the right coach, there’s no doubt that Strelec can be a top-class player someday.
So far this season, Strelec has bagged five goals and two assists from a total of 11 matches across all competitions which is very impressive. The 18-year-old forward is able to play as an inverted winger on the right side of the pitch, as a shadow striker in the attacking midfielder berth, or an advanced playmaker in the centre-mid spot, although he is best suited in the centre-forward position at the moment at Slovan Bratislava.
An athletic player who’s determined and willing to work hard and possesses the composure, calmness, clinical quality, and maturity of a senior player. A forward who’s extremely dangerous in and around the box, able to create chances for his teammates and himself as well as converting those chances with either foot or with his head. A player who’s good at dropping deep and linking play as well as playing off-the-shoulder of defenders and making runs in behind the defence.
Strelec is a player with a high ceiling and could potentially be a world-class talent someday.
I’d certainly recommend him for mid or lower level Eredivise clubs as I believe he could be good enough for that level. Perhaps a more difficult challenge than Fortuna Liga can really aid his development. However, the most important thing is that he gets game time and is in a good environment that can really help him grow personally and professionally.
Strelec was linked with a move to Newcastle United in the summer of 2018 but no move was materialised. Perhaps next summer he could be moving somewhere, and judging by the (seemingly) lack of interest from European giants, Strelec could be available for a bargain fee.
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