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Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterFebruary 3, 2017

Arguably the biggest story of the January transfer window was Alexander Isak’s move from AIK to Borussia Dortmund for a reported €10 million (£8.65 million), per the Guardian‘s Marcus Christenson.

It doesn’t matter how dull the month was otherwise; when a club beats Real Madrid to the signing of one of the most prodigious young talents in football, that’s big news.

That’s exactly what BVB managed, and it’s heartening to see that players are willing to learn from others’ mistakes. Isak need only look at how the Martin Odegaard situation has panned out at the Santiago Bernabeu to understand the dangers of selecting a club like Real Madrid this early, and hein addition to his advisershas made a good choice in Dortmund.

Thomas Tuchel’s steady integration and smart use of Ousmane Dembele, Christian Pulisic and Julian Weigl stand a marker for how BVB treat their teenage prospects. Not too much too soon, not too little, with just enough room to express yourself and, if you mess up, the manager will not throw you under the bus.

It’s arguable Emre Mor and Mikel Merino can be a little disappointed with their playing time, but there are only so many kids you can fit into one XI.

Isak will be treated with the same level of respect. He joins with the spotlight fixed to him, but Tuchel will likely stash him away for the time being and get him up to speed in training. It’s worth noting that he’s actually in pre-season, with the Allsvenskan league having finished in November.

So what can fans expect? What kind of 17-year-old already has two caps for his country, has played a key part in a domestic title challenge and has already cost €10 million despite playing in UEFA’s 20th-ranked league?

Those genuinely expecting the “new Zlatan Ibrahimovic” might well be bitterly disappointed. That’s a moniker he’s been given, but it’s a lazy one, and it doesn’t accurately convey what kind of player he is. He only has that because he’s an excellent striker from Sweden.

Bleacher Report profiled him back in October, pulling in three far better comparison points: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Dortmund), Inaki Williams (Athletic Club Bilbao) and Roberto Firmino (Liverpool). If you’re looking for a general feel for the player, then Aubameyang is the closestand it’s great that Isak will now learn from the man every day on the training pitchbut really, he’s an amalgamation of all three.

He compares to Aubameyang because of his frame and his characteristics. He’s slight and probably won’t get that much bigger; he’s extremely fast over the top and in the channels; and he possesses the same fluid-finishing traits as the Gabon international.

Credit: C More Sport

He has the agility to skip away from markers and create an angle for a finishsomething he did ruthlessly against Norrkoping in October. He’s willing to use his first touch to move the ball into space and away from markersnot just to control the ball and get it underand that gives him a one-second window to find a finish.

In that same game against Norrkoping, he also demonstrated his predatory instincts in the box, peeling away from his markers to volley a beautiful, controlled finish into the top of the net. Isak has shown an ability to free himself up at the far post, which, again, compares quite closely to Aubameyang—although hopefully he’ll miss fewer chances from two yards in his career.

The similarities between Isak and Inaki Williams are physical; they’re both speedy, direct runners off the shoulder and, should Isak be fielded in a two-man strike partnership (like he was at AIK) or as a wide forward, he’ll take every chance to nip in behind and stretch the defence.

Despite being a predominantly central player, Isak is very comfortable splitting wide to receive possession. Part of that will have been down to an encouragement to do so by his manager, given AIK had Chinedu Obasi to hold the middle while the Swede drifted, but part of that was simply his own footballing instincts, moving with the play and taking up pockets of space as and when they appear.

Credit: C More Sport

It’s in these situations that his impeccable close control and awareness kicks in, and it’s why a comparison to Firmino is at least partially accurate. He drops in or splits wide, takes the ball and uses it well to link the midfield and attacking lines. There’s still some work to be done on his decision-making, but that’s obvious; he’s still a relative rookie.

Isak uses sly strength and soft feet to hang on to the ball in tight situations, with opponents last season getting frustrated with their inability to nick the ball off him. He’s more powerful than you’d first believe, and he’s shown an ability to wall defenders off.

Most importantly, Isak has shown a consistent ability to finish chances of all types. In the Allsvenskan last season, he netted 10 from 19 startsa healthy returnand that haul included back-post finishes, headers, acute-angled drives and rebounds. The elastic quality to his movements allow him to contort his body with ease ahead of firing home.

Isak is by no means perfect; no 17-year-old can be. His 1.5 unsuccessful touches per game needs to be cut down (Aubameyang is on 0.6 per game), while his decision-making in the final third will get better as he plays more matches at a higher level.

This young forward is not an immediate panacea to BVB’s consistency issues in the Bundesliga, either; if anything, he might contribute to them in the short term, given he’s very much a work in progress.

But in four years’ time, BVB could be fielding a team including fully grown versions of Dembele, Pulisic, Weigl, Marc Bartra, Mor and now Isak. Tuchel will have been aware he was missing a striker to top this talented youth tree, and now he’s landed the perfect man to step into the void if Aubameyang departs.

 

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