Alexander Isak: An Alternative to Erling Haaland?

A decent alternative - from Norway to Sweden.
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Chelsea’s summer transfer business will undoubtedly be dominated by the pursuit of Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland, who bagged 41 goals in as many games last season, and will be courted by all of the European super clubs.

According to Nizaar Kinsella of Goal, a deal for Haaland would cost in excess of £100 million in initial transfer fees - not including agent fees, signing on bonuses, and annual wages. Such a deal would far outweigh Chelsea’s signing of Kai Havertz last summer, who broke the club transfer record at £72 million.

Erling Haaland is one of Europe's hottest young talents, and has been linked with the Blues.

Erling Haaland is one of Europe's hottest young talents, and has been linked with the Blues.

With both Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud linked with moves away from the club, Chelsea will surely be in the market for a centre-forward this summer. One option the club could consider is Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak, considered one of Europe’s most exciting under-23 attacking prospects.

The 21-year-old caught the eye in the Euros Group Stage 0-0 draw with Spain, and would have finished the game with a goal and an assist but for the woodwork and poor finishing from Marcus Berg. Isak looks set to depart Sociedad after two fine seasons with the club, and would cost far less than Haaland in transfer fees and wages.

Isak was a constant threat in Sweden's Euros clash with Spain

Isak was a constant threat in Sweden's Euros clash with Spain

What sort of profile is Isak as a striker, and is this one Chelsea could pursue in their hunt for a leading goal scorer?

Breakthrough in Sweden, Dortmund Spell

Isak was born in Stockholm to Eritrean parents and progressed through the academy of Swedish side AIK, joining at the age of six. 

Isak got his first taste of senior football in the 2015/16 season, aged just 16. Isak scored 11 and assisted one in 26 games, averaging a goal contribution every 142 minutes, and drawing comparisons to legendary compatriot Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Both players are tall and agile and provide an aerial threat - yet combine this with exceptional technical ability and close control in tight spaces. Isak also demonstrated his ability to rapidly accelerate past a defender before shooting at goal or trying to find a teammate.

Isak is part of the next generation of Scandinavian talent - which includes Haaland, Odegaard, and Berge.

Isak is part of the next generation of Scandinavian talent - which includes Haaland, Odegaard, and Berge.

After continuing his form with AIK into the 2016/17 season, Isak was snapped up by Dortmund in the January window, after links to Real Madrid. The reported fee of €9million made Isak the most expensive Allsvenskan export in history, whilst Isak also became the youngest ever scorer for the Swedish national team, aged 17, with a goal versus Slovakia in January 2017.

However, Isak failed to kick on at Dortmund - only playing four minutes for the Dortmund senior side for the rest of the season, mainly featuring for the reserves and u19 team. The 2017/18 saw his involvement increase to 13 games in all competitions, however he only scored twice after struggling with a knee injury.

Isak again struggled with recurring injuries and didn’t play for the Dortmund senior team in the first half of the 2018/19 season, instead turning out for the reserves, scoring five in 11. In a bid to gain more regular first-team minutes, the Swede joined Dutch side Willem II on loan for the remainder of the season, without an option to buy.

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Isak flourished in the Eredivisie with Willem II, scoring 13 and assisting seven in 16 games, including a run of 11 goals in seven games between March and April. Isak quickly became an integral part of the Willem II team, playing the full 90 in 13 games, and his high output of assists and 1.5 key passes per game positively affected the entire attack.

Despite this form, Dortmund were happy to sell Isak to Spanish side Real Sociedad for a reported fee of €6.5 million, which included a buyback clause of €30 million.

Sociedad Form

Isak missed only one league game in his first season in Spain, scoring nine and assisting one as Sociedad finished sixth and qualified for the Europa League. Isak also scored seven goals in the Copa del Rey, finishing as top scorer, as Los Txuri-Urdin won the competition for the first time since 1987.

Isak improved leaps and bounds between the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons

Isak improved leaps and bounds between the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons

It was last season, however, when Isak truly stepped up and began to show his enormous potential. After Willian Jose’s departure to Wolves, Isak became the main man up front, and scored 17 in 34 league games, averaging a goal every other game. This included a run of nine goals and an assist in six games in January and February, with a hat trick versus Alavés a personal highlight.

Isak also scored three in the final two league games as Sociedad secured a fifth-placed finish, an improvement of six points from the season before. This superb form saw him awarded La Liga Young Player of the Year, following in the footsteps of Isco and Marco Asensio amongst others.

With Sociedad setting up with a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 system in the majority of games, Isak was supported by Mikel Oyarzabal and one of Portu/Adnan Januzaj on the wing, with David Silva pulling the strings from midfield. 

Isak forged a great partnership with Mikel Oyarzabal; the duo contributed 38 goals and assists between them in La Liga.

Isak forged a great partnership with Mikel Oyarzabal; the duo contributed 38 goals and assists between them in La Liga.

Isak represents a unique profile - at 6”4 his pace and trickery is unconventional for a player of his frame, and allows him to physically dominate defenders as well as outmanoeuvre them. His combination of intelligent movement and technique in tight spaces makes him extremely difficult to defend against.

Isak’s statistics paint a picture of a constant offensive threat - with room to grow and improve at just 21. Isak’s non-penalty expected goals per 90 of 0.49 is in the top 15% for strikers in Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues, whilst his 1.37 shots on target per 90 is in the top 13%. Isak also scored 42% of his league goals last season in the six-yard box - illustrating his style as a traditional “poacher” who focuses on positioning and awareness.

This consistent threat was evident in Sweden’s Euros opener versus Spain - despite being isolated up front for most of the game, Isak still remained dangerous and was unlucky not to score or assist.

Isak scored against Sevilla, Villarreal and Valencia last season/

Isak scored against Sevilla, Villarreal and Valencia last season/

Rio Ferdinand was certainly impressed: "This kid, Isak, he was a problem today for the defenders in the Spain team. He was a nuisance. He showed today why he’s got Young Player of the Year in La Liga. He was the outlet."

What happens next?

As Isak’s stock has continued to grow, the youngster has been linked with moves to both Arsenal and Liverpool in recent weeks, whilst Dortmund continue to hold their €30 million buyback clause. Whilst Isak still has some way to go before reaching Haaland levels, his transfer value of €40 million as per TransferMarkt is significantly cheaper, and would allow Chelsea to invest in other areas of the squad this summer too.

Whilst any deal for Isak is dependent on a number of factors, including the departures of both Giroud and Abraham, he is a player certainly worth monitoring for the rest of the Euros, and who will likely be on the move again sooner rather than later. 


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