In the blockquotes below are thoughts on the target man from The Tito at Viola Nation, while RBM’s Adam Braun interjects some context regarding how Kalinic might fit at Goodison Park. Thanks, Tito!
I’m a big Nikola Kalinić fan, and only partly because we’ve nicknamed him the Slender Man over at Viola Nation. He’s not the fastest or strongest forward around, and he’s not going to dribble through a defense or score goals from outside the box (it took him until February last year to take his first shot of the season from outside the box), but he does several things extraordinarily well.
AB: Unlike last season, Everton’s not at a loss for players who can have a go from distance, with Sandro Ramirez and Davy Klaassen added to the potential goal-scoring ranks — so having a striker that doesn’t bring that isn’t a huge loss. Koeman’s setup doesn’t rely on strikers going on individually brilliant runs either, so the Toffees can live with that.
The first is that his hold-up play is fantastic. He’s got a pillowy first touch to bring down a long pass from the defense, and the technique to keep the ball away from a defender on his back more or less indefinitely. He’s excellent at laying the ball off for onrushing attackers and playing little one-twos on the break. He’s also really good at drawing fouls that can relieve pressure when someone hoofs a clearance towards him. I wouldn’t say he dives, but he knows exactly how to position himself so that a defender has to foul him. Given the more physical nature of the Premier League, I’ll be interested to see if he’s able to keep that up, although I’m pretty sure he’ll adapt well.
AB: Everton needs a striker with tons of pace or excellent hold-up play in order to handle teams that press them high up the pitch. The center-backs need a target to pick out with long balls, and Kalinic can be that guy.
The other thing that sets him apart is his movement. He always makes the right run into space on the break, both to set up himself or to open up space for a teammate by dragging the defense around. He’s also got a knack for beating the offside trap that mitigates his lack of top-end pace. He worms his way into the box to meet through balls and is always in position for a tap-in.
AB: The Toffees don’t have a true No. 10, instead relying on their wingers to cut inside and be the creative force. That interchanging of forward is even more dangerous if the central striker can time runs well, confusing and overwhelming opposing defenses.
The big knock on him, I think, is that he’s not a super-reliable finisher. He’ll have a couple of weeks or a month where he just can’t quite finish, and he’ll often fluff a few shots even in matches he scores in. He will produce some genuinely spectacular goals, but he’ll bottle more that he really ought to put away. However, with Everton’s wealth of goal-scoring options, his dry spells wouldn’t be as deleterious as they are for Fiorentina, and he contributes to the game even when he’s not scoring.
AB: Koeman has made clear from the start of the season that he wants to spread out his team’s goal scoring, rather than relying solely on the central striker. By adding Rooney, Sandro, and Klaassen, and also giving bigger roles to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman, the Toffees should have the personnel to handle a cold finishing spell from the striker this year.
That’s doubly true if the striker contributes even when he’s not scoring, as it appears Kalinic does.