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Criticizing Cenk Tosun misses the point of his role at Everton

Some strikers do more than score, benching him would be premature

AFC Bournemouth v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Everton striker Cenk Tosun has endured a miserable start to the season if you look at the scoreboard, but should he really be benched for the next game? There is a school of thought that he could do with a break from the starting lineup. Alternatively, his ‘intangibles’ make it worth keeping him in the team as he makes everyone around him better.

Got your interest? Read on.

To suggest that Tosun is ‘struggling’ simply because he has not scored yet this season is to greatly misunderstand the striker’s role in the side. When everyone is available, Tosun has two goalscoring wingers on either side of him. While Richarlison has been wonderful and Theo Walcott has scored too, Tosun deserves a lot of credit for his teammates’ hot start.

Very few front trios in world football feature three prolific goalscorers. The famed MSN that won Barca a treble before Neymar left for PSG had three, but two of those players were also wonderful creators, with Messi and Suarez combining for 32 league assists. More regularly, at least one of a front three sacrifices his own goalscoring in order to help his mates.

The ultimate example of this is Karim Benzema. Since Gareth Bale joined in 2014 (and until this past summer) the designated 9 of the famed ‘BBC’ line had 67 goals and 41 assists. Not surprisingly, most of those 67 goals were scored when Cristiano Ronaldo put in over 10 assists in a league season (27 assists in 2015 and 2016 combined, where Benz scored 39 of those goals).

As Ronaldo did less and less in chance creation the last two years, his French striker’s goals went down. Benzema sacrificed himself for the sake of the team, and the result was trophies.

Benzema, of course, is not the only nine who plays this way, Roberto Firmino from the red side across Stanley Park does much the same thing. Even great offenses will only create but so many chances, and when you have three gifted forwards they will not all be the goalscorer.

Cenk Tosun already has two assists this season, and more importantly he occupies space in a way that allows his wingers to get in goalscoring positions and focus on their offensive work. Take a look at heat maps for the Wolverhampton game, where Richarlison scored twice, one of which was assisted by Tosun:

Richarlison vs Wolves

Notice how Richarlison was able to make a home for himself just off the top corner of the box. He came deep occasionally for defense and ball reception, but by and large all he had to worry about was scoring goals, and it was wonderful for Everton.

On the other hand, here is Cenk Tosun:

Tosun vs Wolverhampton

Tosun has a band of activity that goes all the way across the pitch, because even though he is nominally a #9, what Tosun is actually doing is facilitating play and dropping deep. Notice how the band curves toward the mid line in central positions. The system, in a game where our attack played pretty well, required him to be in less optimal goalscoring position than his winger.

In this sort of situation, criticizing Tosun for not being the goalscorer is overly simplistic. Football is not what it is portrayed to be on some video game, there is more than just putting three goalscoring forwards at the top of your formation and expecting all three of them to score. Tosun’s primary job with Walcott and Richarlison on the pitch is not to score goals, it is to occupy defenders and thereby create space for his wingers.

Cenk Tosun has taken thirty shots in league play since coming to Everton and has five goals. That’s 16.6% of his shots finding the back of the net.

Lionel Messi, last season in La Liga, converted 17.2% of his shots and Cristiano Ronaldo converted 14.6% of his. Mohamed Salah converted 22% of his shots last season in the Premier League. Allowing for the reality that Tosun converted an unsustainably high percentage of his shots last season for Everton, his average coming back down to somewhere between Messi and Ronaldo is not a concern.

Cenk Tosun is being asked to be less self-serving for the betterment of the team and he’s doing a great job of it so far. It would be extremely uncharitable of us to criticize him for it. It is our responsibility as fans to understand the system that Marco Silva is using, and criticizing a player who is the third goalscoring option by design for doing exactly what he has been told to do by his manager simply misses what is going on.

I’ll close with this video. This is the legendary Johan Cruyff explaining his diamond formation. Notice how he says that ‘help’ for a player that likes to go 1 v 1 (like Richarlison) is ‘walking away’ from them, and notice what he has his striker doing, because it’s very similar to what Tosun is being asked to do: