Friday, February 6 th, 2015
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Is Khouma Babacar the solution to Fiorentina’s striker issues?
With Giuseppe Rossi out for the rest of the year due to injury and Mario Gomez looking like a shadow of the man he was at Bayern, Babacar has been given a great opportunity to prove himself in top flight football
by Jack Atkinson
Born March 1993 in Senegal, Babacar moved to Italy aged 14, and joined Fiorentina a year later. He made his debut against Chievo in 2010 before his 17th birthday, getting on the scoresheet alongside Adrian Mutu to help the Viola progress in the Coppa Italia. For the 2010/11 season he came off the bench a number of times but started rarely, failing to score in the league and only scoring in the early stages of the cup.

Finding playing time hard to come and still in his teens, the striker had unsuccessful loan spells at Spanish side Racing Santander and second division Padova, scoring twice in one and a half seasons. Aged 20, last season Babacar went on loan to Modena, where he made a name for himself, scoring 20 goals in 41 games as his loan club finished 5th and reached the play-offs in Serie B.

Returning this season, Babacar has finally been given a run in the first team for Fiorentina. With Rossi, who managed 16 goals in just 21 games last season, suffering yet another long-term injury towards the end of pre-season, and the just as injury-prone Gomez struggling for both fitness and form, the young striker must have realised this is a golden chance to snatch a place in the first team.

So how big a chance has it been for Babacar? Gomez played three league games without scoring before being ruled out through injury - but could return this weekend – leaving Babacar as the only recognised, fit striker in the squad for a number of games. Whilst the team played without a striker for their second Europa League game, it has meant the Senegalese forward has moved up to the lone striker position for the intervening four league games, scoring in both of the last two games, against tricky opposition. Even if Gomez is able to play this weekend, Montella may opt not to play him, to keep the run of form going.

A powerful player, Babacar can often be found harrying defenders and is strong in the air, winning two thirds of his aerial duels this season. Last season he showed he was quick to react and combined power with excellent control of the ball when it’s off the turf, tucking away difficult chances well. His strike against Inter this season that opened the scoring in the 5th minute was spectacular; hitting the ball from outside the box almost from standstill, he watched it curve into the top corner. His other goal this season came against Torino the week before, where he ran through the defence onto Bernardeschi’s through ball, rounded the keeper and neatly finished it off. This goal is not typical of Babacar’s play, but it is a very Gomez-like goal; the German often relies on pace and making runs, though he is obviously a clinical finisher too.

What makes Rossi such a good player is he possesses an uncanny ability to find the very edge of the goal, just beyond the keeper’s reach. He did it totally instinctively last season, often without even glancing towards goal, and Babacar’s strike against Inter, along with many of his goals for Modena, displayed a similar ability. The player is still young and lacks experience at the top level, but he has the potential to follow in the footsteps of his teammate – though hopefully without the injury problems.

So how has Babacar taken his chance so far? Well, as mentioned he failed to score in his first three appearances, but did so in the next two. He is one of just three players to score two goals for Fiorentina in this season’s 8 competitive games (the others being Cuadrado and Bernardeschi), and has scored 2 of their 5 league goals. Having taken 12 shots, his shots per goal ratio stands at 6, compared to 4.3 for Mario Gomez and 4.1 for Giuseppe Rossi last season.

Fiorentina manager Montella currently has little choice in the centre-forward department, and will want Babacar to press on and fill the gap left by his injured teammates, as the Viola are already falling behind this season. Given the choice of a fully fit Rossi, Gomez and Babacar, you’d imagine Montella would choose the former two – so the 21 year-old has to take his chance to change that and make himself indisposable to the team, and has until Rossi’s likely return in January to do so. Riding high on confidence following a great last season and two goals already this season, the player is well set to do so over the next few months, and establish himself as a capable goalscorer in Serie A.

All statistical data via Squawka.

Wednesday, October 15 th, 2014
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