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Kacaniklic divides opinion. Some Fulham fans are fond of the young Swedish winger, they praise his speed and intelligence on the pitch. Others are frustrated with him, as they think Martin Jol should field Kerim Frei instead. I decided to take part in the discussion. I watched a few Fulham matches, and looked at Kacaniklic's stats to decide if the manager's faith in him was justified or not. 

Alexander Kacaniklic was one of the positive surprises of last season. The young left winger burst onto the scene after a successful loan spell at Watford in the 2011/2012 season. In fact, Martin Jol was so impressed that he recalled Kacaniklic, and the Sweden international started in the opening game of the 2012/2013 Premier League campaign, that saw Fulham beat Norwich City 5-0. He ended the season on a high after winning the man of the match award against Swansea on the final day of the season.

Kacaniklic started 16 games last season, and came on as a substitute in 4 games, the most memorable one being where Fulham came from 2-0 down to rescue a point away to Arsenal. In those 20 appearances, he scored 4 goals. This is an alright return from a winger, and it was enough to finish as the fourth best scorer of Fulham behind Dimitar Berbatov, Bryan Ruiz and Mladen Petric. 




Kacaniklic hit the target with an outstanding 61% of his shots. This is very high given that he is only 21 years old. This figure shows maturity and that he knows his skills well and uses them to  maximum effect. He does not try risky shots more than it makes sense, and he is calm in front of goal. Take a look at the above video of his goal against West Bromwich Albion. Calm indeed. 

Kacaniklic's shootig accuracy compared to the left wingers of the top sides.


Kacaniklic created 13 chances last season. If you look at where these contributions came from, it can be seen that Kacaniklic can be used as an inverted winger. Someone who rather than hugging the touchline comes to the middle and troubles defenders by boosting the numbers in the middle. Robben at Bayern Munchen is the most popular example of this type of player.

Kacaniklic would be perfect for an inverted winger role.
(Image taken from Squawka.com)

It can be seen that more than half of Kacaniklic’s key passes or assists came from the middle of the pitch in the attacking half. His movement in the middle was prominent in the home match against Liverpool. Urby Emanuelson played in left-back after Kieran Richardson was taken off. Emanuelson pushed high up the pitch, allowing Kacaniklic to find space in the middle of the attacking half. His movement freed up Bryan Ruiz, who was able to come deep for the ball, and provide an extra passing option, which in turn led to Fulham keeping the ball a lot better than they did in the beginning of the match, when Richardson was playing in left-back. 

Kacaniklic in the middle, Ruiz on the right. Kacaniklic provides an extra, short passing option instead of waiting for the ball on the far side. Note that Liverpool are playing with quite a lot of width here, so coming to the middle is the better option for Kacaniklic. If Liverpool were defending in a compact shape, providing width at the touchline would be better.

Kacaniklic's heat map against Liverpool. He moved to the middle whenever possible, but tracked back to defend as well.
(Image taken from Squawka.com)
Kacaniklic was effective in defense, but needs to improve his one-on-one skills in attack.
(Image taken from Squawka.com)

Kacaniklic deserves praise for his defensive solidness. Having 6 successful tackles to your name out of 8 attempted is promising for a young winger. He is a tidy tackler as he committed only two faults. But just like in the game against Liverpool, he rarely beat his man in a one-on-one situation. This is the area of his game where he needs to improve if he wants to become one of the top players in his position. Only beating your man in 46% percent of the one-on-ones you attempt is low for someone who's position demands being quick and skillful in possession.


Kacaniklic's attempted take ons against Liverpool
(Image taken from Squawka.com)

Against Liverpool, he completed only one out of his 4 attempted take ons. If he was better in this aspect of the game, he could be a top performer. At the moment, teams can defend against his movement by defending zonally. If he was better at beating his defender when on the ball, teams could no longer leave him the space to receive it in the first place. And that is what quick players thrive on. Defenders slower than them getting close, and leaving space behind them.  If you have doubts about how deadly a good shooter with good skills one-on-one can be…well, Gareth Bale anyone? 






Conclusion


Kacaniklic proved last season, that he is a reliable performer, who will deliver goals and assists, as well as solid defensive contribution. He adds a different perspective to Fulham's attacks.
Martin Jol should continue to give Alexander Kacaniklic chances in the first team so that he can fulfill his potential.

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