Alexander Isak shines with an extraordinary debut

Alexander Isak shines with an extraordinary debut

Alexander Isak shines with an extraordinary debut

Newcastle United's Alexander Isak celebrates first goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United at Anfield - Visionhaus / Getty Images

Newcastle United’s Alexander Isak celebrates first goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United at Anfield – Visionhaus / Getty Images

New £ 54m Newcastle forward Alexander Isak found he could play for Liverpool just hours before kick-off, when his work permit was finally approved.

But how did the club’s record transfer go and should the rest of the Premier League be worried?

Tight control

The first time Isak took possession of Anfield, there was a sense of familiarity; the languid style; the ability to give the impression that the ball may drift mid-dribble just to maintain control; the deceptive turn of the step as the strides ate the grass; and, most thrillingly, composure in front of goal when a shoulder drop is mandatory, but a second one to put another defender on the field is optional to create a work of art.

Which player did Isak’s style resemble the most? At first glance, it looked like Nwankwo Kanu’s second coming. The similarity was most evident with Isak’s prematurely celebrated goal early in the second half, when Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez were sidelined by Isak’s changes of direction before achieving a perfect finish. Take a look at a goal scored by Kanu against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 1999 and you will see the merit in the comparison.

    Alexander Isak scores a goal - REUTERS / Phil Noble

Alexander Isak scores a goal – REUTERS / Phil Noble

The referee’s video assistant ruled out what could have been a defining moment if Isak’s “second” had been legal, but the way he put two Liverpool defenders on his butt before beating Alisson again left a persistent impression.

“It was a taste of what he can bring to the team,” said his manager, Eddie Howe.

“First of all, his overall performance was very good. I was happy with how he played tactically without the ball. He gave us the step behind and showed great composure and technique ”.

Finish

This is where it matters and Isak has found that Home Office bureaucracy is currently considerably more difficult to negotiate than Liverpool’s once solid red wall.

Unsure whether he would have been eligible until hours before kick-off while awaiting a work permit, the Swedish international presented himself to English football with the kind of sublime finish that can only elicit one response: Wow!

Newcastle fans in attendance will see it as a time when Isak received Sean Longstaff’s pass and punched past Alisson as if he were playing with friends in the schoolyard. One possibility, one goal. Statues of St James’ Park have been commissioned with such proportions, although it will have to continue for another 10 years.

During his 64 minutes – his night ended prematurely when he ran out of gas – the 22-year-old patrolled Liverpool’s bottom line waiting to expose all vulnerabilities, giving Gomez a particularly uncomfortable night. Until his excellent goal in the 38th minute was an exercise in patience, Newcastle were hoping they could turn their counter attacks into a real threat. The calm Isak showed in front of goal showed the beginning of a good relationship with his new followers.

Newcastle's Alexander Isak, right, scores the first goal during the English Premier League football match - AP Photo / Jon Super

Newcastle’s Alexander Isak, right, scores the first goal during the English Premier League football match – AP Photo / Jon Super

Physicality

Understandably, this will be work in progress. Isak showed potential in the air. In the beginning he beat Virgil van Dijk with his head (although the Dutchman complained that he had been fouled). But he was more comfortable receiving standing with both back to goal and the ability to rush behind the baseline. Newcastle’s strategy involved Isak taking advantage of the gaps between Liverpool’s center-backs and winger, and tended to loiter more menacingly around Gomez.

Howe wants Newcastle to evolve to press high and Isak looks like the type of striker who can execute that strategy. It remains to be seen how and when he can develop a partnership with Callum Wilson. Obviously it will take some time as he approaches English football. At the time of his replacement, however, he was visibly in crisis.

“He didn’t train much with us,” Howe said.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised [by how well he did]. I know what he is capable of, but it would have been for him to open his eyes to what the Premier League is. He didn’t train much with us. He dealt with it very well. “

Significantly, once Isak left, he brought with him Newcastle’s ability to turn defense into menacing counterattacks.

Howe made a frustrated figure considering what it could have been, not only at Anfield, but also against Manchester City recently, given the absences from his squad.

He may also complain that this was a good time to face Liverpool given the injury problems. As the two benches have swapped obscenities full-time, one can’t help but think this could turn into a hostile rivalry if Newcastle turn their wealth into success in the coming seasons.

To do so, Isak may have to prove that he is one of the defining purchases of this new era. Personally, at least – and despite his team’s latest disappointment at Anfield – he couldn’t have made a more promising start.

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