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Currently one of Europe's most in-form strikers, Paco Alcacer's season and story is remarkable

The striker has enjoyed a spectacular rehabilitation at Lucien Favre’s ridiculously-entertaining Borussia Dortmund.

Image: ULMER

IT SAID MUCH that when Gary Neville wanted to make a statement during his ill-fated and short-lived reign in Spain he turned to Paco Alcacer.

The Valencia striker was only 22 years old but Neville handed him the captaincy in early 2016. After all, he was a rare bright spark at a dismal time for the club. He was scoring but also saving. There was a dramatic equaliser against Rayo Vallecano and another against Real Madrid.

Neville was gone by the end of March and when Alcacer finished the campaign with 13 goals and seven assists, it seemed likely he’d move on too. But, as a local homegrown talent and another proud example of the club’s ability to develop young players, it wasn’t a painless exit.

Rumours swirled about a Barcelona switch for a while but there were denials from all invested parties.

The back and forth ran into the start of the following season and when Alcacer was left out of a league game against Eibar, a move to Camp Nou was inevitable.

“To play for Valencia you have to have your body and soul in Valencia,” said boss Pako Ayestaran when asked to explain Alcacer’s removal from the squad.  

But, Barcelona did not go well for the attacker.

It was a five-year contract but with a first-choice front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, there was hardly any space to properly immerse himself and make an impact.

Spain: Barcelona v Sevilla - La Liga Paco Alcacer's time in Barcelona proved frustrating and he was restricted to a cameo role. Source: NurPhoto

In all competitions, he played the full 90 minutes on just seven occasions. There were some highlights under Luis Enrique, mainly a start and a goal in the Copa del Rey final win over Alaves. And playing back-up to the world’s most famous attacking trio was hardly the worst situation to be in, especially when still developing.

But, things got worse when Ernesto Valverde arrived as manager.  

With Neymar sold to PSG, Alcacer probably expected to get more opportunities but the opposite happened. Valverde tweaked formations and players and hit the ground running. He seemed to have reignited something with a brace against Sevilla last November but Valverde’s comments afterwards were telling.

“He has not played a lot and he has shown that he is a goalscorer and we are happy. I have a strong side here and anyone can come in and score.”

It seemed like the manager needed more from Alcacer and the rest of his season drifted away, a collection of cameos and nothing more. This time, there were just three 90-minute contributions in all competitions.

He needed a change and in August, Borussia Dortmund offered him a lifeline.      

Under Lucien Favre, Alcacer has been unplayable at times and slotted perfectly into the most entertaining team in Europe currently. 

With Axel Wistel and Thomas Delaney as a midfield holding duo, it allows a flexible front four to supply the energy and movement. Marco Reus is the link while Christian Pulisic, Jadon Sancho and Jacob Larsen add to the free-flowing nature of the side. In their nine league games so far, Dortmund have scored 29 goals and they remain unbeaten while it’s the same story in the Champions League, largely thanks to thumping victories over Monaco and Atletico Madrid.  

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In the Bundesliga, Reus has netted five and assisted on three. Sancho has scored four and assisted on six.

But, it’s Alcacer who has been truly remarkable. Mainly because he hasn’t played much.

Since arriving, he’s properly struggled to gain full fitness. There was an ankle injury and then a thigh problem and he’s missed five games as a result. In fact, Dortmund have had to treat him with kid gloves and he’s only started two games in all competitions. 

Incredibly, he’s played just 216 minutes so far this season – 90 of those came against Monaco. 

And still, he’s scored eight times. 

Imago 20181006 Alcacer's form in Dortmund is made all the more extraordinary by his fitness issues and the fact he's only started two games in all competitions. Source: TEAM2

He came off the bench to score his first goal for the club against Eintracht Frankfurt but away to Bayer Leverkusen, Dortmund found themselves 2-0 down with 25 minutes left. 

Alcacer was introduced two minutes before Reus pulled a goal back. Moments later, Reus scored a second to equalise. Then, Alcacer took over and grabbed a brace of his own in the last five minutes to ensure a magnificent 4-2 win. 

It seemed to be a galvanising result.

The following week, Dortmund were a goal behind at home to Augsburg. On the hour mark, Alcacer replaced Max Philipp once again and everything changed. Two minutes after coming on, he equalised. The guests hit back and retook the lead only for Alcacer to level again. With six minutes left, Mario Gotze put Dortmund in front but they conceded with three minutes to go. A breathless 3-3 draw seemed a fair result only for Alcacer to have the final word. In the sixth minute of injury time, he stepped up and lashed a 30-yard free-kick inside the near post.

In another rout away to Stuttgart, he racked up his seventh league goal of the campaign with a beautiful chip.

In between, he’s picked up a recall for Luis Enrique’s Spain and scored three times across  October’s pair of friendlies against Wales and England.

It’s truly been a radical turnaround for Alcacer. His and his team’s form may not be sustainable through the entire season but, given his difficulties at Barca, he’s surely just glad to be playing with a smile on his face again.     

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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