Assessing the list of one of the most prolific season for attacking players in the PSL, two players stand out; Samir Nurković and Peter Shalulile are two players with near similar attributes, traditional no 9s with their team’s interest always the priority. In the 2019-20 PSL season, Shalulile won the Lesley Manyathela Golden Boot – and Nurković scored 16 and 13 goals, respectively. Their strikes steam-rolled a title charge for one team and maintained top division status (later sold) for the other.
In a nutshell; these are two very versatile centre forwards. They can hold up play to bring in their teammates and also run into spaces in behind; in an attempt to stretch defences to create goalscoring chances. We will look at some of the attributes that make them stand out from most centre forwards in the league.
On The Break
Peter Shalulile is usually highly energetic and willing runner. Especially when there’s running space behind; he is always ready to run the miles to assist his team in getting into threatening positions in behind, with curved and well-timed runs from central areas to inside wide channels. In the image below, you can see Shalulile making a run into the right inside channel, with the opposition defender’s eyes solely fixed on the ball – unaware of Shalulile making a run on his blind side.
Shalulile generally has fantastic instincts of knowing where and when to run. In the channels is where most strikers naturally move, but the best of strikers make the movements count. In the image below, we see him continuing his run to receive the ball and carry it to the edge of the box. As the ball arrives, he has the quality to pick out a teammate in the box, who receives before laying the ball back for Mothobi Mvala to finish from the edge of the area.
Now that he has moved to Mamelodi Sundowns who are associated with playing a more possession-based brand of football, he will be expected to play more with his back to goal. However, it will be pleasing for his current manager(s) to know that he has this kind of weapon in his arsenal, in case they have to sit a bit deeper against proactive opponents.
In the previous season, when Kaizer Chiefs found themselves sitting deep and there was a sudden turnover of possession; their two men upfront would be spread wide, on opposite sides of the pitch – almost hugging the touchline – before receiving long passes in behind or for them to hold up play.
In the image above, Nurković receives a long pass in a wide position, running behind the last line. Opposed to Shalulile who drifts to a wide area from a central position, Nurković (under manager Ernst Middendorp) would start wide then cut inside to shoot or look to cross the ball into the box for a late run from midfield or to Leonardo Castro on the opposite side.
In the image below, he continues to cross the ball to Lebogang Manyama who heads it home courtesy of a late run into the box from midfield.
In the image below, we see Manyama receiving the ball in the centre of the pitch from Khama Billiat, his first instinct is to find Nurković who is making his usual run out wide. This isolates Grant Kekana at right-back, giving himself (Nurkovic) an opportunity to take him on.
He does a little step-over, then knocks the ball past Kekana before chipping a cross-come-shot over Ronwen Williams and into the back of the net to break the deadlock.
With just the naked eye, it is clear that Shalulile is the quickest between the two. That’s why he is more suited to running channels, instead of finding open spaces out wide. At this moment below, we can see him looking to run past Daniel Cardoso with the ball at his feet. He then recognises that the option does not look likely.
A sudden chop back to use Cardoso’s momentum against him affords him time and space on the ball. He spins around, and without having much of a look at the goal, he takes a shot at goal from the edge of the area, that only goes past the top right corner.
Standing at 1.87m, Samir Nurković has impressed most people with his aerial prowess. In the 2019/20 season, Nurković contested 335 aerial duels, and he was successful 46% of the time – the highest aerial success percentage amongst players who scored 10+ goals in that season.
In the image below, Manyama whips in a wicked cross from a corner kick, Nurković is seen with two defenders keeping an eye on him. Starting from the penalty spot, Nurković begins to make his trademark run towards the near post.
He makes a short sprint and gets a good leap on both his markers to redirecting the ball with his head to the far post and into the back of the net.
Biomechanics specialist Dr. Neal Smith, mentioned a few contributing factors to a player with near excellent heading ability when speaking to The Athletic’s Patrick Boyland about Dominic Calvert-Lewin. He explains that the ability to achieve great speed on a header is greatly influenced by a player always on the move to meet the ball in the air. He further added that moving/running towards the ball, the player’s momentum travels through the ball’s intended line of flight. Therefore, aiding the pace of the header.
Dr. Smith also spoke about “the middle of the forehead,” mentioning how Calvert-Lewin makes contact with the ball using the ‘middle of his forehead, just where the hairline meets the forehead’. This is how Nurković made contact with the ball when he scored against Maritzburg at the FNB Stadium.
“This is one of the flatter parts of the head, so enables a greater surface area of the ball to be in contact with the head, and further enables him to watch the ball right up until contact with the forehead,” Dr. Smith says.
After making his trademark near post runs, he tends to redirect the ball to the far post using his forehead. This is because he can watch the ball all the way, and the greater area of contact gives him that extra millisecond that allows him to turn his neck and redirect the flight of the ball.
As Thalente Mbatha beats his man in the wide area, Shalulile is on the move to look to get to the end of the cross. Free of markers, he starts moving towards the 6-yard area.
Pay attention to his starting position, he is positioned at least 5 yards away from where the ball will be delivered. This allows him to run on to the ball so that he can use his momentum to generate power behind his header. He serves the perfect delivery justice, by leaping with authority – courtesy of great momentum – to head past the keeper and into the back of the net.
Anyone can lurk around the six-yard area, but not everybody can sniff out where the ball will land and where space is. Being a six-yard predator is a sign of an instinctive centre forward. Nurković and Shaulile have shown on several occasions that they possess great movement, intelligence and superb timing.
Penalty Box Poachers
Importantly here, it is about Nurković’s positioning – between 2 defenders – before the cross comes in from Reeve Frosler. Anele Nqconqca (may his soul rest in peace) who is assigned to deal with Nurković’s height is just in front of him and Thepelo Morena could not be of much assist because his attention is on Billiat. Nurković notices that Nqconqca is solely concentrated on the ball, whereas Nurković has attention on the ball and the space to run into when the cross is delivered.
As the ball comes in, Leonardo Castro (8) leaps to attempt to get something on the ball. This confuses Denis Onyango who does not know whether to come out for the cross or stay in between his posts, to stop any headed attempt at goal. The ball misses everybody and lands where Nurković is making a run before he knocks (basically bumped into him) it into the net.
Similarly, Shalulile takes advantage of situations where defenders have their attention only on the ball. He begins a run from the edge of the area and towards the six-yard area.
With only Thato Mokeke keeping an eye on him, he makes a strong run to meet the delivery, before powering the ball home from the six-yard line.
In the end, Mokeke was never a challenge for Shalulile in the air. Shalulile jumped to meet the cross while he was on the move, for starters. Not to mention that Mokeke is in a static position, making it easy to be pushed over and also hard for him to get a good leap on Shalulile. Mokeke was always there for the taking.
In the game against Black Leopards, Gaston Sirino finds himself in a great crossing position on the edge of the area. Anticipating a cut back; Shalulile makes his first movement, as part of a double-movement, by looking to run behind Tebogo Matome Makobela, before making a second movement to run across the face of the backline.
Sirino cuts the ball slightly back for Shalulile who had his initial shot blocked, only for the rebound to set perfectly in the air for an acrobatic finish to equalise for Mamelodi Sundowns.
A team of the style Highlands Park – that would often find themselves defending deep – needed a player that can be an escape route when they regain possession in their defending third. Shalulile often did that – being an escape route – courtesy of his pace and decent ball control. Highlands Park retrieves the ball deep inside their territory against Celtics before passing the ball out wide to Shalulile, who has dropped deep inside his own.
He knocks the ball around two defenders before advancing with the ball into a great crossing position. In this situation, he was able to cross the ball to Ryan Rae who is making a bursting run into the box unfortunately Rae does not manage to head the ball on target.
Paired with his speed, Shalulile has an incredible ability of out-smarting defenders with the timing and direction of his runs in behind. He waits for the right moments of making runs – usually when the ball is played to a full-back out wide, before playing the ball into the channels.
In the images below, we see him making a well-timed run in behind before smashing the ball into the top right corner of Elvis Chipezeze’s goal.
Below is another moment where he further showcases his movement abilities. He started from deep to link play before making a direct/central run in behind the defence, before taking down a lobbed pass to place the into the bottom right corner of the goal.
With his combative nature and robust frame, Nurković, on the other hand, prefers to offer a different dynamic – as an outlet – for his team. A competent target man; he often offers himself as an outlet when Kaizer Chiefs looks to move the ball from back to front quickly. He receives aerial balls before bringing onrushing midfielders in to play, with clever knock-downs and lay-offs.
A long pass is played to Nurković, before he could even control the ball Bernard Parker and Lazarous Kambole were already getting close to him to pick up knock-downs and lay-offs.
As he takes the ball down, Black Leopards’ left centre back, Chris Katjiukua steps out of his defensive line to press him from behind. This allows Kambole to initiate an up-back-through, he runs in behind, as Kokota plays the ball back to an approaching Parker.
Parker receives the lay-off before playing Kambole – who is making a run into the space evaded by Katjiukua – through on goal.
Another way of bringing others into play is by flicks-on. Especially when playing as a lone striker, Nurković tends to drop off and look to flick the ball onto teammates making runs in behind or in better positions ahead of him.
In the match against TTM, Nurković peels off from his marker to flick the long pass on to Parker who is looking at making a run in behind the last line.
Although they differ in style, both Samir Nurković and Peter Shalulile have most of the attributes that are consistent with exemplary no 9s around the world. Shalulile’s move to Sundowns and the appointment of Gavin Hunt at Kaizer Chiefs means both players are under new management, we will wait and see which manager or managers will get the most out of their respective striker.
By: Hamza-Sello Ladwaba
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Kaizer Chiefs – Namibia Sun