At the start of this summer, Sasha Kalajdzic’s move to Wolverhampton Wanderers seemed unlikely.
The giant Austrian striker had just finished a second successful season in the Bundesliga and with only a year remaining on his contract with Stuttgart he was one of the best strikers on the transfer market.
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund showed strong interest and Manchester United were linked with the 6’7″ striker.
One of Europe’s biggest clubs seemed to be beckoning one of Europe’s best strikers, a 25-year-old with theoretically his best years yet to come.
This transition did not materialize, due in part to Kalajdzic’s injuries and also possibly a disappointing summer with the national team.
This has put the Wolves back in contention for a player they believe fits the center forward profile that Bruno Lage has been aiming for since he moved to Molineux over a year ago. And with only a few days left in the window, the Wolves are ready to complete the transfer.
Given his height, Kalajdzic definitely stands out. But he’s more than just a striker who crosses and wins plays…
No wonder Kalajdzic is strong in the air.
He showed it in a 3-2 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach earlier this year with a classic header to Omar Marmoush from a deep left cross.
A powerful knockdown of Kaladzic gave the Egyptian running from the depths an easy finish.
And the smarterscout data, which gives players a rating from zero to 99 depending on how often they perform a given action compared to others in their position, or how efficient they are at it, shows just how dominant he is in aerial duels.
Smarterscout’s “weighted duels” ratings evaluate a player’s performance in head-to-head matches on the pitch – adjusting results to reflect the quality of opponents. Simply put, the headbutt fight with Raheem Sterling has a different weight than with Virgil van Dijk.
As for Kaladzic, the results show that he is one of the best players in Europe when it comes to aerial duels both in set pieces (92 out of 99) and in open play (90 out of 99).
Lage has made no secret of his desire for a tall, burly target before this year’s January transfer window, and by signing Kalajic, Wolverhampton appear to have fulfilled that requirement.
But there is more to his game.
Kalajdzic was included in The Radar, Athleticscouting guide at last summer’s European Championships, which talks about his style and background, and suggests suitable destinations.
And with a large number of fast and wide forwards at Lage’s disposal, Kalajdzic’s ability to throw deep passes and make passes will be of particular interest to the head coach.
His 59 out of 99 rating for progressive passing puts him above average for players in his position and highlights his ability to pass for attacking hitters as well as get the ball himself in the advanced areas (xG from forwarding, 59 out of 99).
That skill should appeal to Pedro Neto and Goncal Guedes, who have become Lage’s preferred options for wide forward roles this season in his 4-3-3 system.
Kalajdzic also ranks xG from shot creation as slightly above average (53 out of 99), showing his contribution to creating his team’s chances as well as converting them.
His skill on the edge of the penalty area has been demonstrated in his last two matches for Stuttgart.
In May, during a 2-2 draw against Bayern, his well-timed shot from a Tanguy Koulibaly pass allowed Philippe Forster to score a well-placed shot on goal.
And Forster ran past, but made a save for Manuel Neuer.
And six days later, his clever heel strike in a 2-1 win over Cologne gave Wataru Endo the chance to score the goal he nearly missed.
But it’s in the box where the Wolverhampton fans will be in desperate need of a kick, and Kalajdzic’s performances for Stuttgart add up when it comes to receiving balls and shots close to goal.
As Athletic It was noted over the weekend that the Wolves had the highest average shooting range in the Premier League in their first three rounds of matches and struggled to create quality chances close to goal.
Kalajdzic, on the other hand, specializes in close range shots and goals, especially with his header.
One of the best examples was his second of two goals for Austria in a 2-2 draw against Scotland in Glasgow in a World Cup qualifier in March 2021.
And he showed off his finishing skills with both head and foot as Stuttgart bounced back 2-0 to draw 2-2 with Union Berlin in December 2020.
His shooting map from 2020-21 – his most productive season for Stuttgart – shows a lot of effort within 12 yards of the net, with an average shooting distance of 12.5 yards.
An injury kept him out between August and January of last season, but his shot chart from his most recent campaign shows a similar picture, and his 0.37 goals per 90 minutes remained healthy, albeit well below the previous high standards. of the year.
A comparison of Kalajic and Wolves’ shot maps in the first three games of the season shows a clear difference in the placement of their shots on goal.
Lage hopes that Neto, Guedes and their comrades on the far flank will be able to use the presence of Kalajdzic closer to the net.
He is known for his amazing pace for a player of his size and especially for the quality of his touches and connections.
So how did one of the Bundesliga’s most feared strikers end up at Molineux?
His injuries inevitably played a role.
While Bayern seriously considered making an offer to Stuttgart, the German champions ultimately decided that he was not quite ready to lead the line for them.
Meanwhile, Dortmund were known to be concerned about his injuries as they looked for a replacement for Manchester City’s Erling Haaland.
The shoulder injury that saw him miss 16 games last season from late August to late December was not the first long sack since joining Stuttgart from Austrian side Admira Wacker in 2019.
An ACL tear sustained shortly after he arrived in Stuttgart ruled him out for 27 games in his debut Bundesliga season. And because of smaller problems, he missed five more Stuttgart games, three of which were related to COVID-19.
During his days at Admira, there was a six-month hiatus due to a metatarsal fracture and a three-month hiatus due to an ankle ligament injury.
A difficult summer with his national team also had little effect on his chances of completing a move to a “super club” that seemed likely at one point.
After finishing last season for Stuttgart in top form with six goals between early February and mid-May, Kalajdzic failed to qualify for the Nations League due to Austria’s disappointing performances against Croatia, Denmark and France. to his knee.
However, the Wolves decided that for a down payment of just £15 million ($17.5 million), Kalajdzic was worth the calculated risk.
If the club can manage his body and help him consistently realize his talents, the giant forward looks like a fit for Lage.
(Additional contributor: Raphael Honigstein)
(Photo: Helge Prang/GES-Sportfoto via Getty Images)