Last season, Benik Afobe scored 32 goals for MK Dons and Wolves. He scored all types of goals, including a mercurial solo effort against Nottingham Forest, and he cemented himself as one of the second tier’s best strikers – along with Harry Kane, Afobe had scored more league and cup goals than anyone else in English football.
Afobe was top scorer in the Capital One Cup, including two goals against Manchester United whilst playing for the Dons in a memorable 4-0 victory.
This season, he has scored six goals in 12 games. An average of a goal every two games is a superb return, especially after the club lost Bakary Sako to Crystal Palace and Nouha Dicko through injury. The deadly trio formed a relationship during the second half of last season that saw Wolves climb back up the league table. But what makes Afobe’s record all the more impressive is that he has found himself playing in a new position this season.
‘Ben 10’ has been deployed in the number 10 role, a position often previously enjoyed by Dave Edwards. In the 4-2-3-1 system that Kenny Jackett favours, the player behind the lone striker is incredibly important. It is a formation used by the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and the great Real Madrid, allowing Eden Hazard, David Silva and Isco to roam free and find pockets of space.
In the words of the man himself, the role means he is the ‘third midfielder’, as opposed to being the further forward. This means that he has added defensive responsibilities. He must not only close down and pressure the central defenders, but he must also prevent the opposition’s midfielders from finding too much space in the centre of the field.
This role is very different to the position that Afobe became used to last season. The 22-year-old admitted to the Express & Star that he was finding it much harder to score goals. I think that this is because he cannot use his blistering pace to run in behind defenders, using a counter-attacking style that made Wolves so successful last season. Instead, he must ‘run from deep and try and create things’, objectives that he claims Jackett has given him.
He has certainly been helped by Kevin McDonald’s tremendous recent form. The mercurial Scotsman has begun to recapture the form that led to him being labelled as one of the best midfielders outside of the Premier League last season, and it would be fair to say that he has formed a cohesive relationship on and off the pitch with Afobe since the striker’s arrival in January. The attacker said that the pair have a ‘telepathic’ relationship, shown by Wolves’ third goal against Huddersfield last week. McDonald played a superb ball down the line, Afobe timed his run perfectly, and he finished in the bottom corner.
With Adam Le Fondre unlucky not to find himself not on the scoresheet after having a goal ruled out for being marginally offside, and being incredibly unfortunate in being booked for diving after being brought down by Town goalkeeper Jed Steer, I think that Jackett’s new take on his favoured system during his tenure at the club will be effective for Wolves.
Huddersfield were not the first team to struggle to cope with Le Fondre’s work rate and pace, and with Afobe finding space in behind him, he has made himself more difficult to pin down by opposition defenders.