Three months ago, few football fans outside of Poland knew who Krzysztof Piatek was.
Despite a fine season at club level, where he scored 21 goals in 38 games for Cracovia, he had been left out of his country's World Cup squad. He left for Italy soon after that omission, joining Genoa for a £4 million fee. However, he barely made it into a top five list of the Grifone's most expensive signings of the summer window.
It's fair to say that expectations were fairly low for the 23-year-old entering his first term at Europe's top table. But surpassing expectations is all he has done since. In his first seven Serie A games he scored nine goals. Overall he has hit the back of the net 13 times in eight competitive outings for his new team. He has scored in every single league match he has played on the peninsula so far, making the best start to an Italian top flight campaign since the great Christian Vieri in 2002.
When Piatek scores his hands become imaginary pistols. It's a celebration Italian football followers are getting used to, but just how long will that last?
Having ignored 'Pistol Piatek' in the summer, Europe's elite won't want to make the same mistake twice. But to understand just how good Genoa's prolific finisher really is, as well as how far he might go, it's worth analysing the nature and sustainability of his scoring streak this season.
ANATOMY OF A SCORING STREAK
Expected goal value (EGV) indicates the chance of a shot becoming a goal. The EGV of a shot takes into account a number of influential factors, including the location of the shot, the type of attack leading to the shot, and the proximity of defenders around the shot.
Most of Piatek's Serie A goals have had a fairly low EGV, with six of his nine being assigned an expected goal value of between 0 and 0.12. This could mean several different things – maybe he is getting lucky; maybe he's an extraordinary finisher. Breaking his run down goal-by-goal gives a better picture of what's behind his excellent form.
Goal One EGV: 0.12
Piatek's first Serie A goal came in Genoa's 2-1 win over Empoli when a cross from the left wing into a crowded penalty area somehow found him. While in a fairly central location, he had little time to make a connection and there were two defenders right in front of him. He managed to find the net with a remarkably controlled first-time shot that went underneath the goalkeeper.
Goals Two and Three EGV: 0.08 and 0.34
The 23-year-old's second and third league goals came in a 5-3 defeat to Sassuolo. He opened his account that day with a strike after an aimless long ball and a failed clearance that fell to his feet on the left-hand side of the penalty box. A low shot went underneath his marker, leaving the opposition goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
Piatek's second of that match, and his third of the season, was a far more obvious chance. On the counter-attack he peeled off his marker to find space centrally and received a cut-back well inside the Sassuolo box. With his movement buying him time and space, he fired home beyond two defenders and the goalkeeper.
Goal Four EGV: 0.03
His goal against Bologna was the toughest 'chance' he has taken since joining Genoa, with an EGV of just 0.03. Here he received the ball in the left inside channel, worked his way into a more central position just outside the opposition penalty box, and found the bottom right corner with a superb curled finish.
Goal Five EGV: 0.29
Piatek's fifth of the league campaign came in defeat away to Lazio. Again, he capitalised on a failed clearance before steadying himself in the penalty area and slotting beyond the goalkeeper with an emphatic finish into the roof of the net.
Goal Six EGV: 0.06
The Polish frontman's sixth Serie A goal came against Chievo. On this occasion he received a pass from the left wing just inside the opposition box, letting the ball come across him before evading two defenders and the goalkeeper with a precise finish into the far corner.
Goals Seven and Eight EGV: 0.05 and 0.45
Piatek's seventh league goal of the season came from another low-quality chance. He took one touch to control a knock-down on the edge of the penalty area, then fired a low shot beyond a close marker and the goalkeeper.
Goal Nine EGV: 0.06
This was perhaps the most impressive finish of the lot. Here, at home to Parma, Piatek gets on the end of a cross from the left and, marked tightly while moving away from goal, spins a header into the far corner of the net.
HOW SUSTAINABLE IS PIATEK'S FORM?
While the above graphics and the goals they depict only represent nine of the 37 shots Piatek has attempted in his maiden Serie A campaign thus far, they do hint at wider issues that could impact the sustainability of his form in front of goal.
Many of his goals come after one or a combination of the following: hopeful crosses, aimless long balls, and defensive errors. In short, Genoa aren't putting chances on a plate for him; indeed their xG (expected goals for) is the seventh lowest in the league.
As the statistics and above graphics confirm, Piatek is having to work to find the net so consistently. This, along with the fact his record isn't built on a couple of wild games against woeful opposition, suggests good things about his finishing ability. He has found the net at least once against every Serie A team he has played, and the more spread out his goals are the more he looks like a reliable finisher as opposed to someone benefitting from good luck or other variables, such as the recent replacement of Davide Ballardini by Ivan Juric as Genoa head coach.
At this point it's worth noting that the 23-year-old is substantially over-performing in terms of the number of goals he is expected to score. His expected goals (xG) total for the season so far is 3.58, which is significantly lower than his actual goals scored of nine. This appears to indicate that his current run is not sustainable, and that a decline in productivity may be on the horizon.
However, even if Piatek's scoring form were to revert back to something more realistic based on his xG, he would still find himself among the finest finishers in Italy's top flight. Only Cristiano Ronaldo, Edin Dzeko and Andrea Belotti have higher xG tallies in the league right now, while the likes of Ciro Immobile, Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain linger just behind the Pole.
Based purely on his current xG, he's on course to achieve a 19-goal season across 38 games. This, of course, doesn't take into account the fact that he has yet to face Serie A's best – four of his seven outings have come against teams ranked between 16th and 20th. Once he's rubbed shoulders with with Juventus, Inter, Napoli, Roma, Fiorentina and Milan we will have an improved view of his scoring capacity.
The good news for Piatek is that he shoots far more often than his attacking teammates. Goran Pandev, Genoa's deep-lying central forward, averages one shot per game; Christian Kouame, the team's right-sided forward, averages two shots per game; while Piatek averages 5.3 shots per game. For further context, in all of Serie A only Ronaldo averages more.
These numbers indicate that, even if the number of chances created drops when up against the likes of Giorgio Chiellini and Kalidou Koulibaly, Piatek is likely to remain the primary finisher of Genoa attacks. This, along with his precise finishing, ability to fashion his own opportunities and knack for finding the net against different defences, should allow him to score at a reasonably regular rate even when his current streak ends.
WHAT ELSE CAN HE DO?
The statistics suggest that Piatek can keep on scoring consistently, even if his existing rate of over a goal per game isn't sustainable. However, goals won't necessarily be enough to excite the best teams in Europe today.
If he is to leave Genoa for a top club in Italy, England, Spain or Germany, the 23-year-old must showcase the tactical qualities required to fit into their systems. Few sides at the highest level can afford to play a pure finisher up front – most will want their line-leader to be competent in other areas.
In a press conference after the win over Frosinone, former Genoa boss Ballardini praised the striker's all-round performance. "Piatek is always important for us," he said. "Even if he doesn't score goals, because he fights hard for every ball and is the first to track back and help the defence. He runs the game."
These words, however, were those of an excited manager rather than an objective take. To those watching on or crunching the numbers, it's pretty easy to see that the most valuable aspects of Piatek's game are related to scoring goals.
He makes intelligent movements in the final third, positions himself well, always looks to get on the end of attacks, and possesses an accurate shot. On top of that, he offers a threat in the air – only six attackers in Serie A win more than his 3.29 aerial duels per game.
Playing predominantly on the left of a front three within Ballardini's 3-4-1-2 system, Piatek does follow instructions defensively, dropping back to help block the centre and force opposition build-up wide. He isn't, however, a particularly intense presser – hence why he makes fewer tackles and interceptions, on average, than both Pandev and Kouame.
Offensively, he does move to offer a passing option to his teammates and occasionally comes deep to link play. However, his main focus is, as discussed, getting on the end of moves. He makes significantly fewer key passes and dribbles per game than Pandev and Kouame, though perhaps the most telling statistic of all is that each of his seven league goals have involved three touches or fewer. Three were first-time strikes, four required one touch to control before the finish, and just two necessitated three touches.
To summarise, he is a poacher. Bolstering this notion, his attacking influence comes from one of the most iconic poachers in Italian football history. "I think constantly about how a move could develop, where I need to position myself to receive a pass," he told Gazzetta dello Sport. "Often it plays out that way for real. In Italy there was a striker who seemed to draw the ball to him: [Filippo] Inzaghi. I would like to be the same way."
Genoa president Enrico Preziosi touched on Piatek's remarkable finishing ability recently, saying: "We didn't sign him on a whim. I'd seen him play. He's a striker who scored 21 goals in the Polish League last season, in all kinds of ways. He's a real talent who can explode at any moment."
However, in the same interview Preziosi went on to discredit the notion of selling his star man in the upcoming January transfer window, remarking that: "Just thinking about it is crazy!" The player himself has a slightly different view of what might happen in the near future, telling DAZN: "I've only been here for two-and-a-half months and I don't know where I'll be in the next six."
Genoa do have a history of selling their finest individual talent, though. Giovanni Simeone, Diego Laxalt, Mattia Perin and Diego Perotti are among those to have moved on in recent years, with transfer fees generally ranging from £10 million to £20 million. Something closer to the latter fee would probably be difficult for the club to turn down, as they would be receiving four times what they paid to sign the player back in June. This would also be well within the budget of most top English, Spanish, German and Italian sides.
Ultimately, availability and affordability are likely to be lesser issues than tactical fit. Piatek's poaching wouldn't, for example, be ideal for Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool or Maurizio Sarri's Chelsea given the demands both managers place on their strikers in pressing, counter-pressing and build-up. The player would perhaps be more suited to a side like Bayern Munich, who supply their lone striker with exceptional dribblers and creative passers out wide and in central midfield.
His summer transfer may have gone unnoticed, but it's highly unlikely that Piatek's next move will fly under the radar. His scoring form with Genoa has caught the eye, and his strike rate could go up another level if and when surrounded by better players in a more cohesive attacking system.
All data in this article was provided byUnderstat,WhoScored andSquawka.