Rondon is looking for his feet at West Bromwich Albion
Zenit St. Petersburg manager Andre Villas Boas felt he was forced to sell Solomon Rondon to West Bromwich Albion last summer due to the introduction of tighter restrictions on foreign players in Russia. However, with the arrival of the in-form Artem Dzyuba and £12m in the bank for the now misfiring Rondon, it seems Zenit got a great deal.
The 26 year old finished as the second highest goalscorer in the Russian Premier League last season with 13 goals in just 25 hours of playing time. However, unfortunately for West Brom manager Tony Pulis, his record signing has notched just four goals in 19 matches and Baggies fans are starting to bemoan the purchase of the Venezuelan international.
So why has Rondon's form declined since his move?
Part of the problem could be the system that West Bromwich Albion play. At Zenit, Rondon was the focal point of the attack in a 4-2-3-1 formation which allows midfielders to get up the pitch and support the forward. Having Oleg Shatov and Hulk play out wide as inside forwards meant that they could cut inside and create chances, using Rondon as a pivot. However, West Brom play a 4-1-4-1 formation with natural wingers which means that, instead of neat interchange around the penalty area, crosses are fed into the striker and he is expected to fashion chances out of them. Additionally, the two central midfielders rarely break into the box which leaves Rondon very isolated, putting extra pressure on him to take chances when they come. That is not to say that West Brom play unattractive or the wrong style of football but it will take time for former Rubin Kazan striker Rondon to adjust to something totally alien to him.
A further problem for the Venezuelan is his team's possession and chances created. West Brom have the lowest average ball possession in the Premier League at just 40.5%. Compare this to Zenit's average possession statistic of 55.4% last season. This lack of possession for Albion has resulted in Rondon having to concentrate more on the defensive side of his game, something he rarely had to do at Zenit. This means that when West Brom do get the ball, Rondon has to switch his focus to the attack and make sure he retains the ball. This is once again something that he is not used to and it puts further pressure on the Venezuelan.
Due to the amount of chances Zenit created last season, it was not so important if Rondon did not find the back of the net. However, at West Brom, chances are few and far between which puts even more pressure on Rondon to score when the chances do come. It will take the Venezuelan a while to get used to this pressure.
West Brom fans have complained that Rondon is not built for the rough nature of the English Premier League saying that he backs out of challenges and is scared to get hurt. This goes back to the previous point. The Russian Premier League, as well as La Liga where he used to play with Malaga, is nowhere near as physical as the English Premier League and many foreign players take time to adapt, Rondon is not unique in this.
It is important to remember that Rondon signed a four year contract and to judge him just a few months into his first season is incredibly harsh. This is an international player who has scored goals in the Europa League and Champions League on a regular basis. I would urge West Brom fans to remain patient, they will soon see the best of Rondon as he adjusts to a completely new style of football.
Text: Thomas Giles, UK