Cast your mind back to the early days of the Premiership, since its inception striking partnerships have captured the fans imagination and delighted millions, but look around the top flight today and it would seem that the days of the strike partnership appear to be numbered.
There is nothing scarier than two strikers working in tandem, if one doesn’t get you, the other inevitably will. Cole and Yorke at Man Utd, Shearer and Ferdinand at Newcastle, Wright and Bergkamp at Arsenal and Shearer and Sutton at Blackburn are probably the greatest exponents of it in the Premierships illustrious history but there are many others. If you look at the Premier League table now, at only Chelsea and Spurs is there anything resembling an old-fashioned striking partnership and that is sad to see. This can be down to several factors – the trends in formations, rotation and money.
Many teams now play with only one orthodox striker, Torres at Liverpool, Van Persie (when fit) at Arsenal and Saha at Everton the best examples. This is down to many teams changing from the old 4-4-2 formation which has served us so well for many years to a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 formation however you look at (very much a half empty or half full scenario for the footballing purist). What about Man City I hear you cry? Well with so many decent strikers at their disposal surely two of them have struck up a combination of sorts by now? Well with Tevez banging them in for fun, Robinho packed off to Brazil, Santa Cruz permanently injured, Adebayor out of action due to the ACN and aftermath of the shootings and Bellamy being marooned on the left, there is no real partnership to speak of as yet – patterns of good play, tit bits of brilliance certainly but no telepathic understanding of yet.
Over at Utd it’s usually Rooney and one other, normally Berbatov but as shown at Arsenal last weekend, sometimes Ferguson prefers to play two support players around him leaving any real partnership null and void. At Villa there’s Agbohnlahor and Heskey, a decent duo with promise but without the understanding at present to take it to the next level. At Birmingham Benitez and Jerome are decent but lack the goals to be given too much thought and at Sunderland its Darren Bent and one other non-scoring centre forward. Quite a few teams play just the one up front and the days of a Rush-Dalglish partnership striking fear into the nations best defences appear to be over.
Money is itself a factor with the price of a striker who scores goals escalating year on year and the pressure that comes with success now means more teams try not to lose rather than win a game. Down at the bottom the pressure not to get relegated is massive; the money around the Premier League is astronomical and nobody wants to have to deal without it, no matter how much the parachute payments are, any club is going to struggle somewhat financially after being relegated.
With the pressure to stave off relegation or the fear of not dropping points comes rotation, every manager does it to varying degrees and of varying successes but every manager drops and brings players in depending on the opposition and their form. Ferguson recently named his 100th consecutive changed line-up and Benitez has reached this feat before too and this simply doesn’t allow time for settled partnerships to flourish.
Thankfully at Chelsea and Spurs two still exist. Crouch and Defoe have combined brilliantly this season and in 22 games have scored 23 goals between them – impressive to say the least. Although most of them have gone to Defoe, Crouch has been a constant supply of ammo for Defoe’s right foot hammer of a shot and it’s clear that there is a clear link there and partnership in action.
Over at Chelsea, Drogba and Anelka have combined at times this season to devastating effect, most notably in the 3-0 at the Emirates against Arsenal in November. Drogba has so far scored 15 premier league goals with Anelka getting 8. On the assist side Drogba has 8 with Anelka 6. Whilst not always direct assists, their partnership is most definitely working and the space they make for one another is obvious for all to see. Their partnership must go down as a great success despite people originally thinking they couldn’t play together.
If you look all across Europe it’s hard to see any great striking partnerships of note around. Last season there was of course Edin Dzeko and Grafite at Wolfsburg where they shared a Bundesliga record of 56 between them but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Barcelona play with Ibrahimovic up top with Henry and Messi around him, Inter play Milito and Eto’o and although they’re scoring there’s little interplay between them, at Milan there’s a fluid system designed to get the best out of Ronaldinho and Pato but no real strike partnership and at Real Madrid it’s a system catered to fit around Ronaldo and Kaka with one striker up top again, rotated between Higuain and Benzema.
It’s interesting to see the way the game is going, with more and more emphasis being placed on attacking midfielders and wide men who can score. The striker’s job today is more about someone who can drag people down the channels creating space for others to score or provide that killer pass for someone else. It’s a sad indictment on the self-professed greatest league in the world whereby most teams are scared to play two out and out goal scorers or even two strikers together for that matter – let’s hope it’s just a phase for there’s no greater sight in football than that of Shearer and Sheringham combining for that great goal against Holland in Euro 96’. What are everyone else’s thoughts on the matter are there any great striking partnerships around today that I’ve missed?
Written By James McManus