The Premier League last season was dominated by strikers, as the malaise on the overall standard of defenders continues. With Robin van Persie’s move to Manchester United from Arsenal perhaps tipping the balance of power back towards Ferguson’s side, it’s worth taking a look at the main contenders to see which club currently operating has the best strikeforce on show?
Firstly, let’s set some ground rules, otherwise we’ll resort simply to a ‘he’s better than him’ debate, which is all rather reductive and boring. This is in no way scientific, so feel free to chew the fat in the comment section below and I’m also discounting creative midfielders and wingers simply because they are not what you would term conventional strikers, so there’s no place for Hatem Ben Arfa, Juan Mata or Santi Cazorla I’m afraid, despite their obvious talent.
The criteria are – first-choice starters, back-up, variance to their attack, impact and pedigree. So without further ado, let’s get the ball rolling.
Manchester City are the first club that springs to mind, having won the league title last term and containing the likes of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko within their squad. Aguero and Tevez are the first-choice pairing for the club and they’ve struck up a wonderful partnership in recent months, so we’ll give them 9/10 as they’re comparable to any in the rest of Europe.
When it comes to back-up, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko are also formidable, with the Italian striking a double in the semi-final of Euro 2012 to knock Germany out, while Dzeko struck 14 times in the league last term despite not being first-choice, so we’ll give them 9/10 again. The variance is there, with Dzeko the big man, Aguero and Tevez the small, intricate forwards and Balotelli somewhere in between, so again, 9/10.
In terms of pedigree, Balotelli, Dzeko, Tevez and Aguero are all recognised players at international level and have experience of European competition – none have set either alight just yet, though, so 8/10 for that one. The impact of Tevez had transformed City as club laying the groundwork for future star players to follow, while Aguero’s record is exceptional despite only being in England a year – Balotelli and Dzeko have been somewhat more inconsistent, but they’ve scored goals in big games that helped them clinch the title last term, which at the end of the day, is what it’s all about, so we’ll mark them a brave and bold 10/10 for that – for those of you counting in the back, that’s an overall score of 45/50.
To Stamford Bridge next and the club’s three recognised strikers, one of which is out on loan, are Fernando Torres, Daniel Sturridge and Romelu Lukaku. The £50m Spaniard is the first-choice man in a 4-2-3-1 system, but a record of just 13 goals in 69 games, only seven of which have come in the league is quite frankly very poor, so 3/10 for him.
The back-up of Daniel Sturridge is decent, and this could all change soon, with the club reported to be chasing both Edinson Cavani and Hulk at the moment too, but there’s not much depth to speak of at the moment. The England international spent most of last term out wide on the right and despite an excellent first half of the campaign, faded badly, so we’ll give him a 5/10, given that Lukaku is out on loan at West Brom.
When it comes to variance, Sturridge is certainly different to Torres, relying on his pace more than positioning and sharply timed runs, so 6/10 for that, although it would be more if the big Belgian were still at the club. Impact at the club, having lost the hugely experienced Didier Drogba at the end of last season also comes in for a battering, with just 4/10. Pedigree is almost entirely weighted on to Torres, and despite his struggles, he’s a World Cup, Champions League and double European Championship winner, so in that regard, along with Sturridge, they get a 9/10 – a grand total of 27/50 for a club in a period of undoubted transition.
Continued on Page TWO
Newcastle can also stake a claim, with the likes of Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and Shola Ameobi to choose from. With Ba pushed out onto the left flank to accommodate Hatem Ben Arfa as much as Cisse, they do play with two strikers, but one in a less conventional position, but they retain that threat, so first-choice we’ll plump for 8/10, but back-up, with only Shola and his younger brother Sammy Ameobi at the minute in supporting roles brings it in at just 4/10.
Variance is another poor one, for all four players are largely similar, with Cisse and Ba capable of playing it on the deck and in the air, while the Ameobi brothers are the same and they all largely rely on a powerful, somewhat physical approach, so 5/10 for that one. The two Senegalese players impact, though, cannot be underestimated, with Ba carrying the side in the first half of last season, Cisse in the second on their goals alone and they wouldn’t have finished fifth without either one of them playing their part, so 10/10 for that.
Their pedigree, while they’ve scored goals wherever they’ve been so far in their careers, they’ve only just started out at international level and boast little to no European experience at all, so 5/10 with room for improvement there – grand total of 32/50 edging just ahead of Chelsea.
Swiftly moving on to Manchester United, the main rivals for City and in terms of first-choice starters, considering they have the two top goalscorers in the league last season up front in Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, we’ll mark that down as a solid 10/10, with 57 league goals between them last term.
The club also boats enviable back-up, with Dimitar Berbatov fifth-choice and searching for a lifeboat out of the club behind Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, so again 10/10, with no side in Europe aside from perhaps Real Madrid and Barcelona having as much firepower in reserve.
When it comes to variance too, with Rooney and Van Perise capable of playing multiple roles out wide or through the centre, and possessing the ability to create chances and drop deeper, Welbeck’s pace, Hernandez’s poacher style and Berbatov’s languid elegance see them achieve another great mark of 10/10.
Pedigree is again a strong suit, with 133 goals at international level between them and a further 95 in Europe, which when you compare it to City’s 53 at international level and 50 in Europe is on an entirely different level, and even when you take out Berbatov’s tally, should he seal a likely departure, they’re still ahead on both counts, so in keeping with City’s mark, they get 9/10.
Impact is the final and worst category for the club, with Welbeck still in the first stages of his blossoming career and boasting massive potential, Hernandez looks somewhat injury-prone after an excellent first year at Old Trafford and Berbatov something of a flat-track bully, while Van Perise has only just arrived, leaving Rooney to carry the burden here for a generous 7/10 – this leaves them with a grand total of (drum roll please) 46 out of 50 to move into the lead.
Liverpool don’t really even have an attack worth looking at, with only Luis Suarez to speak of, with Fabio Borini new and Andy Carroll ineffective, while Tottenham have only just signed Emmanuel Adebayor to help out Jermain Defoe, so they won’t even come close, with their threat coming out wide from the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon and through the middle in Gylfi Sigurdsson and Rafael van der Vaart, with both clubs predominantly opting for one up top, so they don’t particularly factor into this debate, despite being top eight sides.
The final club on offer is Arsenal, and having just lost Robin van Persie, they could be directly hindered here, with their first-choice duo of new signings Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski both in their first respective seasons in the top flight and it remains to be seen how Wenger will play them in the same side, with the pressure on them to settle straight away absolutely huge now, so we’ll give them a cautious 6/10.
Moving on to the back-up players and the likes of Marouane Chamakh, Nicklas Bendtner and Park Chu-Young are all bracketed under the term ‘deadwood’ and while the Dane may still have something to offer, the cupboard’s pretty bare, so 4/10 for that. Variance is again a troubling one, with most of the striking options fairly slow and cumbersome players, relying on the pace and trickery of wide players to help them out, so 5/10 here. Impact is a difficult one to quantify, as both the main men are new to the club, so without trying to sound too unfair, they only way forward here is to assign them a middle of the road 5/10.
Pedigree is the final category and Podolski boasts an exemplary one at international level, with 44 goals and 101 caps for Germany, even if his club career isn’t quite up to the same standard, but Giroud is a relative infant with just one goal and 10 caps. The back-up comes to the rescue here, though, with Bendtner, Chamakh and Park amassing 60 international goals between them, adding to large total of 282 international caps across the entire strikeforce, but a lack of top-level European football holds them back to just 7/10 – this leaves the grand total for Arsenal at 27 out of 50.
So there you have it, using my somewhat bonkers and completely non-scientific scoring system, the top five strikeforces in the Premier League are as follows – Manchester United (46/50), Manchester City (45/50), Newcastle (32/50), and Chelsea (27/50) and Arsenal tied (27/50), with Liverpool and Tottenham bringing up the rear due to a lack of discernible depth. Sir Alex Ferguson’s purchase of Dutchman Robin van Persie this summer has tipped the scales in United’s favour and they now have the strongest set of strikers in the entire top flight.
Do you agree with the scores attributed to each club? Any that you think I’ve been overly harsh or lax with? You know the drill by now, post them in the comment section below.
You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1