10. Daniel Sturridge
It says as much about the crippling paucity of truly great strikers in the Premier League as it does Daniel Sturridge’s brilliance, but the Liverpool striker makes the list despite a season decimated by injury. Christian Benteke – unfortunate to miss the cut himself – has started just three Premier League games in 2016, yet has 15 more appearances, three more starts and 540 more minutes to his name than his teammate this season; the Belgian has scored just one goal more than Sturridge.
Be it hip, knee, hamstring or ego, injuries sidelined the England international for at least one league game of each of the first six months of the season. He scored two goals in five fixtures from August until January. From February to May, the 26-year-old has overcome his issues to feature nine times, scoring six goals. Liverpool have lost just two of 11 league games in which Sturridge has started; they have been defeated eight times out of 27 without their talisman. Only Kelechi Iheanacho (94) and Sergio Aguero (99) enjoy a more impressive minutes-per-goal ratio (123) of players with five strikes or more. It is impossible not to wonder how different the Reds’ season could have been had Sturridge played more often as a striker than Steven Caulker.
9. Andre Ayew
When it comes to signings, Swansea have not enjoyed a good season. Alberto Paloschi, Eder and Franck Tabanou all joined for a cumulative £16.3million, with the Welsh club looking to build on an eighth-placed finish last season. Two of the trio departed on season-long loans, and they have started nine league games altogether, scoring two goals. Kristoffer Nordfeldt also arrived at the Liberty Stadium, as did Oliver McBurnie and Josh Vickers, but none have made the slightest of impacts. Gerhard Tremmel was released in May before being re-signed in August.
Of their eight arrivals, only one has impressed. Andre Ayew joined on a free transfer from Marseille in June, a forward wanted by Liverpool, AC Milan, Roma and Bayer Leverkusen. A deflected strike on the final day against Manchester City means the 26-year-old ends the season as outright top goalscorer at the Liberty Stadium with 12. What’s more, Ayew has actually been used in eight different starting positions this season, from central midfielder to striker to right winger. He has started half as many games as Bafetimbi Gomis as centre-forward (nine to 18), yet has scored double the league goals of the Frenchman (12 to six). <danielstorey>Ayew not entertained?</danielstorey>
8. Olivier Giroud
As Homer Simpson once said: “You can come up with statistics to prove anything. Forty percent of all people know that.” Speaking in 1994, the Simpson family patriarch was almost certainly discussing Olivier Giroud.
The Frenchman is an excellent striker. Only five players have scored more goals in the Premier League this season; they have each started at least three more games than Giroud. He is the top goalscorer for this season’s runners-up, and one of only two Arsenal players to register double figures for goals. Troy Deeney (seven) is the only striker to provide more assists than the 29-year-old (six), who is one of only 13 players to score a hat-trick this season.
Conversely, the Frenchman is a thoroughly average striker. Of Giroud’s 16 league goals, six have come this calendar year; four were scored in the final two fixtures of the season. After netting twice against Liverpool in January, the 29-year-old went 15 games and 1,028 minutes without scoring. He registers more minutes per goal (152) than Divock Origi (133), Callum Wilson (138) and teammate Danny Welbeck (145), and fewer goals per match (0.42) than Diego Costa (0.43).
The truth lies somewhere in between both extremes. Giroud is a fine striker, but not good enough to start for a club with Premier League title aspirations, nor one with expectations to compete on four fronts. He is a useful option to have, but he should not be the first choice for a club of Arsenal’s stature. Much like his club, his late-season flourish has augmented his statistics from disappointing to flattering.
7. Odion Ighalo
Watford have scored 40 goals this Premier League season; their strike partnership of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney accounts for 70% (28) of that figure. While five of the latter’s 13 goals have come from the penalty spot, the former’s personal tally of 15 is all the more impressive. Ighalo had reached double figures for goals in just two league seasons before this campaign – with Granada in Segunda Division B, Spanish football’s third tier, in 2009/10, and with the Hornets in the Championship last season. By December last year, the Nigerian registered his tenth goal. Ighalo suffered a similar drought to Giroud, going 14 games without a league goal from January to May, but it is an easier pill to swallow for a player featuring for a struggling team, low on creativity, in the forward’s first foray into the Premier League.
6. Anthony Martial
— Richard Gibbons (@davis200439) May 1, 2016
Three words: ‘Ha’, ‘ha’ and a final ‘ha’.
Just imagine the pressure Anthony Martial must have faced in September. Joining one of the biggest clubs in Europe at 19 years of age? Good luck. Becoming the most expensive teenager ever in world football at £36.7million? Fingers crossed. Moving to a new league and a new country with a young family? Best wishes.
All that, and the Frenchman was then expected to shine in a team devoid of attacking creativity and flair, while predominantly playing out of position. Martial’s meteoric rise to stardom this season should not be overlooked or downplayed; he has done remarkably well. He has scored at least four more league goals than his closest teammate, and only two – Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney (both five) – have assisted more (three). Compare Martial’s season to that of Memphis Depay, a more experienced, less expensive young signing who struggled despite being given a summer to settle, and his brilliance can be properly examined.
5. Jermain Defoe
When Sam Allardyce polishes off his final Ginsters sausage roll and steak slice sandwich special, downs his last vat of chip fat and finishes watching old training footage of Kevin Nolan as his personal reward for saving Sunderland, he would do well to write a letter of thanks. A letter of thanks not to Ellis Short, not to the Association of Pashunit English Managers, and not even to Samuel ‘Sam’ Allardyce himself. Instead, Gus Poyet should be the recipient.
Beyond rescuing Sunderland from relegation himself, Poyet did not accomplish a great deal of good at the Stadium of Light. But he did lay the groundwork for Allardyce’s own survival with the signing of Jermain Defoe in January 2015.
Defoe has been a striker reborn this season. It is testament to his durability and lasting talents that he can feel aggrieved at his omission from England’s provisional squad for this summer’s European Championship. The 33-year-old has scored 15 goals this season – his second-highest ever tally in one Premier League campaign – almost single-handedly retaining Sunderland’s top-flight status. Fabio Borini is next in the club’s top league goalscorers list; he has five. Without Defoe, there is no Sunderland survival. Without Poyet, there is no Defoe. Ergo, Gus Poyet kept Sunderland up. Vive la foreigns.
4. Romelu Lukaku
The 23-year-old with 272 career appearances. The man outscored only by the three players higher than him on this list. The only player capable of keeping the irrepressible Oumar Niasse on the fringes of the squad. The striker upon whom Daniel Storey has bestowed the nickname ‘my big Rom Rom’. Lukaku’s early-season exploits have been lost in the mire of a tumultuous Everton season, but his efforts should not be forgotten.
From August until December, Lukaku was the most imperious forward in the Premier League. In his first 19 games of the season, the Belgian struck 15 goals and provided four assists. It is a record no other striker could match – even Jamie Vardy, despite breaking the record for goals in consecutive games, scored 15 and provided just three assists in his first 19 games.
Indeed, it was a record Lukaku himself could not maintain. The Belgian scored three goals and made just one assist in his next 18 league games, the form of Everton deteriorating in unison. That only Harry Kane (3,370) played more Premier League minutes than Lukaku (3,146) this season points to a striker who simply succumbed to physical exertion in his eighth year as a professional. The 23-year-old scored ten more league goals than his closest teammate, while also top-scoring in both Everton’s forays into the Capital One Cup (four) and the FA Cup (three) semi-finals. The ridiculous statistics do not end there.
3. Sergio Aguero
Since the 2011/12 season, 17 different individuals have finished among the top five scorers of a Premier League season. Such an illustrious list contains: Jamie Vardy, Romelu Lukaku, Riyad Mahrez, Diego Costa, Charlie Austin, Alexis Sanchez, Daniel Sturridge, Yaya Toure, Gareth Bale, Christian Benteke, Michu, Emmanuel Adebayor and Yakubu Aiyegbeni. Four players have finished in the top five on two occasions: Harry Kane, Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
While the striker landscape in the Premier League continues to change around him, Sergio Aguero provides the final vestige of elite consistency. Excluding a 2012/13 campaign fraught with injury, the Argentinean has now finished in the top five of the goalscoring charts in four of his five seasons in England. Troubled with fitness issues this year, the 27-year-old has still managed to score 24 goals in 29 starts. In one game against Newcastle in October, Aguero became the fifth man to score five goals in one Premier League game, with the first of his strikes coming in the 42nd minute and the final one being registered in the 62nd. The forward scored as many goals in 20 minutes of that fixture as Fabio Borini (1,899 minutes), Theo Walcott (1,375 minutes) and Connor Wickham (1,327 minutes) all season, as well as one more than club teammate Wilfried Bony has managed in 1,224 minutes. The cumulative powers of Memphis Depay, Gabby Agbonlahor, Emmanuel Adebayor and Marouane Fellaini have scored five goals in 4,092 minutes; Aguero dismantled a single defence with as many in 20.
To contextualise just how crucial Aguero is to City’s prospects, consider this: The gap between his 24 goals and the club’s next highest scorer, Kelechi Iheanacho, is 16. That’s a lot. Keep him fit, Pep.
2. Harry Kane
Twelve months ago, it felt as though Harry Kane had missed his opportunity. A truly remarkable breakthrough campaign with Tottenham reaped 21 goals in 34 Premier League games, yet he missed out on the Golden Boot to Sergio Aguero. It seemed implausible that the striker would return to such heights again.
Not only has Kane scaled that mountain once more, but he stands alone at the top of the summit this year. Twenty-five goals in 36 games have crowned the forward the first English winner of the Golden Boot since Kevin Phillips, 16 years ago. He has become only the 11th individual to score 20 or more goals in consecutive Premier League seasons. He is the leading striker for a title contender and a Champions League club, as well as a guaranteed starter for England at this summer’s European Championship. Considering he only scored his first league goal after seven games, and had registered just one in his first nine fixtures, that’s not bad going.
1. Jamie Vardy
Say what you will about Jamie Vardy – and pretty much all of it has already been said at this stage – but this has been a quite phenomenal season for the Leicester forward. Titles, individual accolades, renowned records – ‘it’s all f***ing mine’ screamed Vardy after scoring in an 11th consecutive Premier League game in November. Indeed it is, Jamie.
Critics from far and wide have opted to chat sh*t at the 29-year-old this season, and each of them have been veritably banged. His goals have guided the most improbable title triumph ever, many believe his redemption to be complete after being crowned Premier League Player of the Season and FWA Footballer of the Year, and even Jimmy Dunne would be impressed after Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 12-year record of goals in ten consecutive Premier League games fell at the hands of the former Fleetwood man.
It is impossible to denounce Vardy’s on-field achievements. He cannot be accused of being a limited striker, considering he has assisted five more goals than Kane and four more than Aguero, and has directly contributed to more (30) than any other player. He cannot be labelled a flat-track bully, as he has only failed to score against three teams (Tottenham, Manchester City and Swansea) in the league; Aguero is next best with six. And unlike a number of his international colleagues, his inclusion in England’s European Championship squad cannot be argued. He has proven to be his country’s most effective forward.
In an era in which football has been reduced to a game of pure analytics decided by fine margins and statistics, Vardy encapsulates Leicester’s impossible rise. Claudio Ranieri’s plan is complex in its very simplicity: Absorb pressure, gain possession, attack with pace, score. More often than not it worked, and Vardy was central to the scheme. He did not score the most goals, but he had the biggest impact by far.