10) Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
The Belgian and his agent may have grander plans than Everton, but Lukaku must first prove himself to be worth the £28m the Toffees paid Chelsea last summer. Ten goals in 36 Premier League appearances and 20 in 48 overall is an acceptable start.
Lukaku has come in for some heavy criticism this season, not all of it unjustified. His finishing requires work, but given Everton uncharacteristically splurged so much on the forward, expectations have been high. Probably too high.
Lukaku has only just turned 22 and Roberto Martinez maintains he will go on to become one of the world’s best. His progress may have plateaued slightly this year but, after a summer’s rest, he will probably get close to doubling this season’s Premier League tally.
9) Graziano Pelle (Southampton)
The Italian must have wondered what was going on when he walked through the door at St Mary’s just as everyone else was strolling out. Pelle has been pivotal as the Saints stunned everyone with their start to the campaign and season-long push for Europe.
Pelle was signed for £8m from Feyenoord to replace Rickie Lambert, and he has done just that, netting only one fewer goal than the England forward managed last season. He has played more minutes than any other striker in the Premier League and earned his first call-up to the Italy squad, scoring two goals in three international appearances so far. A job well done in his debut season in England.
8) Saido Berahino (West Brom)
The West Brom striker can leave for the right price this summer, according to Tony Pulis. After a season during which the academy graduate scored 14 goals, he won’t come cheap.
Despite Berahino playing a part in 38 games this season, his goals have come in bursts. Pulis would have to spend his £20m-ish wisely, given the importance of Berahino in helping the Baggies pull clear of, and stay away from, the bottom three.
That said, Berahino’s ambition has seen him clash with the club, who are unlikely to be too dismayed if they receive a offer that meets their valuation. The striker was punished for giving an unauthorised interview where he revealed his desire to move on to “bigger things”. You’ll never guess with whom he shares an agent…
7) Danny Ings (Burnley)
Statistically, Ings has not particularly stood out this season, but you don’t need numbers to have been impressed with the Burnley forward.
Like Austin at QPR, Ings has been has been a positive in a season that ultimately ended in disappointment and relegation. His 11 goals in a side ill-equipped to deal with the challenge of the Premier League have made him one of the hottest free agents around.
The likes of Liverpool and Manchester United are said to have been alerted by Ings’ availability this summer, with David Moyes at Real Sociedad also keen. Any English club would only have to pay compensation to Burnley for the out-of-contract 22-year-old. Rather than take residence on a big gun’s bench, Ings may be wisest continuing his development elsewhere in the Premier League.
6) Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)
The turnaround in Benteke’s form has been astonishing, and Tim Sherwood must share much of the credit for that.
Sherwood’s solution to his main striker’s woes was not a complex one: ‘Get the ball to Benteke’. Simple though the answer may be, the Belgian’s struggle was a poser Paul Lambert never came close to answering.
Since Sherwood strutted into Villa Park, Benteke has scored 11 Premier League goals in 13 matches to drag Villa away from danger, all the while re-establishing himself as one of Europe’s better young strikers.
Having scored two Premier League goals before February, Benteke now has the division’s biggest clubs looking at him, with Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool all reportedly interested.
5) Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)
The Premier League’s most handsome player is a lot more than just a pretty face.
Giroud had plenty to prove this season. His 14 goals – despite missing three months of the campaign – helped fire Arsenal into the top three and fleetingly into the title race, when he notched six in five through early spring during the Gunners’ run of 10 wins in 11 matches.
The former Montpellier forward has had to fight for his place after the arrival of Danny Welbeck from Mancester United. Much was made of Welbeck finally being given the chance to play in his preferred position, but Giroud’s return from injury saw Dat Guy shunted back out to the flank.
A goal every 132 minutes and a conversion rate of 24 per cent (marginally better than Sergio Aguero) saw the Frenchman prove himself as the best man to lead the Gunners’ line. But is he the long-term answer?
4) Charlie Austin (QPR)
Austin’s is one of the more remarkable individual success stories in the Premier League.
Five years on from playing in the ninth tier for Poole Town, Austin finally hit the big time this season. His18 goals surely mean he will stay there next season while QPR refamiliarise themselves with the Championship.
Of all Premier League strikers, only Pelle has played more minutes than Austin, whose strike rate of better than a goal every two games is extremely impressive when you consider how wretched QPR have been.
Austin has been linked with summer moves to Aston Villa and Newcastle. Would one of the Premier League’s better sides not come sniffing around this summer? Spurs, maybe?
3) Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Many of us were waiting for Kane’s purple patch to run its course, but the Tottenham youngster just continued to score goals.
It was through the paucity Spurs’ other striking options that Kane finally earned his first Premier League start, almost three months into the season. With Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor either incapable or disinterested Kane came in by default. He’s not looked back since.
The 21-year-old scored 21 Premier League goals and became the first Spurs striker since Gary Lineker 22 years ago to notch 30 in all competitions. Kane bagged braces to win the North London Derby and beat Chelsea. He scored within seconds of coming on for his England debut too.
Typically, many have got much too excited about Kane’s emergence. He has drawn comparisions with Alan Shearer and has been linked with a £45million move to Manchester United. The more cautious among us feel we need to see the same again next season from Kane to get really giddy, but even the most hard-to-please observer cannot deny that it has been a truly stunning breakthrough campaign.
2) Diego Costa (Chelsea)
The difference Costa has made for Chelsea has been staggering when you consider that the Spaniard has virtually limped through the season.
Costa had a nightmare World Cup, when he wasn’t fit, and it’s debatable as to whether he has ever been completely free from injury during his debut season at Stamford Bridge. If he achieves peak fitness after a summer off, it is scary to think what he and Chelsea might achieve next term.
Some people don’t appreciate Costa’s appetite for the fight, but many observers relish it – certainly at the Bridge. Costa occupies defenders, freeing up space for the likes of Eden Hazard to thrive, but he’s not just a battering ram. With pace, power and technique, Costa offers goals of all types, and with a shot conversion rate of one in three, he would surely have finished with considerably more than 20 goals and the Golden Boot had he not sat out 10 weeks of the season.
1) Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Not good enough again for the PFA Team of the Year but the Manchester City hit-man remains the best and most prolific striker in the division. He’s our favourite too.
It is a curious thing that 26-goal Aguero does not get the attention or plaudits he deserves. He wasn’t nominated for the PFA Player of the Year – a shortlist he made only once in 2011-12 when his 23 goals won City the title. That year he was edged out for Young Player of the Year. By Kyle Walker.
Perhaps we have all come to take the Argentine for granted. He isn’t new on the Premier League scene, like Kane or Austin, and he doesn’t have an obvious edge like Costa. He just plays and scores, doing both with the minimum of fuss.
Nor does Aguero really attract much attention from the world’s biggest clubs. The Argentine would surely carry his strike rate of a goal every 97 minutes with him if he joined the likes of Real, Barca or Bayern, but rarely do you hear of speculation over his future. He’s a dream for City and still the Premier League’s finest.