10. Jermain Defoe (Sunderland)
Sunderland’s relegation from the Premier League was finally confirmed on April 29; that their fate was not sealed any sooner is testament to the predatory instincts of Jermain Defoe.
Just eight players have scored a Premier League goal for the Black Cats this season. Billy Jones, Didier Ndong, Lamine Kone and Wahbi Khazri are tied for fifth place with one goal. Fabio Borini is in fourth with two. Victor Anichebe, a free agent who has missed much of the campaign through injury, and whose last goal came in November, and Patrick van Aanholt, a left-back who departed the club in the winter, are joint-second with three goals.
That quite hilarious state of affairs leaves Defoe, who is 12 goals ahead of his nearest competitor on 15. He has scored or assisted 60% of their total Premier League goals this season. It’s a wonder they went down.
9. Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)
For a player whose total combined career transfer fees come to a not inconsiderable £66.5million, Christian Benteke has not had the best of luck. His four years at Aston Villa were overseen by two uninspiring managers: Paul Lambert and Tim Sherwood. The biggest move of his career was mercifully ended after one stop-start year at Liverpool. He was described as an “iconic” signing for Crystal Palace last summer by Alan Pardew, who was sacked within a matter of months.
Yet through all the managerial turbulence he has been subject to, the Belgian guarantees one thing: goals. In each of his five seasons since moving to England he has scored at least ten times, this despite playing for clubs that finished 15th, 15th, 17th, 8th, and now no higher than 11th.
A return of 15 in the Premier League this campaign might well have maintained Palace’s top-flight status. A relegation battle was not what he or the club planned when he became a club record signing last summer, but it will be interesting to see if Sam Allardyce can incorporate a tall, strong striker into his Total Football ethos next season.
8. Josh King (Bournemouth)
In Josh King’s first 21 games of the Premier League season, he started 15 times, scored three goals, and played in four different positions: As a left winger, a right winger, an attacking midfielder and a striker.
King has started each of Bournemouth’s 16 subsequent league matches, scoring 13 times, and only ever playing as a striker. Eddie Howe deserves plenty of credit for carrying out the tactical switch, but it is King’s majesty that sees him sit between Benteke and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the goalscoring stakes.
The 25-year-old had 17 career goals in seven seasons before this campaign; he is currently on 16 this season alone, with one game remaining. With Tottenham reported to be heavily interested in signing him, King must be doing something right.
7. Fernando Llorente (Swansea)
Back in January, a number of outlets reported that Chelsea and Swansea were in talks over that rarest of footballing events: a straight player-swap deal. Fernando Llorente would move to Stamford Bridge, with Michy Batshuayi heading the other way.
How different their respective seasons might have been. While Batshuayi scored the goal that delivered Chelsea the title, Llorente played one of the key roles in Swansea’s unlikely survival.
It feels like an eternity since the Spaniard moved to the Liberty Stadium last summer, but he is the one lasting positive from Francesco Guidolin’s ill-fated reign. The 32-year-old has scored in crucial victories over Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Liverpool, Burnley, Everton and Stoke. Without him, there would be no silly articles about Paul Clement.
6. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
One would be forgiven for thinking Sergio Aguero had endured a terrible season. The Argentinean has served two separate suspensions, was dropped for a couple of matches at the turn of the year, has been publicly questioned by his new manager, and still faces a relatively uncertain future at the Etihad Stadium.
Yet the bizarrely-underappreciated Aguero has scored 31 goals in all competitions – 18 in the Premier League – and has displayed a new dimension to his game and willingness to learn under Pep Guardiola. Gabriel Jesus is undoubtedly the future of Manchester City, but only a fool would consign Aguero to the past just yet.
5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)
Not everyone thought Zlatan Ibrahimovic would struggle at Manchester United, but few expected him to be such a resounding success. The Swede moved to Old Trafford as a 34-year-old free agent who had never before graced the Premier League. He will leave, be it this summer, next, or even further down the line, as one of the most impactful imports this league has seen.
If Ibrahimovic’s spell on these shores is cut mercilessly short by the knee injury he sustained in April, he will depart with the knowledge that he proved each critic so thoroughly wrong. He claimed back in January that he had already “conquered England”, and that was even before he turned Wembley hero in the EFL Cup final.
It would be a delight to see the Swede make a full recovery to feature for United next season if his deal is extended. If he is able to return from the first long-term injury of his career in his mid-30s, it would only add to the legend. I believed in him all along.
4. Diego Costa (Chelsea)
As Canada’s sweetheart Joni Mitchell, American 1980s rock band Cinderella and track No 7 of Britney Spears’ seminal classic 2013 album, Britney Jean, all once said, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.
It feels like a pertinent warning in the case of Diego Costa. The Chelsea striker has built a reputation as an overgrown child, a petulant individual capable not only of fighting his way out of a paper bag but instigating a fight with said paper bag. His near move to China in January was treated by many neutrals as a cause for celebration.
That was the briefest winter of discontent during a season where Costa has flourished. N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard have spent the past few months battling over individual awards, while the efforts of David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, Victor Moses and Pedro have all been recognised. It feels as though Chelsea’s 20-goal striker has flown somewhat under the radar.
Perhaps his lack of goals in the title run-in – he has scored just six in 16 since the start of the year – count against him, but that would ignore his invaluable contribution of 14 goals from August to December. You’ll miss him if and when he leaves.
3. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
Twenty players have registered double figures in terms of Premier League goals this season. Five players have registered double figures in terms of Premier League assists this season. Only one player has combined both.
In a campaign where he has faced more scrutiny than ever, Alexis Sanchez has emerged with his reputation enhanced. Some dared to question the work ethic and attitude of one of the most committed professionals around earlier this season, but his response has been as emphatic as one of his finishes.
That his form has been criticised at numerous times throughout a campaign dogged by his ongoing contract discussions suggests that some people will simply never be satisfied. The 28-year-old is one of the most talented players in the world, and his performances under difficult circumstances this season have left absolutely no doubt in that regard.
2. Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
Many people mocked and derided Romelu Lukaku for refusing to sign a new Everton contract in March. The striker made his reasons expressly clear, wanting to try his talents in the Champions League. He did not refuse to play, but instead continued performing and scoring. By all accounts, he did not become a problem for teammates or staff.
After yet another season of excellence, Lukaku has earned the right to be ambitious. It is no crime for a young player to show drive. It is not disrespectful for one of Europe’s most promising strikers to want to test himself in Europe’s premier competition. It is also important to note that Lukaku has never expressed a desire to leave; he simply turned down the offer of a new contract, and explained that he wanted the club to match his own personal objectives.
Lukaku has scored at least 19 more goals than his nearest Everton teammate this season, and remains on course to lift the Golden Boot with 24 goals in 36 appearances. He has exceeded when leading the line for a team striving to reach the upper echelons. He will surely make it there before them.
1. Harry Kane (Tottenham)
When chief Lukakite Daniel Storey himself admits that Romelu is only worthy of a runners-up medal, you know that first place has earned his spot. Harry Kane, the world’s only three-season wonder, has certainly done just that.
There will always be detractors when it comes to Kane, such was his unexpected rise, but his critics have become the silent minority. He could yet catch Lukaku in the scoring stakes – he is two goals behind the Belgian with one extra game to play and, if he does, he will join Robin van Persie, Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer as the only players to win consecutive outright Golden Boots. That’s quite the group.
What’s most remarkable about Kane this season is that he has overcome two separate injuries that would disrupt the form of any ordinary player. He has scored three goals in five starts since returning from his latest knock, while he scored a north London derby equaliser and two goals in a victory over West Ham on his return from a six-game absence in November. His 22 goals and six assists have come in just 28 games.
It is unlikely that transfer links with elite European clubs will ever go away. That is, after all, the stock of a wonderful player, and testament to both his and Tottenham’s progress. But it does feel as though player and club have found the perfect union. The player who will go down in history as the last to score a winning goal at White Hart Lane is the same man who will lead the charge into the future.