10) Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)
The most difficult decision on this list was whether Jesus or Alvaro Morata would take the bottom spot. But on the basis that Morata has scored five league goals since September and is rumoured to be available for a transfer this summer, I belong to Jesus.
The Brazilian has only scored or assisted 16 goals in the league this season (Morata is on 17), but that’s partly because he knacked his knee ligaments on New Year’s Eve. Playing football, you understand, rather than bouncing around to Auld Lang Syne.
Even if the Brazilian’s form has declined slightly from last season, his selfless role in building attacks is something that Pep Guardiola appreciates. He also only turned 21 last month, for goodness sake.
9) Marko Arnautovic (West Ham)
David Moyes is unlikely to be staying on as West Ham manager, but he leaves the club having done his job. West Ham were not pretty to watch – and that’s an understatement – but Moyes’ remit was to keep the club up and he achieved that.
Moyes’ masterstroke was moving Arnautovic from a wide forward role to central striker. His tenure started with a public call-to-arms to the Austrian to impress him after a dismal start to life in London, but playing Arnautovic as a striker reduces the demand upon him to track back and has allowed him to flourish.
In 15 league games as a centre-forward, Arnautovic has scored eight goals and assisted a further four. He is the reason West Ham will not be playing Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers in league games next season. He is their player of the season.
8) Ashley Barnes (Burnley)
Slightly tricky one this, in that Barnes has been picked by Sean Dyche as a No. 10 in a 4-2-3-1, striker in a 4-2-3-1 and striker in a 4-4-2. But it’s as a centre forward that he has been most impressive.
Nine league goals and no assists doesn’t sound brilliant, but those who watch football with their eyes rather than merely through raw numbers will have no qualms with Barnes’ place on this list. His constant work makes him a pain in the arse for every central defender, while his finishing has improved markedly over the last 18 months. It earned him significant praise from Alan Shearer, who knows a thing or two about Premier League goalscoring.
“Barnesy is alive to the chance, as a striker that’s what you want. You want good goals, every striker does, but you take anything,” Dyche says, and that sums him up perfectly. Scrappy goals and acrobatic goals are all worth the same. Barnes is just another Burnley success story.
7) Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal)
Had this list been composed at the end of March (yes, that would have been a bit weird), Lacazette would not have made the top ten and barely merited consideration. He was in the process of recovering from a knee injury that had required an operation, but even prior to that had underwhelmed.
Lacazette had scored once in his last 13 matches in all competitions, the fourth goal in a 4-1 win over Crystal Palace. The arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang threatened his status as Arsenal’s No. 1 striker before he had even got going.
Arsenal’s season may have fallen apart, but Lacazette has been the antithesis of that decline. He scored eight times in his final 11 games of the season, and offered a brilliant demonstration of centre-forward play against Atletico Madrid at the Emirates.
Most pleasing for Arsenal is that Lacazette and Aubameyang have scored nine goals between them in only 303 minutes on the same pitch together. Expect to see both on this list next season.
6) Glenn Murray (Brighton)
Murray has fallen into a slight rut towards the end of the season (one goal in his last nine games) as a long campaign has taken its toll on 34-year-old legs, but Murray’s has been one of the biggest individual success stories of the season. Prior to 2017/18, he had scored 11 top-flight goals in his career; Murray has doubled that in one campaign.
The calls for him to be capped by Gareth Southgate were misplaced, but that it even became a point of serious discussion was remarkable. But having scored 23 times in the Championship to earn Brighton promotion, Chris Hughton was always going to give Murray his big chance.
“I a very competitive division where on a lot of occasions chances are going to be hard to come by in this division for teams like us,” Hughton told Sky Sports in March. “What you need is you need a work ethic, you need somebody who can lead the line. The hard work he has put in for the team, his running ability in the team, his competitiveness in the team [have all been excellent].”
5) Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
Far from the perfect season, but one containing sufficient evidence that the doubts about Lukaku making the step up to elite club level were unwarranted. If it seems illogical that Lukaku has scored nine fewer league goals this season for Manchester United than last season for Everton, speak to Jose Mourinho about that.
For the lack of service has been a problem. Mohamed Salah leads the way for big chances this season (as defined by Opta) with 41, with Harry Kane second on 39. Manchester City neatly shared theirs between Sergio Aguero (27), Raheem Sterling (26) and Gabriel Jesus (26). At Manchester United, Romelu Lukaku had 22. That’s fewer than Christian Benteke at Palace.
Lukaku has therefore achieved in spite of Manchester United, rather than because of them. If Jose Mourinho gets his way and signs a wide midfielder capable of servicing Lukaku from the wings and allows his players to attack without handbrake applied, the Belgian could really take off.
4) Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
In August 2015, Vardy was in a bit of a pickle. Leicester City had finished 14th in the Premier League in their first season following promotion, but Vardy had scored only five league goals. He had been left on the bench eight times in the league, and Leicester had signed another hard-working forward in Shinji Okazaki. Would Claudio Ranieri really appreciate him as much as Nigel Pearson?
Since then, four Premier League players have scored more than 50 goals. Three of them – Kane, Aguero and Lukaku – have or would command huge transfer fees. The other is a striker whose four career moves have totalled £1.2m in transfer fees.
While Leicester have stumbled their way to a top-half finish, Vardy keeps on keeping on. If 20 league goals is another superb achievement, the key features to his success are consistently scoring against the best defences in the country and a ridiculous efficiency in front of goal. Of all 73 players to take 40 or more shots in the Premier League this season, Vardy ranks first. He is almost 5% clear of the nearest striker.
3) Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
An odd season, and one that again ends with rumours that Aguero could push for a move away from Manchester City over the summer. He apparently feels like Guardiola considers him the club’s second choice and you can hardly blame the Argentine for taking that view. It’s only seven months since his manager was saying that he and Jesus could not play together.
Still, this campaign can only be judged in glowing terms. Mohamed Salah is the only Premier League regular to score more often (94 minutes per goal), but just as impressive is the adaptation of Aguero’s game to meet Guardiola’s demands. It is no longer acceptable for him to just be an exceptional goalscorer – he needs to offer more.
In 2015/16 and 2016/17 combined, Aguero created 58 chances and provided five assists in 4,776 league minutes. This season, in 1,969 minutes, Aguero has created 40 chances and contributed six assists. At the age of 29, an ageing dog has learnt new tricks. Fair bloody play.
2) Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Our top two could not be more different, which only makes them harder to rank definitively. One is the archetypal goalscorer and the other the selfless worker who facilitates the brilliance of those around him. Kane took 184 shots this season; Firmino took 84. Kane made 17 tackles; Firmino made 65.
It should therefore be taken as no insult to Firmino that he fails to make top spot on this list. In fact, it is fitting. Such is the power of his hard work that he deliberately sells himself as the bridesmaid while Salah walks down the aisle with a beaming smile as the assorted guests gasp and gaze. Jurgen Klopp knows that Firmino was in the church at 6am arranging the flowers, sorting the seating plan and lighting all those bloody candles. That’s what matters.
For all the rumours linking Salah with a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid this summer or next, and there is nothing Liverpool can do to stop them, it is Firmino who is the more unique player and therefore the more valuable to the success of Klopp’s side. He is one-and-half men, the basis in reality from which Salah can make the magic happen.
1) Harry Kane (Tottenham)
This list from 2017 is packed full of players who have failed, fallen or flown the nest: Diego Costa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic left, Alexis Sanchez stopped being a striker, Jermain Defoe, Fernando Llorente and Christian Benteke stopped scoring.
And yet our No. 1 in 2017 stays No. 1 again, if admittedly by a far smaller margin. Kane suffered the same August funk, has looked totally knackered in May and was responsible for the creation of what became the most tired joke in the history of the internet, but it’s still been a bloody good season.
If you can score 37 times in the Premier League and Champions League and people are still asking questions, it says something about your usual high standards. Now can we please wrap him in cotton wool, arrange for round-the-clock massages and ban him from practising corners between now and mid-June?