Widely considered to be the most valuable commodity in the ever-changing environment of professional football is the player who can be relied upon to stick the ball in the back of the net. True goal machines consistently demand the highest transfer fees and clubs rarely seem to baulk at the vast sums, obtaining the money from somewhere to feed their lust for goals. Life in the Premier League is no different and the ability to beat the opposition goalkeeper is paramount should you wish to achieve your objectives for the season. Whilst goals are important at both ends of the table, contenders for the Golden Boot; an award given out to the player with the most strikes at the end of the season, are almost exclusively found at clubs chasing honours. Who will receive the honour in the upcoming 2015/16 Premier League season? I discuss the stars whose hats will surely be thrown into the ring and debate who is best suited to attain their goal.
Last season’s winner of the award will of course be one of the favourites to retain the honour this time around and if he does, then Sergio Aguero could fire Manchester City into a position to push Chelsea a lot closer for the Premier League title. The squat Argentine is one of the most adept players in the entire division at finding a half yard of space to exploit in even the tightest of defences. When you combine this with a seemingly unerring knack of finishing off the slightest sniff of a chance, Pellegrini’s side has a lethal mix at their disposal, one always capable of turning any game on its head.
Aguero is going into his fifth consecutive campaign in English football and ever since his arrival in Manchester in the summer of 2011, he has been a thorn in the side of Premier League defenders. Consistently hitting impressive figures in terms of goals per game ratio, last season was statistically his best yet when purely considering goal output. All too regularly the victim of crippling hamstring and calf complaints that rarely seem to resolve themselves rapidly, Aguero still managed 40 appearances in all competitions and hit the back of the net 32 times in the process. His 26 strikes in the league were enough to win the Golden Boot and you have to wonder at the magnitude of his potential tally if he can avoid the niggling muscular complaints.
In my opinion, Sergio Aguero remains the best forward in the Premier League it is well within his powers to match if not surpass last season’s efforts. Never allowing defenders to rest for one second, the former Atlético star is always on hand to grab an opportune goal from inside or outside the area, helping to make him one of the most feared players around.
The Brazilian-born but nationalised Spaniard is a street-fighter of a forward, all too aware of the dark arts of the game and never afraid to draw upon them in times of need. Diego Costa was brought to Stamford Bridge by José Mourinho in the course of last summer’s transfer window for the fee of £32 million and immediately went about the process of justifying that significant spend.
A supreme goal poacher, Costa is truly at home within the width of the 18 yard box and has the invaluable skill that arguably cannot be taught; the ability to place himself in the right location at the correct time too. Along with undoubted quality, it is perhaps this aspect which secures more of his goals than any other. Whilst some opposition defenders and even fellow attackers may be caught on the back foot, this is never the case with Costa, always alive to the potential of a rebound and ricochet to then snap up the chance.
The Spanish striker managed 20 league goals last campaign and was able to score these in as little as 26 matches. Diego Costa’s infamous hamstring was the sole reason behind him not featuring more frequently as Chelsea mounted their eventually successful charge towards the Premier League title. Whenever their star picked up that particular leg injury, it was The Blues too who ironically themselves became somewhat hamstrung. They had to draw upon the ever waning powers of club legend Didier Drogba and the occasionally unreliable and also injury prone Loic Remy. A significant element to their attacking impetus was lost and an ever increasing dependence on the marvellous Eden Hazard was required. It is hoped that a resurgent Falcao under Mourinho’s tutelage can help to relieve a portion of the burden from his burly shoulders.
There are very few forwards; especially those not from these shores, who are more suited to the rough and tumble of Premier League action. Costa’s natural aggression sets him up for a battle with opposition centre halves that undoubtedly unnerves them, helping to make him into the threat that he is. Fitness permitting, he should have a fabulous goal-scoring season with numerous artists and string-pullers lying behind him.
Whilst not necessarily being the player of the season for 2014/15; as that honour was justifiably Eden Hazard’s, Harry Kane was widely considered to be the story of the season. To make such rapid progress into almost completely uncharted waters in quite possibly the toughest division in the world was completely unprecedented and as such, the nation took him to their hearts. Putting his achievements on the pitch aside momentarily, this was helped by the fact that he was local to Spurs and the early years of his career has been built around so many twists and turns.
His displays for Mauricio Pochettino were frequently nothing short of astounding and the way he initially grabbed attention from an understudy role was pleasing to see. Embracing the chances of first team action that the Europa League granted him, Harry Kane was prolific in the group stage, so much so that Pochettino could not ignore his clear desire for a position in the starting eleven. Overcoming the frustratingly poor Roberto Soldado, Spurs’ number 18 nailed down his place once given the opportunity and never looked back.
Individual moments of brilliance stand out for various reasons, whether it be the match situation or the pure quality of the strike, but taking a retrospective look at his campaign is perhaps the most impressive aspect. Finishing in second place in the race for the 2014/15 Golden Boot with 21 league goals is a marvellous achievement and to only be beaten into top spot by the Argentine superstar Aguero is nothing to be ashamed of. What one must also consider is that Kane was banging in the goals at a relentless rate for a side that was not necessarily dominating the vast majority of opposition that they came up against. It was the Englishman’s vital interventions and contributions which maintained Spurs’ push for Champions League football, rarely grabbing so called ‘cheap’ goals in a victory by a large margin.
His ability to grab goals from all areas of the pitch and in a variety of scenarios soon dispelled the myth that he could only function if given the right sort of service. Likenesses to some true greats of the game such as Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker may be a little premature at this stage but they are certainly not completely unjustified. A natural poacher’s instinct, terrific determination, and possessing the quality to back this up makes him a serious threat to defences of even the greatest quality. For proof of this, one needs to look no further than the part Kane played in the 5-3 dismantling of Chelsea on New Year’s Day. In becoming the first Tottenham Hotspur player to score more than 30 goals in a season since Gary Lineker, Kane has succeeded in setting an exceptionally high benchmark for himself and ratcheting up the pressure to perform. With Spurs’ current dearth of top strikers on their books, he must try and match these displays again in the coming season and if he does so, there is no reason why he cannot once more push for the accolade of top goal-scorer.
As he moves towards the twilight of his career, Rooney’s powers are yet to noticeably wane as he remains a talismanic figure for both club and country. He will reach 30 years of age in the third month of the new season, perhaps setting down a marker for him to be considered in the veteran bracket. Of course, Wayne himself and his managers on the domestic and international scene both clearly believe that he has at least a few years left at the top but nevertheless, he must try his utmost to grab goals at a rapid rate while his body is not a limiting factor.
Rooney’s outstanding natural ability has been a fabulous help to his high-flying career but at a few points, it has also been a hindrance as some managers have felt it appropriate for the team to ask the England captain to operate out of position. Most recently, this has occurred under Van Gaal’s stewardship with Rooney having to drop back into a central midfield role to attempt to cure Manchester United’s weak areas. He is well capable of performing admirably here but his influence on the team is stunted significantly as perhaps his greatest attribute; goal-scoring, is sacrificed for the benefit of the team’s success.
However, both as a result of injury and a change of approach, LVG returned Rooney to his preferred role up front and once again, the number 10 flourished. United’s form picked up in tandem and this correlation is not something that can be ignored by the Dutchman. It seems as though he is acutely aware of Rooney’s consistently high level of skill and value to the team, currently entering the new season decidedly short in the striking department. The future of Javier Hernandez at Old Trafford is far from certain which leaves James Wilson as the other recognised forward for The Red Devils.
Assuming this situation does not change, it is clear that the 29 year old will be a crucial component of Manchester United’s charge towards the Premier League title and when Wayne Rooney plays, it follows that Wayne Rooney scores. A prolonged succession of matches up front almost guarantees goals which should place him in serious contention for the Golden Boot.
Arsenal’s Chilean maestro who was a major architect behind both Arsenal’s FA Cup victory and Chile’s triumph in this summer’s Copa America returns to The Emirates with aspirations on exceeding last season’s achievements. Alexis Sanchez was Wenger’s marquee signing 12 months ago from Barcelona and immediately fell into the Arsenal ranks as if he was born to play for them. In stark contrast to Mesut Özil, his style of play and attitude suited the hustle and bustle of the Premier League down to the ground and he did not seem to suffer from any adjustment period. Therefore, Alexis was able to instantly instil fear into the defences up and down the country.
From an external observer, Sanchez may not look like the sort of forward who can operate with equal effectiveness across the entire front line but this is certainly the case. As a result of this, Wenger has not had to sacrifice any of his footballing principles to accommodate the number 17, with fluidity and rotation of position still a key component of Arsenal’s attacking potency.
Primarily operating from the left, Alexis was able to notch 25 goals last season at a rate of almost one in two; more than respectable at any level and especially in your début campaign in a foreign country. From this position, he is primed to cut inside which grants him a direct route to goal once defenders have fallen by the wayside. Although he is undoubtedly more dangerous on his right side, threatening quality defences with his incisive and undeviating approach to offensive play, he is certainly well capable of taking the ball to the by-line and producing a cross of real quality.
Sanchez came to the party for Arsenal in all competitions, both domestically and was one of the few shining lights on the European scene too. He was the live-wire in Arsenal’s 4-1 demolition of Galatasaray; providing two goals for Danny Welbeck and grabbing one himself too on the night. The Chilean’s impact on the North London outfit was felt throughout the campaign and when he was absent from proceedings it was all too obvious.
Arsene Wenger will be hoping that Sanchez’s exertions over the summer for his national side have not taken too much toll on his energy levels and will be able to perform to a similar standard for the Gunners this season. With the continued upward curve demonstrated by Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott’s recent concerted push for a place through the middle and Danny Welbeck’s terrific team ethic, Alexis may find it difficult to play too many games as the main striker. This of course would be the role most conducive to him grabbing as many goals as possible but even so, he is potent from either flank and I thoroughly expect him to have another successful season in the scoring charts.
The broad-shouldered Belgian is certainly more of an outside bet in the race for the Golden Boot, but he absolutely possesses all of the attributes required to be in contention for the award. A record of a goal every other game is a good return for a striker at any level, with Premier League football being no different. Liverpool’s new £32.5 million man will be under immense pressure almost instantaneously but whether it is possible for him to replicate the form displayed at Villa Park is very much dependent on his new team-mates.
Despite the general consensus that Benteke is little more than a bruiser, he needs to be fed with a wide variety of deliveries. The Belgian does not only thrive on crosses into the box and long diagonal balls across the field. Although it cannot be denied that he is well capable of physically dominating the vast majority of centre halves, he is by no means limited to this method of playing. Benteke possesses a very decent first touch, can run the channels and is well capable of adding the necessary finesse to proceedings. One needs to look no further than his fabulous left-footed curler into the top corner against Manchester United last season. With David De Gea in the form that he was, something special was required to beat him and that is exactly what the Belgian produced.
As defined by his contractual buy-out clause, £32.5 million proved to be outlay necessary to prise Benteke away from Villa Park. Therefore you have to imagine that Brendan Rodgers intends to employ him primarily as a first choice striking option at Anfield. It has to be believed that he is more likely to play week after week than Daniel Sturridge, purely due to the Englishman’s astonishingly poor injury record.
Perhaps the only aspect that could let Benteke down is his apparent variable motivation that the imposing forward has displayed on too many occasions in the last couple of years. He is no stranger to going missing for several matches in succession before returning with a vengeance, transforming into the unplayable powerhouse that Liverpool’s defenders have experienced at first hand. On more than one occasion, he has torn a defence comprising of Skrtel and Sakho apart when playing for Villa and has notched five times in only six matches against his current side. If he can remain in the correct mental state which he exhibited time after time against The Reds, then Benteke could soon transform into an Anfield hero and bag goal after goal to leave the Kop End gagging for more.
I believe that yet again this coming season, we are in for a thrilling race for the Golden Boot. There are clearly a multitude of variables at play that will influence certain players more than others but with all things being equal, I find it very difficult to see past Sergio Aguero picking up the award again. He is such a complete striker and will have no shortage of supply with the exciting Raheem Sterling added to Manchester City’s ranks over the summer to help the refreshed David Silva. Alexis Sanchez should go from strength to strength this campaign and if he avoids too many muscular complaints, Costa will also not be too far away.
Who do you think will come out on top in the race for the Premier League’s golden boot? Will there be a surprise winner not included in this list, with players such as Olivier Giroud or Romelu Lukaku perhaps being some of the best bets as dark horses. Let us know in the comments section or on twitter @TBRFootball .[interaction id=”55bca702971608850754e8dd”] [separator type=”thin”]
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Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Etihad
Manchester City managed to beat Chelsea for the second time this season as they continue their march to the Premier League title. The contest was far from entertaining, as the visitors showed no interest in playing football and instead to soak in pressure.
Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t have to get out of second gear and it was a more comfortable victory than they would have been expecting. The Citizens are now 18 points clear at the top of the table and remain on target for 100 points, which would be a superb achievement.
Meanwhile, Chelsea sit outside of the Champions League places and are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth position. They will need a near perfect end to the season if they are to avoid missing out on qualification for next season’s competition. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium…
David Silva showed his class
The 32-year-old has been at Manchester City for the majority of their journey from Premier League also-rans to elite super club and he remains a crucial player for them under Pep Guardiola.
If he had been in the team for the entire campaign, he would be running Kevin de Bruyne close for the PFA Player of the Year award. He is a classy operator who seems to get better with age.
He got the important assist for the winning goal with a superb piece of play and that is becoming par for the course for the Spanish international. Silva completed 95% of his passes and made three key passes during the contest. Meanwhile, he was very good out of possession as he made three ball recoveries.
It has been incredible to watch Pep Guardiola get all of his attacking talent on the pitch at one time, but the improvement of both Silva and De Bruyne off the ball has helped achieve that.
They are now complete midfielders and capable of thriving in both halves of the pitch. The midfielder is a club legend and supporters will be hoping that he has a few years left in him.
Antonio Conte continues to make puzzling decisions
Last season, the Italian was lauded every week as his side won the league title comfortably, but he has failed to follow it up with a good second campaign. There have been a lot of problems for Chelsea this season including recruitment, tactics and player performance.
They have been reliant on Eden Hazard and as the campaign has progressed, the team have lost their intensity, which suggests they no longer believe in Conte.
Their 3-4-2-1 formation was revolutionary, but they have moved away from it frequently this season and haven’t been able to settle on a first eleven. That was one of Chelsea’s strengths last season. Gary Cahill and David Luiz have been sidelined, while Alvaro Morata has failed to replace Diego Costa sufficiently.
On Sunday, Conte chose to field Hazard as a lone frontman, but he struggled to impact the game in that role. He is best when having space in front of him to run into and he didn’t have that against Manchester City.
The Belgian international was isolated and touched the ball only 31 times. It was a tactical error and one that blunted Chelsea’s attack before a ball was kicked.
Ilkay Gundogan is flourishing in the middle of the park for Manchester City
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has had his problems since arriving in the Premier League.
He has suffered a few injuries and that has seen him struggle to secure a regular starting berth, but he has featured prominently in recent weeks and is perfect for the system. Gundogen recycles possession effectively and that is required, especially when the opposition team sits deep.
Gundogen touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch with 181 touches and was very good at distributing the ball quickly. He finished the match with a 96% pass success rate, which shows his role.
He wasn’t taking any risks and he didn’t have to. City have a lot of attacking talent and the German international isn’t required to try risky passes to influence the game.
Although Chelsea didn’t get on the ball much, Gundogen broke up the play when required with four ball recoveries. Fernandinho’s absence could allow the 27-year-old to secure the place on a permanent basis and he does offer more in the role, especially in possession. It was a strong performance and one of the standouts in a dull affair.
Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea: Three talking points from Old Trafford
Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Manchester United overcame top four rivals Chelsea at Old Trafford on Super Sunday.
Goals from Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard helped Manchester United record a crucial victory over Premier League top-four rivals Chelsea.
In-form Willian had fired the visitors in front on 32 minutes before Lukaku restored parity shortly afterwards.
Both sides looked capable of snatching all three points, but it was substitute Lingard who had the decisive say when he nodded in Lukaku’s cross.
Alvaro Morata thought he had equalised for Chelsea late on but it was erroneously ruled out for offside, denying the Blues what, on balance, would have been a deserved point.
Here are three talking points as United reclaimed second spot and moved six points clear of Chelsea.
Lukaku makes a statement at long last
He was at the centre of a tug-of-war between United and Chelsea last summer before eventually joining the Red Devils to be reunited with Jose Mourinho, with whom he had worked at Stamford Bridge.
It is fair to say the Belgian’s not entirely justified the huge transfer fee, but this performance suggests the tide could be turning.
His goal, which settled United after a shaky start, was the first he had scored against a top-eight club this season and it could not have been more timely.
Emboldened by his strike, the 24-year-old looked back to his menacing best and, although Thibaut Courtois denied him a second of the afternoon, the Belgian played a key role in United’s winner.
His chipped ball to Lingard was inch-perfect, handing the England man an opportunity he couldn’t refuse to put the hosts in control.
This wasn’t a vintage United performance by any stretch, but it bore all the hallmarks of a Mourinho team.
Chelsea’s top-four hopes suffer a blow
It has not been an easy period for Chelsea boss Conte, who had to face questions about his own future following shock defeats to Bournemouth and Watford.
He answered his critics to some degree as the Blues held mighty Barcelona to a draw in the Champions League in midweek.
This was another improved display from his charges, with no suggestion that they are not playing for their manager.
Willian’s goal was well deserved but their lead lasted only seven minutes.
Chelsea can feel aggrieved that Morata, who had earlier hit the woodwork, had a late effort ruled out for offside when he appeared to be level.
Nevertheless, the Blues now sit in fifth place, two points behind Tottenham Hotspur who saw off Crystal Palace earlier in the day.
There are still 30 points to play so all is not lost for Chelsea, despite this setback.
But with competition so fierce, Conte knows his side face an uphill climb to finish in a Champions League spot.
Super-sub Lingard presses his case
While Lukaku had struggled to have an impact in the crunch games, the same cannot be said about Lingard.
He was in sparkling form earlier this season, scoring six goals in a nine-match spell over the festive period.
Although that form tailed off to an extent, the 25-year-old reminded Mourinho of his ability to make something happen.
Ten minutes after coming on for Anthony Martial, Lingard was at the centre of the celebrations when he converted Lukaku’s cross.
Despite having a peripheral role at times, this was his 13th goal in all competitions for United this season.
England boss Gareth Southgate is a known admirer of Lingard’s and, with World Cup selection on the horizon, the United academy product will be hoping to get as much game-time as possible in order to book his place on the plane to Russia.
After this telling cameo against Chelsea, Mourinho may have a hard time leaving him out of the starting XI.
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