Who can resist a top five list? Not us at The Boot Room, that’s for sure. And while the old fashioned strike partnership may have gone out of fashion in recent years as the popularity of the 4-4-2 system has diminished, there are few better sights in football than a strike pairing on top form.
Whether their calling card is movement and anticipation, pace and power, or pure technique, they can be a foundation on which successful sides are built – knocking opponents into submission with goal after goal.
Here are five of our favourites. Let us know yours on Twitter @tbrfootball, or in the comments below.
Michael Owen and Emile Heskey
Liverpool and England 2000/01
Appearances: Owen 52, Heskey 62
Goals: Owen 27, Heskey 23
At least half of this pairing might be controversial, but it’s the perfect example of the big man-little man combination.
Heskey joined Liverpool in March 2000, and offered the perfect foil for Owen and for fellow Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler – who scored 18 goals himself, in what was to be the last full season of his first stint at the club.
Big Emile’s £11million transfer was a club record at the time, and then manager Gerard Houllier had been looking for a way to make Michael Owen fire again. Owen had gone off the boil since his explosive entrance to the international stage at World Cup 98, and at 21 years old, it was time he proved himself.
The Liverpool side that season was a puzzle where all the pieces had suddenly fallen into place. The squad contained an emerging Steven Gerrard, coupled with similarly homegrown talent in Owen and Carragher. Gary McAllister and Emile Heskey joined ahead of the start of the season, and Sami Hyppia, Jari Litmanen and Dietmar Harmann contributed to what was a formidable team.
And it all worked. Liverpool won the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup and League Cup treble, as well as finishing third in the league. As far as individual honours go, in 2001 Owen was named European Footballer of the Year, and was the winner of the Ballon d’Or – comfortably receiving more votes than second-placed Raul, who had scored 24 goals in La Liga that same season.
The partnership between Owen and Heskey – the pairing which started the FA Cup final – was a majorpart of this success. Heskey is a character who has drawn much derision over the years. He has is often far from prolific, and has experienced long spells with few goals for his toil. The arguments about his non-scoring contribution are well-worn -his power and hold-up play allow others to shine – and the duration of his partnership with Owen was certainly the most productive period of Michael’s career. But this season Heskey chipped in with his fair share of goals too.
Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton
Blackburn Rovers 1994-95
Appearances: Shearer 42, Sutton 40
Goals: Shearer 34, Sutton 15
This season was the stuff of fantasy – there’s not a lot more to be said.
Shearer had scored 31 goals for Blackburn the season before, while winning the Football Writers’ Association player of the year award. Sutton joined him from Norwich for the then hefty fee of £5million in the July of 1994.
The next season, Shearer kept running, one arm almost permanently held aloft, such was the frequency of his scoring. With Sutton, he provided the firepower which allowed unfavoured Blackburn to beat Manchester United to the title by a single point.
Not that there wasn’t talent elsewhere at the club – Tim Flowers in goal, captained by Tim Sherwood in midfield, and regular internationals Colin Hendry and Henning Berg alongside well-known Guardian reader Graeme Le Saux in defence. In the dugout, manager Kenny Dalglish won the manager of the year award.
Despite Shearer’s standout individual performances, the team ethic around was what carried him there. Case in point: Chris Sutton briefly became the country’s most expensive defender, moved to centre-back as Blackburn played out a nil-nil draw against Arsenal, after Jason Wilcox was sent-off for a foul on Lee Dixon and Colin Hendry was forced off with a head injury.
The SAS, as Shearer and Sutton became known, were also an example of how a formidable strike partnership can form without the two being particularly close off the pitch. Years later, promoting his biography, Sutton said: “It’s hard to explain but there was an underlying feeling that there wasn’t any warmth towards me from Alan.”
Sutton blamed their lack of friendship off the field on the fact he’d broken up a partnership between Shearer and Mike Newell – saying the two were best friends. But it worked, Blackburn had finished second behind United in the 1993/94 season with Newell adding only five goals to Shearer’s 31. In 1994/95, the contribution of Sutton alongside Shearer was enough to tip them over the top.
Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole
Manchester United 1998-99
Appearances: Yorke 52, Cole 53
Goals: Yorke 29, Cole 24
If one match sums up this partnership, it was a Champions League group game at the Nou Camp on 25th November 1998. Yorke scored twice and Cole once, as United sparred with Barcelona – the second of two 3-3 draws between the sides.
And if one goal sums up this partnership, it was Yorke’s first that day. A ball along the floor from Roy Keane who was in the inside right position, Yorke stepped over it, letting it go and continuing his run behind a now hopelessly out of position Michael Reiziger. One touch from Cole returned the ball to Yorke, Samuel Okunowo coming across to cover dug his heels into the turf in an effort to turn. Too late. Yorke, with another sharp one touch pass, returned the ball to Cole. Cole controlled, as Okunowo stumbled and slotted past ‘keeper Ruud Hesp.
It was telepathic. It was emphatic. United were proving they had a place amongst the very best in Europe. And as they did time and again that season – including, famously, in the Champions League Final the following May – they fought and fought, always finding another goal, always responding to setbacks with a brutal counter-punch.
It’s easy to forget the Treble season was Yorke’s first at the club. He was signed after the season had already started, protracted negotiations with Aston Villa requiring some agitating from the player before he was allowed to leave for a fee of around £12.5million.
Cole had been with the club for three and a bit years. Signed just a fortnight before Eric Cantona’s ‘kung-fu kick’ at a Crystal Palace fan, Cole benefited from an unexpected slot in the starting eleven. On Cantona’s return, he struggled, but stuck around. Cantona retired at the end of the 1996/97 season, and Cole spent a season linking up with Teddy Sheringham (another whose awareness bordered on the telepathic) – Cole and Sheringham another pairing where the two did not get on at all off the field.
The Treble season saw a United frontline comprised of Cole, Yorke, Sheringham and Solskjaer. Not to mention the considerable threat of Beckham, Giggs, Keane and Scholes in midfield.
It was a fearsome attacking machine, firing on all cylinders for the entire season.
Sheringham and Solskjaer may have scored the goals in stoppage time in Barcelona to win the Champions League, but Yorke and Cole are the pairing everyone remembers.
Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry
Appearances: Bergkamp 46, Henry 57
Goals: Bergkamp 14, Henry 33
Dennis Bergkamp has just turned 46 years old. And this summer it will be 20 years since The Non-Flying Dutchman arrived in English football, surprised Ian Wright at a petrol station, then showed us just how good European imports could be.
Why the 2001/02 season? Bergkamp and Henry played together throughout the first half of the 2000s, and sure they won the league and cup double in 01/02, but the season after was year of the Invincibles.
There are a few reasons.
Number one, this was Henry’s first Premier League title and he won the Golden Boot.
Number two, it was a transitioning Arsenal team – it was the 2001/02 season which saw the Arsenal of Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Lee Dixon give way to the Arsenal of Sol Campbell and Lauren.
Number three, that flick on 3rd March 2002. Dennis Bergkamp, performing a feat which defied logic and Nicos Dabizas, received a threaded pass from Robert Pires with his back to goal. He controlled with his left foot, sending the ball spinning to the right, and spinning his body to the left. Dabizas, tight behind him, didn’t know where to turn, floundering in treacle as Bergkamp muscled in front of him, put him on his arse, opened his body and passed the ball into the net.
Did he mean it? Yes, he meant it.
That was the defining characteristic of the Henry-Bergkamp pairing. The incredible. The something from nothing. The moment of absolute brilliance brought to life by technique so pure the ball was an extension of them.
Henry’s best goals may have been scored in other seasons; the chip up and twisting volley over the head of Barthez in 2000, or the long run followed by the even longer celebration against Spurs in 2002 – but 2001/02 was the season it all came together for the first time and was also the season Bergkamp most often joined him on the scoresheet.
Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez
Appearances: Sturridge 42, Suarez 39
Goals: Sturridge 28, Suarez 33
Prolific. Sturridge and Suarez took Liverpool to within a whisker of their first league title since 1990. This pairing had the goalscoring credentials to match Yorke and Cole, but with more than a few drops of the something from nothing quality of Bergkamp and Henry.
Luis Suarez especially, and particularly during a two week spell in December where he scored ten goals in four Premier League games. Including bagging four against Norwich – the second of three hattricks in the 2013/14 season.
Luis Suarez does two things well – making trouble and scoring goals. He started the season talking about a move away from the club and on the receiving end of a £40,ooo,oo1 bid from Arsenal – who were attempting to trigger a release clause, about which they had been mis-informed. Suarez was serving a ban at the time, having been found guilty of biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in April. By the time he had served his ban and returned the team, it was 25th September, but despite playing six weeks less than the rest of the league, Suarez still ended the season as PFA and FWA Player of the Season and the Premier League top scorer.
As manager Brendan Rodgers remarked at the time: “He has shown in his time at Liverpool in the last year or so that he is near unplayable. He on his own can occupy a back four with his movement and his cleverness.”
Daniel Sturridge joined Liverpool in January 2013 – already 23 and yet to hold down a first team place at previous clubs Man City and Chelsea, he had impressed enough to convince Liverpool to shell out £12million for him. He now has quite the record, averaging two goals every three games.
During the 2013/14 season, each of the pair broke a club record – Suarez went through Robbie Fowler’s record for goals in a single season, scoring 31 in the league compared to Fowler’s 28; Sturridge scored in eight consecutive Premier League games, picking up in January as Suarez came off the gas ever so slightly after his run of goalscoring in December. The previous Liverpool record for consecutive games scored in was six, Sturridge now sits second on the all time list, two behind Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Tottenham Hotspur fans react to Danny Welbeck dive
Tottenham Hotspur fans were not pleased with Danny Welbeck’s dive v AC Milan.
Arsenal successfully knocked AC Milan out of the Europa League last night with a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium. The hero of the night was England forward Danny Welbeck. The striker scored two goals as Arsenal completed a deserved 5-1 aggregate victory over the Rossoneri.
But Milan had taken an early lead through Hakan Calhanoglu’s bamboozling long-range strike. Arsenal, at that stage, were looking on the ropes. Welbeck though won and then dispatched a penalty to level the scoring. The word ‘won’ being the optimum word.
Welbeck dived for the penalty, there is no doubt about that. Ricardo Rodriguez barely breathed on the Arsenal man, who tumbled to the ground hopefully. When the penalty was given, he looked in disbelief.
For Tottenham Hotspur fans it was a moment they did not appreciate.
Spurs have seen Dele Alli victimised throughout the season, and some would say rightly so, for his diving. There is no doubt that the England midfielder has dived this season and not many Tottenham fans would suggest not.
But the anger here lies with what Tottenham fans believe is hypocrisy. There is also a certain level or irony given a thinly veiled dig by Arsene Wenger against Spurs’ players this season.
After the highly controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield, where Harry Kane was accused of diving v Liverpool, Wenger had this to say, as reported by the BBC:
“I remember there were tremendous cases here when foreign players did it.
“But English players have learned very quickly and might be the masters now.”
“Sometimes players play a little bit with the rules. How far can you go? That is down to the referees.”
With Arsenal their next Premier League opponents, Arsene Wenger’s barb was not hard to see.
When that statement came out Tottenham fans quickly pointed out occasions when Arsenal’s English stars had been caught diving. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were prominent examples. Now, in Welbeck, Tottenham have seen another.
Arsenal fans will be happy that their team have booked a place in the next round of the Europa League. On balance it was more than a fair result as over two legs Arsenal outplayed the Italian giants.
But the Welbeck moment certainly put an asterix on the game for Spurs fans.
Here is some of the best reaction from Twitter…
Özil against Watford was falling down when a gust of wind went past him. It was appalling. Welbeck yesterday was one of the worst dives
— Joe B ??????? (@JblincoTHFC) March 16, 2018
Only just seen the Welbeck dive, he must be embarrassed even appealing for that.
— Joshhh (@JJonesTHFC) March 16, 2018
— Harry Hotspur (@HarryHotspurWHL) March 15, 2018
If you had any doubt about how this country treats Dele Alli (one of its brightest prospects in years) look at the difference in how the media and in particular fans, are talking about the #Welbeck dive. ? #COYS #THFC
— Gary Ford (@Spursfordie) March 15, 2018
Imagine if this was @dele_official who did this and the media onslaught! Danny Welbeck you diving cheat! Hope the likes of @talkSPORT @GaryLineker @alanshearer to name a few subject Danny to the same treatment they have subjected Dele too this season! https://t.co/MXFMAkOGcN
— H (@LittleMissTHFC) March 15, 2018
— Lucas (@MoughtTHFC) March 15, 2018
Welbeck is a cheat end of. Ruined a good game.
— THFC (@RaoullyT69) March 15, 2018
Look how everyone destroys Dele over diving. No one will comment on Welbeck’s dive. Shocking! #THFC
— Harry Hotspur (@HarryHotspurWHL) March 15, 2018
— Steve Williams (@spurssteve69) March 15, 2018
Welbeck dives. Dele will be in trouble in the morning. #THFC
— Stephen Vincent (@StevieV14) March 15, 2018
If Dele Alli did what Welbeck just did?
— Billy Adams (@ThfcAdams) March 15, 2018
Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?
Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.
Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.
They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.
These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.
Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.
It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.
In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.
The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.
Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.
Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.
Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.
The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.
Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.
It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.
When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.
If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.
There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.
Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.
It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.
It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.
Brighton 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Amex
Arsenal lost for a fourth successive game as Brighton & Hove Albion bullied their opponents into submission.
Arsenal suffered their fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions as Brighton & Hove Albion took a giant leap towards Premier League survival.
The pressure on Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, which has intensified since the turn of the year, looks set to reach new heights after another dismal day at the office for his charges.
Goals from Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray put the Seagulls in control before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled one back for the visitors on the stroke of half-time.
Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Arsenal were unable to muster an equaliser.
For Brighton, this was a huge result that lifted them seven points clear of the relegation zone.
Here are three talking points…
Is beleaguered Wenger’s position now untenable?
It lurches from one disaster to another for Wenger.
He probably thought the nadir had been reached after last weekend’s limp performance in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, when his future became the main topic of debate.
The Frenchman would have hoped for a reaction from his players in the subsequent fixtures.
Instead, his side were brushed aside against City in the Premier League before producing another sub-standard display here against Brighton.
Added to their shock Europa League reversal at home to minnows Ostersunds, it is the first time Arsenal have lost four successive matches since 2002.
After last season’s FA Cup triumph, Wenger penned a new contract that takes him through to the summer of 2019.
Now, however, it’s difficult to see how he can last beyond the end of the current campaign.
Perhaps only by lifting the Europa League, which would automatically qualify Arsenal for the Champions League, could Wenger realistically remain in situ.
Even then, it may not be enough. His players look devoid of any confidence and need an injection of new ideas.
Brighton take a massive step towards safety
The focus will understandably be on Arsenal, but Brighton’s display should not be overlooked.
This victory extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League to four games and has all but banished thoughts that they might be dragged into a relegation scrap.
Yes, it was a good time to face Arsenal, but Chris Hughton’s side made a fast start with two early goals that went a long way to recording their first win over the Gunners since 1982.
Brighton’s performance bore all the hallmarks of their season so far.
Despite being one of the lowest scorers in the division, they took their chances when they came, exploiting Arsenal’s weakness from set pieces and aerial balls.
In the second half, the home side remained very organised defensively, which was key when the Gunners upped the tempo.
Modest and unassuming, Hughton has done a terrific job on the south coast.
Defensive shortcomings continue to haunt Arsenal
Wenger has regularly spoken of his belief that Arsenal cannot compete on a level playing field with the likes of Manchester City.
And while his side’s record against fellow ‘Big Six’ clubs is regularly scrutinised, the Gunners’ results against the lesser lights have not been good enough for a club with Champions League aspirations.
In 2018 alone, Arsenal have been beaten by Swansea City, Bournemouth and now Brighton in the Premier League, while losing to Nottingham Forest and Ostersunds in cups.
A lack of leadership has long been an issue on the pitch and it’s an area Wenger has consistently ignored.
Defensively, the Gunners are too easy to bully.
Take Shkodran Mustafi’s defending for the first goal in the Carabao Cup final last weekend, for example.
Particularly away from home, Arsenal are prone to imploding.
Despite the attacking talent Wenger has at his disposal, his failure to invest in proven defenders at the top level looks set to cost him dearly.
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