Top 5 EPL Strike Pairings of all time, feat. Liverpool and United stars
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.
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