We’re over halfway into the Premier League season and the established elite have returned to the top of the table, following Leicester’s surprise title win last season.
One of the most vital elements of a title-winning team is their strike force and their ability to find the back of the net on a consistent basis. So how good are this season’s top six?
Diego Costa, Michy Batshuayi, Pedro, Eden Hazard, Willian
Antonio Conte was linked with a number of strikers in the summer, but he wasn’t alone in finding a lack of quality options available in the market. With the exception of the £33 million addition of Michy Batshuayi, Conte decided to work with what was already at the club and he’s reaped the rewards.
Diego Costa has been revitalised under the Italian manager and the scowl that was on his face for much of last season has been replaced with a smile. He’s the league’s top scorer and hasn’t looked like slowing down.
Eden Hazard has returned to the form that saw him become Player of the Year two years ago, while Conte has singled out Pedro for praise, claiming that the Spanish winger is designed for his 3-4-3 formation. Such has been the form of the former Barcelona player; Willian has struggled for game time.
As has Batshuayi, who’s been largely restricted to cameo appearances from the bench and is yet to start a league game. Dominic Solanke is also in the squad and was rated as one of the best players of his age-group, but his progress has been stifled when compared to Marcus Rashford and Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham who’s scored 14 goals for Bristol City in the Championship this season.
Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi
Unlike some of the other teams in the top six, Jurgen Klopp has opted for a false nine, rather than a traditional forward. There are no stars in the Liverpool line up, instead they’re a collective unit and this was evident in the game against Manchester City. Sadio Mane’s absence for the African Cup of Nations will be a big blow to Klopp’s plans. His nine goals this season are the most by any Liverpool player and he’s lived up to what many thought was a hefty price tag when he joined in the summer.
Roberto Firmino leads the line in the false nine position and acts as a superb foil for pace around him. He’s scored six goals so far this season and is starting to justify his £29 million valuation. He’s also provided three assists for his teammates. This all begs the question as to where Daniel Sturridge fits in to Klopp’s plans. He’s made just five starts this season, with seven substitute appearances and was seen limping off after the Sunderland game. His way of playing isn’t to Klopp’s liking and the manager has questioned the striker’s commitment since he arrived at the club. Sturridge’s days at Anfield appear to be numbered.
Sergio Aguero, Nolito, Kelechi Iheanacho, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus
Sergio Aguero has been leading the City line since 2011 and will be remembered as one of, if not, their greatest ever player when he leaves the club. His goal return of 11 in 16 games this season is good, but his discipline has let him down, missing seven games so far through suspension. Combine this with Pep Guardiola’s odd selections which have seen the Argentine left on the bench against Burnley and he’s not as effective as he once was.
Kelechi Iheanacho has shown that he is more than capable of scoring after coming off the bench. Aged just 20, he’s too young to be leading the City line, but he’s more than capable in the future. Nolito has made a solid start to life at City, with 4 goals and 2 assists in his Premier League career so far, but his temperament can also be questioned. Big things are expected of new arrival Gabriel Jesus however. The Brazilian teenager has scored 4 goals in 6 games for the national side and has been touted for success by former Brazil striker Ronaldo.
Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, Lucas Perez, Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi
For the first time in years, Arsenal happen to have a Plan B. Alexis Sanchez has started in the middle for the Gunners and has scored 13 goals and created 7 assists. His performance against West Ham was one of the best individual performances seen this season and his hat-trick was a thing of beauty, even though the third goal was offside. If Sanchez through the middle isn’t working, Wenger can bring Olivier Giroud off the bench. Much maligned by Arsenal supporters, he has a superb goalscoring record for the club and can also hold the ball up for his teammates. He’s scored crucial goals against Manchester United and Bournemouth to grab late draws, however the ratio between chances created and goals scored is very poor.
Theo Walcott has had a good season so far, scoring 8 goals, but he’s shown good form in the past, only to follow it up with long goalscoring droughts and inconsistent performances. It would appear that he’s stuck to playing on the wing, instead of crying out to play through the middle. For £17 million, Lucas Perez has been a disappointment so far, with just 1 league goal from 12 games.
Sanchez is a world class player, but Arsenal won’t win the Premier League with him playing upfront, nor will they win it with Giroud. Had they made a reasonable offer for Luis Suarez when he was on his way out of Liverpool, instead of their frankly insulting one, they’d have won the league by now.
Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min, Vincent Janssen
Where Liverpool share out an attacking threat, Spurs are very much reliant on Harry Kane. Their home-grown striker is responsible for 10 of the 17 goals that have come from Spurs’ strikers this season, while he’s also chipped in with two assists. Kane’s Premier League goalscoring record is hugely impressive, scoring 59 goals in 101 appearances. When he had his injury lay off this season however, Spurs’ lack of depth in forward options showed. Son Heung-Min started off the season in scintillating form, scoring more goals at the beginning of the season than he did for the entirety last year, but he’s since tailed off, while Vincent Janssen, signed for £17 million hasn’t made much of an impact at all, scoring just once in fifteen league games so far.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Memphis Depay, Wayne Rooney
Doubts would have been raised amongst United fans when the club announced the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the summer, but the legendary Swede has made a strong start to life in England, scoring 13 goals in 19 appearances. The main cause for concern amongst United fans would be whether his arrival would be detrimental to the emergence of Marcus Rashford, who burst onto the scene last year, rather by accident when Louis Van Gaal failed to acquire a new striker. The English teenager has only scored three goals so far this season and looks bereft of confidence, but Ibrahimovic’s presence should have profound effects on him and he has a bright future ahead of him.
Anthony Martial announced himself with a wonderful solo goal on debut against Liverpool last year, but like Rashford, he also looks short on confidence and rumours persist that he could leave the club on a loan deal. Memphis Depay looks certain to be on his way out, having failed to make an impact in his time at Old Trafford. He’s expected to move to Everton later this month. Club captain Wayne Rooney also appears to be on the decline and there are also doubts surrounding his future. He scored just three goals in 2016 and although he’s close to breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record for United, he’s struggled to get a start in recent games.