Who is the top striker?
It’s never advisable to try and draw too many conclusions from the opening round of Barclays Premier League fixtures, especially with the transfer window still open, but this past weekend threw up one obvious theme: a top striker makes life a whole lot easier at the start of the long campaign.
Monday brought the news that Southampton had further demonstrated their ambition with the capture of Roma front-man Pablo Osvaldo for a reported club-record transfer fee of £15 million. The fiery Italian international scored 16 goals in Serie A last season and joins a squad that already boasts the likes of Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez, Gaston Ramirez and Adam Lallana.
Eyebrows were raised at a deal that takes Southampton’s summer spending to £35 million but, based on the evidence of the Barclays Premier League’s opening weekend, it is well worth investing in goal-scorers. Of the 21 goals scored on Saturday and Sunday, close to 60 per cent came from out-and-out strikers
Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Christian Benteke led the way with two goals apiece, while Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Soldado, Lambert, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Olivier Giroud and Wilfried Bony also opened their accounts.
Sergio Aguero drilled home a sublime strike to keep the run going on Monday night and, although Edin Dzeko failed to score at the Etihad, he turned in a man-of-the-match performance as City ran riot against Newcastle.
Our Matchday Live experts Les Ferdinand and Alan Curbishley agreed that the guarantee of goals from a striker helps a manager sleep a little bit easier, even if there are issues to address elsewhere in his squad, while Michael Owen was intrigued by the attacking options available to the top three title contenders.
He pointed out that although Manchester United are in absolutely no doubt as to the identity of their striker, who operates as a focal point for the attack (sorry Mr Rooney, but Robin van Persie’s brace further cemented his position), you cannot absolutely say the same for Manchester City and Chelsea.
Aguero, Michael said, is obviously a first-choice starter for Manuel Pellegrini’s side but he isn’t an out-and-out striker who operates at the top of the pitch. Rather, he drifts wide, links up play and scores goals. Is Dzeko the man to lead the line or will Alvaro Negredo eventually get the nod by the time we come to the Manchester Derby on September 22?
Chelsea, like City, can boast a wealth of attacking midfielders and Jose Mourinho was left purring at the resources he has in that department. His brow will have been furrowed, however, by the problem he now faces in deciding who to play in front.
Fernando Torres endured a desperately ineffectual outing, contributing just two shots (neither of them on target) and analyst Andy Townsend was concerned that the Spaniard doesn’t seem to be desperate to operate at the “business end” of the pitch for a striker. While Chelsea’s attacking play was “beautiful” in the words of their manager, Torres appeared to be a peripheral figure.
Romelu Lukaku’s performances for West Bromwich Albion last season suggested he has a bright future ahead of him but his youth and relative inexperience may count against him given Mourinho’s recent experience of having worked with some of the finest strikers in Europe. Despite the Belgian’s undoubted talent, the Chelsea manager might feel obliged to bring in someone who is more established.
How odd to be talking about City and Chelsea along these lines. After all, their performances this weekend further enhanced their status as favourites to beat United to the top two places in the league. Perhaps they’ll just go merrily about their business, leaning on midfielders or wingers to score goals, while the striker “problem” resolves itself naturally enough. In City’s case, it’s easy to see one of their players grabbing the top spot himself while at Chelsea we’ll see if it’s the chequebook or the form of Lukaku (or even Demba Ba) that provides the fix.
Elsewhere in the league, clubs continue to look for that guaranteed supply of goals that a top striker brings. West Ham’s co-owner David Gold said on Monday that, despite a comfortable opening-day win, the Hammers are keen to bring in a striker before the Window closes on September 2. The East Enders may have splashed the cash on Andy Carroll but his return from injury is still some way off and someone needs to get on the end of the supply from Matt Jarvis and Stewart Downing.
You can expect target men to be top of the agenda when it comes to discussions in Premier League boardrooms this week, as well as in our studio. Talking of which, it’s fantastic to be back on SuperSport this season and we really hope you like our new “look”. The studio, with its different sets for our various shows, and wonderful camera angles is a fantastic place to work and we think it will really enhance your viewing experience.
Andy, Don and the guys have some new analytical tools to work with as they “go deep” with their tactical appraisal of the games. All this, added to what we have seen on the pitch, strengthens my belief that this is going to be one of the best seasons ever in our league. I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as we do and please, please, feel free to let us know what you think, either by commenting here or by tracking me down on Twitter.