In a sport defined by the slimmest of margins, there is no commodity more precious than goals. Whether sweetly struck from 30 yards out or unknowingly bumped in off the backside, the scoreboard does not discriminate and the table shows no sympathy. With goals at a premium, clubs spend the summer months searching far and wide for any warm-blooded vertebrate that can send the ball in the back of the net with some kind of regularity. In the case of the following misfiring signings, they’ll soon need to find the Midas touch or else get used to a cosy spot in the stands.
Danny Graham, Hull City: Loan from Sunderland
Despite four starts and a lone substitute appearance in the league, Graham has yet to score for his foster club. With Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore proving to be fine additions in midfield, the Tigers have been far from some overwhelmed assortment of wide-eyed scrubs. Toss in Robbie Brady’s excellent form to see that Graham cannot claim to be the victim of exceptionally poor service. Indeed, the Englishman has only presented a mild goal threat, registering a shot just under twice a game and a shot on target just once every 114 minutes.
While Graham was certainly brought aboard to finish moves, that he has essentially been worthless in build-up play doesn’t help. He has yet to successfully complete either a cross or a dribble attempt, and is struggling to link up with teammates in the final third.
Seven points from five games is a start with which Bruce will be justifiably content, but that Sone Aluko is the only recognized forward to have scored thus far will trouble him. Hull City was linked with West Brom striker Shane Long at the end of the summer window and if Graham can’t find some semblance of form he could be replaced as early as January.
Nicolas Anelka, West Bromwich Albion: Free Transfer from Shanghai Shenua
After his move to Shanghai soured over a refusal to bow to club supporters (clearly the fans had not the slightest idea who they were dealing with), Anelka spent the back half of last year on loan at Juventus. Despite enjoying Juve’s second consecutive Serie A trophy, Anelka featured sparingly before being duly released by Shanghai over the summer. His return to the Premier League with West Brom raised some eyebrows, as did his public flirtations with retirement just before the season began. Considering his early form, some supporters may wish The Baggies hadn’t talked him into staying.
Even his worst enemies would grant the Frenchman’s undisputed technical quality, but Anelka’s build-up play has been spotty since his return. Despite many cross and dribble attempts (the latter at a decent clip it should be said), Anelka has created just one chance. Having played alongside a strike partner in three of his four starts, his teammates would be justifiably frustrated at the former Chelsea man’s loss of possession every five and a half minutes.
On top of his mediocre creative presence, Anelka has been totally absent as a goal threat. Having only registered a grand total of three shots, he has already spurned two clear-cut chances. Surely Steve Clarke is ruing his club’s inability to replace last year’s loanee Romelu Lukaku – a tremendously efficient scorer.
The Baggies went into last weekend with just two points from four games and a minus three goal differential. Thankfully for them, Paulo Di Canio’s last match as Sunderland manager provided them with a sorely needed 3-0 victory. The match also saw a tactical change from Clarke who incorporated last-gasp signing Stephane Sessegnon in a 4-2-3-1 formation. With three supporting midfielders, the lone striker must score goals and if Anelka doesn’t start soon, surely Victor Anichebe, Markus Rosenberg, and the aforementioned Long will get a crack in that spot.
Tough matches against Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool beckon in the next four fixtures, and could be the make or break stretch for Anelka’s West Brom stay.
Jozy Altidore, Sunderland: 8.8 million pounds from AZ Alkmaar
A player who may feel unfortunate to find himself on this list is Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore. An ongoing hamstring problem, an unfairly disallowed goal, and the ills of playing under Paulo Di Canio have all conspired against Altidore following his move from AZ Alkmaar. Despite the varying validity of these excuses, Sunderland supporters’ patience has worn thin with the entire squad and they rightfully expect more from their new striker.
A dubious honor, Altidore has presented the most consistent goal threat in this motley collection with a shot every 38 minutes and a shot on target once every 100. The two missed clear cut chances hurt (especially considering Sunderland’s horrific form), but wouldn’t appear so cataclysmic had his disallowed goal stood.
One area in which Altidore cannot claim to be hard done is his hold-up play, where a 29% aerial duel success rate is simply inexcusable for someone of his physical ability. With zero successful dribbles and a 66% passing accuracy, Altidore has looked totally out of touch with his fellow Black Cats – though really, that’s a theme for the entire squad. A major task for the new manager will be developing some kind of system connecting the creative talents of Adam Johnson and Emmanuele Giaccherini with the striking corps.
It is still unclear who will replace Di Canio though Gus Poyet and Roberto Di Matteo have been making the early rumors. What is clear however, is that regardless which manager arrives, Altidore will have to seriously up his game if he wants to see off competition from the likes of Steven Fletcher and Fabio Borini.
Iago Aspas, Liverpool: 7.92 million pounds from Celta Vigo
Aspas’s introduction to English football actually got off to a promising start with a lively performance against Stoke City in Liverpool’s opening fixture. Since then however, the Spaniard has been progressively worse in each successive performance – resulting in a half-time substitution against Southampton on the weekend.
Not a true goal poacher, Aspas has largely been tasked with playing just off of Daniel Sturridge in a support striker role. Despite decent creative numbers at first glance, he has been an increasingly inefficient cog in Liverpool’s attack. Five of his seven created chances, including his lone clear cut chance, came against the Potters in the first week. He has had limited success off the dribble and equally so in attempted crosses. Throw in a horrific rate of losing possession once every five and a half minutes, and you see why he has quickly fallen down the Anfield pecking order.
Aspas has offered even less as a goal threat during Liverpool’s early season run. His two attempted shots both came against Stoke (a recurrent theme here if you didn’t notice), and since then he has not drawn so much as a blink from an opposition keeper.
Although they may still bear some resentment towards the Uruguayan, Liverpool fans will no doubt be relieved to see Luis Suarez back from his suspension. The effects of Philippe Coutinho’s injury were plain to see against Southampton, and with Aspas totally lost at sea, Suarez’s return could not come at a better time.