2016/17 has been a campaign littered with bright patches of high quality football, plenty of goals and teams in the top seven places going toe to toe in the rat race to win the pot of money that comes with qualifying for the next edition of the Champions League.
It should not come as a surprise, given the influx of managerial talent, the new 5.1 billion TV deal, that has brought with it an assemblage of superstar footballers attracted by astronomical wages. Fortunately, this has translated on to the pitch as well. For a start, the top seven teams at this stage of the season have scored a combined total of 326 goals (in 24 games) – an increase of 52 goals from the same stage last season. Chelsea are obviously flying at the top end of the table, enjoying a nine-point cushion over second placed Tottenham Hotspur – who they have already played twice, meaning their fate will solely rest on how well they do between now and May.
The rest of the top seven however – are separated by a mere 10 points – not too dissimilar to the previous season when the gap at the time was worth 13 points between second-placed Manchester City and seventh-placed Southampton. This makes for an exciting run-in to the end of the season as there are plenty of fixtures yet to be played between those teams in the mix for the Champions League spots but all those sides bar Liverpool and Man City have one thing in common: a striker in fine fettle.
While Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Man United and Everton are spearheaded by Harry Kane, Alexis Sanchez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku who make up four of the top six goal scorers in the league respectively and with Diego Costa keeping Chelsea at the top of the table, Liverpool and Man City do not primarily rely on on one player to deliver the goals.
This approach has worked in the case of Pep Guardiola’s Man City who currently reside in the top four – buoyed by the winter arrival of Gabriel Jesus but for Liverpool who have yet to win a Premier League game in 2017, the lack of a true poacher in their squad (Sturridge does not count) could potentially see them finish outside top four after such a promising first half.
Crunching some numbers, and breaking them down, it is possible to draw several conclusions with regard to the performances of the high performing strikers in five of the top seven teams in the country.
While Everton’s Lukaku has scored the highest number of goals in the league (16 & 0 penalties) so far, four of those have come against Bournemouth in one game meaning it’s Tottenham’s Harry Kane (14 including 4 penalties) who has managed the best goal/game return in the top division. With all five players set to hit the 20-goal mark quite comfortably at this rate, it’s important to look at their influence beyond just goals.
Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, despite not being a natural number 9 in the purest sense, has come up with not just 15 goals but also a remarkable 8 assists – with the highest amount of chances created per game among forwards in the league. The Chilean has been phenomenal for Arsenal ever since he’s joined the North Londoners but somehow his influence on Arsenal has been bettered by a certain Swedish 35-year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Sanchez may have scored 15 goals in the league, the same number as the veteran Ibrahimovic has managed but it’s the latter who has scored a higher proportion of goals (15 out of 36) compared to Sanchez’s 15 out of 52 that Arsenal have managed. Factor in the pre-conceived notion that the Premier League is particularly unkind to footballers over 30, Ibrahimovic has managed to debunk all of that with his splendid goal return – in spite of a barren spell that stretched between September and early November, missing a hat full of chances in the process.
No side in the top seven rely more on one player than Man United do on Ibrahimovic and it’s a testament to his consistency and top-flight experience that he has been able to replicate his lofty standards in a new country even in the twilight of his career at the first time of asking.
Further looking at the quality of opponents they have scored against – in the games between teams in the top seven – Chelsea’s Diego Costa and Manchester United’s Ibrahimovic have scored three each – while Lukaku and Sanchez have had two goals against teams in the top seven while Kane has scored only once, in the equalizer at the Emirates in the North London Derby.
The race for the Golden Boot is as exhilarating at this point in time as the tussle for the Champions League spots which will only properly unfold in the remainder of the campaign. As Chelsea look as ominous as ever, it’s up to the other six teams to grab the three remaining positions to secure Champions League football in 2017/18. I wanted to give my prediction for the Golden Boot and top four and should you disagree, which I think you will, do it in the comments below. Spit it out.
Golden Boot: Diego Costa
Top four: Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Liverpool.