The race for the EPL Golden Boot.

Goals, in addition to being the most exciting are also, arguably, the most important part of the game. If you’re having problems believing that, all you need to do is cast your mind back a few months: Despite keeping the ninth most clean sheets and conceding the tenth lowest number of goals, Middlesbrough finished the 2016/17 EPL season in 18th place and were rightfully relegated for it. Yes, having a strong defence and keeping clean sheets is important, but the spoils of victory are ultimately earned and shared by the members of team with the most goals and there’s no circumventing that fact.

Having the highest scoring player in the league – or being the highest scoring team, for that matter – will by no means guarantee you a league title, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have the most firepower on the field of battle, whenever your enemies are in sight. So, in the next few paragraphs, we’ll be looking at some of the prospective contenders for this season’s EPL Golden Boot award.

The Usual Suspects:

To start things off we’ll be looking at “The Usual Suspects”, players whose names are never too far from the Golden Boot conversation, owing, almost entirely, to the reputations they have built for themselves in the English top-flight.

1. Harry Kane:Harry Kane-Tottenham Hotspurs

Who could be more appropriate to kick-start such a list than the two-time, reigning and defending Golden Boot champion of England? Absolutely no one, that’s who. The Englishman clinched the second golden boot of his career – more than the likes of Andy Cole, Nickolas Anelka, Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Luis Suarez – with more than two months to spare before his 24th birthday and we’re sure you’ll agree with us in saying that that is no small feat. After breaking into the Spurs’ starting lineup in 2014/15, Harry Kane finished the season with 21 goals from 34 league appearances. Determined to prove that his success was no fluke, he played all 38 games in the following season and his total of 25 goals helped him claim the first Golden Boot of his young career, and even though a pair of ankle injuries limited him to just 30 appearances – his lowest since becoming a first team regular – in 2016/17, he still “managed” a career-high tally of 29 goals in the league.

Judging by simple arithmetic progression (which hardly ever works in these scenarios) Harry Kane is on course to finish the 2017/18 season with 33 goals and become only the eighth striker in the League’s 20-plus year history to hit the 30-goal barrier – something he was just one goal shy of doing, last season.

Now that we’ve set the stage for Harry Kane, let’s look at what he’s got going for himself in the race for the Golden Boot.

For:
  • He’s a fine athlete with an uncommon amount of finesse to boot; his unique skill set allows him to switch seamlessly between poacher, target man and an entire host of other advanced roles. While some of the other players on this list are extremely gifted at certain aspects of the game, Kane is arguably the EPL’s closest thing to a “complete forward” and his ability to score all different types of goals will surely serve him well, once again.
  • Unlike many of the other names still to come on this list, Kane looks like he’s the only one who isn’t going to be dealing with any major changes or adjustments to his team, for the new season. While this could have a potential downside, in the sense that his team probably isn’t going to be significantly stronger or better than it was in the previous season, it could also be a huge positive, especially in his case. Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Heung Min Son all joined Harry Kane at different stages of the Tottenham project, but they have continued to improve, and, most importantly, up their production levels while playing alongside one another.
  • Apart from familiarity with his teammates, Harry Kane also enjoys a great level of familiarity with many of the Premier League’s active teams – having scored against most of them at some point or the other. When compared to some of the other players on this list, who are still very early in their EPL careers, this is a great advantage to have.

With all the positives in mind, there are, however, two factors that could militate against Kane’s Golden Boot chase.

Against:
  • The first one is the possible banana skin awaiting the team in the shape of the move to Wembley. The move to a new stadium, especially such an iconic one – in which they’ve had such little success in recent times – could be a huge stumbling block for the Tottenham squad. They were untouchable at White Hart Lane, last season, where they played their best, most efficient and most incisive football, and if they face any difficulty at all in replicating that form, the potential damages could well be of catastrophic proportions.
  • The second thing to consider is Harry’s proclivity towards making extremely slow starts to Premier League seasons; as a matter of fact, he’s still currently enjoying the infamy of having absolutely no EPL goals attached to his name for the month of August. The race to finish at the top of the goal-scoring pile is heating up with every passing season and a slow start could be a luxury that he can ill afford, this time around.

2. Sergio Aguero:Sergio Aguero - Manchester City

Playing for a team with ambitious owners who have the financial ability to replace you on a whim is an underrated struggle, but, much like Didier Drogba did at Chelsea, Sergio Aguero has – to a large extent – weathered the storm and remained firmly at the top of the pecking order of the Etihad’s ever fluid cast of characters. This has been no mere coincidence, either, and his success with The Citizens has been down to his sheer, undeniable talent and an amazing level of consistency. In his most turbulent PL season to date, Sergio Aguero found himself at the mercy of a manager who wasn’t entirely satisfied with his output and was also in a direct competition for resources, with a teenager who was taking the League by storm; despite all this, he still closed out the season with 20 goals from 25 starts, a number which he will undoubtedly be looking to better in the coming campaign.

Even through rotations of managers and teammates, Aguero has hardly ever strayed too far from the EPL’s Golden Boot conversations, ranking amongst the top 5 goal-scorers in five of his six seasons in England. Of course, he does only have a solitary Golden Boot win to his name (2012/13), but you’re advised to bet against Sergio Kun at your own peril.

For:
  • Stone-cold consistency, for starters. Of all players to have scored over 90 goals in the English Premier League – and there are quite a few of them – Sergio Aguero’s minute-to-goal ratio (131 minutes per goal) is the absolute best of the bunch. A statistic that should not be taken lightly.
  • Secondly, we strongly believe that if Aguero had come to this world as an inanimate object, he would’ve been a surgeon’s scalpel. (“Why?” You may ask.) Well, this is simply because he’s as precise as he is deadly, and there’s no one in the English top flight, right now, who is better at converting half chances into beautiful goals.
  • Finally, just like Kane, he’s already quite familiar with a lot of the opposing defenders and goalkeepers in the League (having been around for even longer than the Englishman); putting the ball past most of them for the umpteenth time is a task that is unlikely to faze him.
Against:

If you’re wondering what could possibly go against Aguero in the race for the boot, we have a two-pronged answer for you.

  • Firstly, there’s the manager we already mentioned: While Guardiola has already stated that Aguero is an important part of his plans at the Etihad and will not be sold, we can’t completely guarantee that their working relationship is running at optimum capacity. For Aguero to be at his very best, he needs to be a regular fixture in the team and not just one of those pieces you rotate on a whim. With Aguero, a guarantee of minutes is a guarantee of goals.
  • The second part of this conundrum is the competition, both for goals and minutes, which will be most notably provided by Gabriel Jesus, one of the EPL’s newest sensations. While team achievements will always trump individual ones, you can expect a slightly more even distribution of goals between both players if they manage to remain fit for the entirety of the season.

3. Alexis Sanchez:Alexis Sanchez - Arsenal

A lot of us were already familiar with the astounding qualities of Arsenal’s attacking ace, Alexis Sanchez, but everything seemed to be turned up several notches after he was moved into a more advanced attacking role by the Gunners’ boss, Arsene Wenger. In the recently concluded season, Sanchez, in addition to almost doubling his goal tally from the season before, also finished as the only player to make it into double digits for both goals and assists (with 24 and 10, respectively). Now that the new season is about to kick off, what are we to expect from him? More of the same, right?

For:
  • After being made the furthest man forward by Arsene Wenger, there were times when Alexis Sanchez looked like he was still “bedding-into” his new role on the pitch. If he does continue to be deployed in the same position, this season, we expect that there’ll be no time wasted on adjusting and that can only spell trouble for opposing teams.
  • Even though he’s not the biggest of players, Alexis Sanchez is blessed with a great engine and looks almost inexhaustible, at times. If his minutes are managed right, he could end up being the only one firing on all cylinders at a time when other names on this list may start to run out of steam.
Against:
  • The Gunners’ signing of Alexandre Lacazette – who is a natural striker and goal-scorer – means that it is highly unlikely that Alexis Sanchez will continue to be Arsenal’s most advanced attacking option, in 2017/18.
  • Also, Alexis is still prone to having some of “those days” on the pitch where his decision making isn’t exactly the best in the world, and that could potentially prevent him from being as ruthlessly efficient as some of the other names on this list.
  • Finally, as of right now, Sanchez’s future and contract situation with his current club are still pretty much up in the air and our guess on what kind of effect that’s going to have on his game is as good as anyone else’s.

The Hybrid:

Romelu Lukaku:Romelu Lukaku - Manchester United

Lukaku’s spells at West Bromwich Albion and Everton were quite successful, but we expect that the rigours and challenges of playing for Manchester United will be a completely new prospect for him. Therefore, even though he’s technically been in the League for longer than anyone else here, we’ll be classifying him as a hybrid (somewhere between a Usual Suspect and a Newcomer) on this list.

In his final and most successful season at Everton, he broke the 20-goal barrier for the first time in his career (while also breaking a bunch of the club’s goal-scoring records) and came within inches of winning his first ever EPL Golden Boot, before a late outburst from Harry Kane cruelly snatched that away from him. There aren’t many who don’t agree that the Big Belgian has always possessed the physical gifts to be successful in the English top flight, and that’s why the general opinion was that his time at Chelsea was much shorter and less profitable than he truly deserved. Now that he’s proven himself across the League, he’s once again earned himself a move to one of its top clubs… will he be able to live up to the billing? Let’s look at what he’s got going for himself.

For:
  • He already looks like the prototypical target-man Jose Mourninho has come to be associated with for the bulk of his managerial career, and the Manchester United boss will undoubtedly hinge his plans to Lukaku and ride him until the wheels fall off (#pause). This means that he’ll never have to worry about a shortage of minutes, confidence and/or opportunities – three crucial ingredients in the breakfast of every successful goal-scorer.
  • Of the three players to have scored more than twenty goals, last season, he was the only one not to have another 10+ goal-scorer on his team. This would suggest that he’s already used to doing the heavy lifting and that the move to Manchester United (whose second highest goal-scorer could only manage 6 of them) will not be too jarring for him.
  • Apart from being able to fit into the Manchester United team, he should also be able to give them something they were sorely missing, and that’s the ability to convert clear-cut scoring opportunities into goals. According to premierleague.com, Zlatan Ibrahimovic lead the league in “Big Chances Missed”, last season, letting a whopping 18 of them go by the wayside, while Lukaku, on the other hand, lead the league in total number of clear-cut chances converted, with 18 of his 25 goals coming from them – and that’s a stat that’ll certainly be music to the ears of the Old Trafford faithful.
Against:
  • There really aren’t too many cons to the Lukaku-Manchester United arrangement. There’ll definitely be more eyes on him (many of which will belong to members of an increasingly expectant fanbase), a greater level of scrutiny for whatever mistakes he might make and the additional labours of competing on several fronts, but he should be able to handle most of it. What he will want to avoid, however, is a slow and clumsy start to the season. So, let’s see how it goes.

The Newcomers:

Next, we have the new boys (who are here to make some noise) in the League.

1. Alexandre Lacazette:Alexandre Lacazette - Arsenal

Ever since Robin van Persie left for Manchester United, Arsenal fans had been begging for the club to acquire a suitable replacement for the prolific Dutchman. Benzema, Higuain, Falcao, and about 47 other strikers failed to show up for their “scheduled medicals” with the club over the years and the situation was starting to look quite grim, but prayers seem to have finally been answered, now that they’ve secured the services of Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon (for real, this time). Having spent his entire career in France, before making the move, the striker built quite a reputation for himself in his home country, winning the Ligue 1 top goal-scorer award in 2014/15, before finishing second in both of the subsequent seasons.

Let’s look at the factors in favour of Alexandre Lacazette’s Golden Boot pursuit, shall we?

For:
  • He was the 8th highest goal-scorer across Europe’s top five leagues, in 2017/18 even though he started fewer games than anyone else in the top 10, and his conversion rate of 38.9% was the highest of the bunch.
  • The French striker has scored more league goals than Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck combined, in two of the last three seasons.
  • His pace, comfort with the ball at his feet, and his deadly finishing ability make him a very different proposition to head up the Arsenal attack, especially when compared to the other options they’ve had in the past, and if they can find a way to play to his strengths, he could take quite some stopping.
Against:
  • 10 of his 28 league goals came from the penalty spot, last season, and it’s unlikely that he’s going to get so many opportunities from 12 yards out, yet again. Still, his consistency at dispatching these opportunities is worthy of praise and he should be a reliable option if/when any similar ones arise in the future.
  • Ligue 1 signings haven’t had the best track record of adapting to and replicating their success(es) in the Premier League, and even though he’s got a French manager and a handful of compatriots in the squad, that’s still a potential problem to keep an eye on. (It’s also worth noting that the last 3 PFA Players of the Year were brought in from Ligues 1 & 2, so it could probably go either way.)

2. Alvaro Morata:Alvaro Morata - Chelsea

The striker with toughest job on this list would have to be Alvaro Morata, not only does he have to come in and improve a team that’s just won the title, he also has to replace the out-of-favour Diego Costa, whose goals won more points for his team than anyone else, during last season’s campaign. Morata scored 15 goals in La Liga, last season, finishing as the seventh highest goal-scorer in the league and his minutes-per-goal ratio (of 89 to 1) was second only to Lionel Messi. Even though he’s still relatively young, the striker has already enjoyed spells at two of the biggest clubs in Europe and appeared alongside some of the biggest names in world football. His move to Chelsea for a reported fee of €65 million has now made him the club’s most expensive transfer of all time.

So, what could he bring to the race for goals?

For:
  • He’s had to vie for opportunities with some of the best in the world, until now, but he’s shown a knack for making the most out of whatever chances come his way, thanks to efficient gameplay and a solid, all-round game… also, having played and scored in some of the biggest games around, he should be filled with enough confidence for the task ahead.
  • Thanks to his time at Juventus, he already has some experience with the “three defenders + wing backs” system which Antonio Conte likes to employ and it should take him little or no time to get comfortable in it. He’s also proven to be very useful on the counter-attack, so that should come in handy.
  • His record of 89 minutes-per-goal was only two minutes shy of Harry Kane’s 87 minutes, from last season. If he can keep up with the Tottenham striker’s goal-scoring exploits, this season, his first league campaign on English soil should be more than satisfactory.
Against:
  • Although he’s already been around for a few years; he’s never been in a team where he’s had to be the “main man”, making most of his appearances as an impact substitute or as a member of the second unit. Now that he’s a club-record signing, he’ll be expected to be up and running on every single day of the week.
  • It’s probably not going to be an issue, in the long run, but the highest number of starts Alvaro Morata has made in a single league season is 16 and he’s fallen short of the 2,000-minute mark in every season he’s played, so far. This means that his overall career mileage is still quite low and that he’ll have to make adjustments to his conditioning and mindset, to ensure that he does not get overwhelmed by the physical and mental demands of his new role.
  • Finally, there’s the mild issue of The Chelsea Curse that he has to contend with. They say the best way to predict the future is to look at the past, and ever since Roman Abramovich’s takeover of the club in 2003, a substantial amount of money has been spent on acquiring competent goal-scorers for the club, and only a few of these signings have borne any kind of fruit. So far, Didier Drogba and Diego Costa are the only ones who’ve recorded multiple seasons of 20+ goals for the club, while others like Fernando Torres, Hernan Crespo, Andriy Shevchenko, Adrian Mutu, Loic Remy and Falcao, failed to live up to the lofty expectations before them. Fans of The Blues will be hoping that Alvaro Morata can buck this trend.

3. Gabriel Jesus:Gabriel Jesus - Manchester City

He already has half-a-season of Premier League experience under his belt, but he was limited to a total of only ten appearances and 2017/18 is actually going to be his first full season in the EPL; these are just some of the reasons why we decided to add Gabriel Jesus to our “Newcomer” category. Whether scoring the goals or providing them, Jesus was always involved in the best parts of City’s attacking movements and the new levels of energy he brought to their frontline even led to noticeable increments in Sergio Aguero’s work rate and production. At the end of the day, the Brazilian had 7 goals and 4 assists to show for his remarkable efforts – and it is worth adding that, from a neutral standpoint, there probably isn’t anyone else whom we’re more excited to see than the 20-year-old.

To say that the young his start to life in the Premier League has been as good as anyone else’s would be a gross understatement. So, instead, let’s look at what he’s got going for himself…

For:
  • The only games in which he failed to register a goal or assist, last season, were: (1) against Tottenham – where he came on as an 82nd minute substitute, (2) against Bournemouth – where he had to be taken off after fracturing his metatarsal in the 15th minute, and (3) against Manchester United – where he came on as an 86th minute substitute. In other words, the young Brazilian failed to get among the goals only in games where he played fifteen minutes or less (and he still managed to find the net in both aforementioned substitute appearances, before learning, mid-celebration, that he had strayed offside).
  • It would almost be criminal to expect him to keep on producing at such a rate, especially over the course of 38 games, but the rare combination of adaptability, skill and hunger that he displayed in his first season (if sustained) will guarantee that he’ll be a force to be reckoned with, both in the coming Premier League season and for years to come.
Against:
  • There really aren’t any factors standing in the way of Gabriel Jesus, this season, especially if he doesn’t lose any of the qualities that made us love him in the first place. The competition from Aguero will mean that there’ll be fewer goals to go around, but Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge did finish the 2013/14 season as the top two goal-scorers in the league, so maybe competition isn’t always a bad thing.

The Outsiders:

To round off the list, we have The Outsiders; those who aren’t quite up there with the best of them, but have just enough about themselves to maybe put up a meaningful chase (or even pull off a surprising steal), when it’s all said and done. Stranger things have happened, after all.

1. Jamie Vardy:Jamie Vardy - Leicester City

Less than two years ago, Jamie Vardy was having a party and it looked like the former non-league player was going to add an improbable Golden Boot win to an even less probable title win for Leicester City. Alas, the top scorer award was not to be his, as his final tally of 24 goals left him one shy of the 25 scored by the eventual winner of the award, Harry Kane. The 2016/17 season; however, was a stark and very dark contrast to the one which preceded it, for Vardy and his teammates. On their way to becoming the worst defending champions of the Premier League era, it seemed like everyone had finally caught up to their antics and there was nothing they could do about it, but a silver lining appeared for them when Craig Shakespeare was appointed, and he oversaw Leicester City’s return to a more counter-attacking style of play – a system which once helped Vardy score in 11 consecutive games, setting the new League record, back in 2015/16. With the old system back in place, Vardy finished off the 2016/17 season with 8 goals in his last 13 games and if The Foxes continue to improve under Shakespeare, it could, once again, be party time for Mr. Vardy.

2. Joshua King:Joshua King - Bournemouth

2017, so far, has unmistakably been a breakout year for Joshua King. After scoring only 3 goals in the first half of the season, it looked like it would be another so-so season for the man who had only scored 8 goals in his 3 previous league seasons. With untimely injuries to several of Bournemouth’s attacking options, the 25-year-old Norwegian Supporting Striker decided to step into the team’s goal-scoring boots and he filled them with some aplomb. 13 goals in a 16-game stretch (while playing for Bournemouth!) put him on a total of 16 for the season and helped him finish as the ninth highest goal-scorer in the League. As far as 2017 in the EPL is concerned, there are only two players; Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku – with 21 and 15 goals, respectively – who are ahead of Joshua King on the goal-scoring charts. If King can somehow manage to step into the new season with the same confidence – and even a fraction of the goal ratio – he’s had all year, we could have yet another elite EPL goal getter on our hands.

3. Jermain Defoe:Jermain Defoe - Bournemouth

Playing ahead of or across from Josh King, this season, will be Jermain Defoe and he is another one who could potentially gatecrash the Golden Boot race. Since turning 32, Defoe’s had back to back seasons of 15 goals, twice finishing among the top fifteen goal-scorers in the League – while playing for Sunderland, of all teams. Even as he steps into his mid-thirties, we still expect him to be a huge upgrade on Benik Afobe (who made the most appearances in the center forward position for The Cherries, last season), and with his new team and teammates being several times better than the ones he had in the past two seasons, we expect Defoe to go on to achieve great success at Bournemouth and hopefully surpass his Premier League career-high of 18 goals in a single season.

4. Wayne Rooney:Wayne Rooney - Everton

As a wishful continuation of what has been one of the true feel-good stories of the summer, our final “Outsider” pick for the Premier League’s Golden Boot race is Wayne Rooney. 13 years, 16 trophies, 253 goals and several misplaced strands of hair later, the local lad made a much-celebrated return to Merseyside and it would make for a great story if he could make any significant contributions on the pitch in his comeback season. The 31-year-old has declined as a goal-scorer over the past few years and the seasonal award for England’s top goal-scorer is one of the few which have eluded him throughout the course of his illustrious league career, but he’s the second highest goal-scorer in the history of the League for a reason… and, hey, stranger things have happened.

These are our picks for the season, broken down into different categories. Do you agree with any or all of them? Is there anyone you think we missed out on? You’re welcome to sound off your opinions in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading, enjoy the season ahead.