Deadly, lethal, prolific -- just a few adjectives often used to describe Team Limey's nightclub performances on a Saturday night. Back in the real world, these are apt descriptions of the elite goal-scorers discussed in this week's column. More specifically, we're looking at who we think will be donning the Golden Boot as the English Premier League's top scorer this season.
It's basic logic that high-scoring teams reside towards the top end of the league. Indeed, over the last eight seasons, the EPL's top scorer has played for one of the sides finishing in the top four. There's a plethora of striking talent across the "Big Four," and whether a player becomes the league's top scorer isn't just down to individual talent; it's also driven by his team's formation and strategy and the other personnel in the squad.
The departures of Carlos Tévez and Cristiano Ronaldo (the league's top scorer in 2007-08 and runner-up last season) from Old Trafford have triggered a rearrangement of Manchester United's attack. Over the last two or three seasons, Ronaldo excelled as United's chief scorer, while Tévez (when he actually played) lined up in the central role. That forced Wayne Rooney to play wherever he could fit, which usually meant a roaming role on the left or right side of the attack, not a position which would provide the goal return we anticipated from Rooney when he first burst onto the scene.
So far this season, Rooney is playing in a central role and has scored four goals in four league matches. He's also on fire for England, with 10 goals in his last eight outings. Brimming with confidence, and determined to have a strong season ahead of next summer's trip to South Africa, Rooney is a prime candidate to finish on top of the scoring pile.
After successfully deploying Dimitar Berbatov there late last season, Sir AlexFerguson has vowed also to play the Bulgarian further forward. Berbatov bagged 15 goals in '07-08, a total that, after a disappointing time at Old Trafford last season, he'll be keen to improve. A lethal marksman, Berbatov is an outside contender for top scorer; his lack of pace and Rooney's eye for goal may though hold him back, however. Conversely, bettered only by Robin van Persie's 11 for Arsenal, Berbatov created 10 assists last season and may prove invaluable to Rooney's statistics.
The Rooney-Michael Owen partnership never quite worked for England, and we can't see why it will gel this season for the reigning EPL champions. Given his record alongside Rooney and his recent fitness problems, Owen is expected to be used sparingly by Ferguson as an impact substitute and therefore has to be ruled out as a genuine candidate for the Golden Boot. Owen's now fragile confidence won't be improved by England boss Fabio Capello again not selecting him for the England squad.
At Liverpool, Fernando Torres is the main man and, realistically, the only player at the club with a chance of winning the Golden Boot. Steven Gerrard scores regularly with his bursting runs, and from free kicks and penalties. His tally, though high for a midfielder, won't beat all comers.
As Liverpool's only out-and-out goal-scorer, Torres is in a strong position to improve on his '07-08 haul of 24 EPL goals. However, "El Niño" has started the season slowly and looks tired, the Confederations Cup possibly taking effect. With the likes of AndriyVoronin and David N'Gog as backups, Rafa Benítez will want to keep Torres on the field as much as possible. The main concern is when he will have the chance to recharge his batteries and whether too much rests on his young shoulders.
At Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti has diversified away from the single pronged attack favored by his predecessors, José Mourinho, Avram Grant and LuizFelipe Scolari. Anceloti's Italian approach has involved the deployment of both of Chelsea's main forwards -- Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba -- who happen to be two of the most deadly strikers in EPL history. With Chelsea's offensive record, both will score freely, but in terms of the top scorer's table, playing as the only central striker pays dividends. This week's ruling preventing Chelsea from signing anyone over the next two transfer windows will prevent further internal competition. That should mean that Anelka will be pacified by the renewed contract he's demanding.
Arsenal has numerous striking possibilities, even with the departure of Emmanuel Adebayor to Manchester City. Arsène Wenger's options include van Persie, Eduardo, Nicklas Bendtner, Andrei Arshavin, Carlos Vela and even Theo Walcott. Given the Frenchman's fondness for rotating his front line to suit the opponent, and the fluidity of positions, will any of Wenger's forwards have the same quantity of playing time in front of goal as Rooney, Torres, Anelka or Drogba?
If, come May, the EPL's top scorer plays for a club outside the Big Four, he'll likely play for Aston Villa, Everton, Manchester City or Tottenham, the teams that, lacking a neat catch-all adjective, we'll underwhelmingly term the "Quite Big Four."
Filled with the autumnal excitement of chasing a Champions League spot, and after this hope becomes forlorn, racing for Europa League qualification and trips to nuclear power plant towns in the former USSR, how many goals can their impressive array of strikers bag? Will Kevin Phillips, whose haul for Sunderland in '99-00 won the honors, be replaced as the last EPL top scorer from outside the Big Four?
With four goals thus far, Spurs striker Jermain Defoe has jumped out to the early lead. In a career hampered by injury and falling out of favor with multiple managers, the prolific Defoe surprisingly has never bagged more than 13 goals in a season. Buoyed by first-team football at a "Quite Big" club, and becoming central to Capello's thinking, Defoe is firing. Highlights have already included scoring both goals in England's 2-2 draw in the Netherlands and a hat-trick for Spurs at Hull.
But it takes consistency to win the Golden Boot. Currently partnering Defoe is Robbie Keane, while Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko wait in the wings. Should Harry Redknapp decide the Spurs attack needs some height, 5-foot-6 Defoe could be caught short. Keane also has pedigree and, after his disastrous short-lived time at Liverpool, much to prove. Can he build on his '04-05 haul of 16 league goals for Spurs?
With 24 goals, new Man. City signing Adebayor was, when at Arsenal, the second top scorer of '07-08. Last season, dogged by minor injuries and an almost audible baying Arsenal crowd who had turned against him, Adebayor underperformed. Now, with three goals in as many games, he's back to his best and, after Gareth Barry, looking Mark Hughes' most inspired summer signing.
"As soon as you play for a team where the fans love you and are always behind you, you try to give them something back," Adebayor told Sky Sports.
Tall and strong, with a deft touch and a turn of pace, the Togolese striker is difficult to defend against, whether running at defenders or competing for crosses. Often the axis of City's attacks, Adebayor drops back to hold up the ball and feed teammates' runs forward before accelerating into the box to pounce. In Tévez, Robinho, Stephen Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips, he has quite a support cast.
Remember when Louis Saha burst onto the scene with 27 goals for Fulham in '00-01? Two goals already have given a hint of a long overdue return to form for the Frenchman with Everton. Can Tim Cahill and Steven Pienaar provide assists? Over at Aston Villa, expect slightly more or less than 10 goals each from Gabriel Agbonlahor, Emile Heskey and John Carew, depending on their individual game minutes.
No other player realistically has a shot at being the top scorer. And that's not to demean a lot of adept strikers, but outside the leading clubs, the number of chances created is lower. Sunderland's Darren Bent perhaps will mount the best challenge, but don't expect him to crack the top of the leaderboard.
That top five will, we think, finish in the following order: Torres, Rooney, Drogba, Adebayor and Defoe. Rooney, a man in form who is focused on his own target of 30 goals in all competitions, may just be tipped by hit man Torres, the fulcrum of Liverpool's offense.
Last time out, we asked for your predictions for the EPL title. A clean sweep of you went for Chelsea or Manchester United. We don't blame you. Even when Burnley defeated Manchester United and Everton to make it six points out of a possible 9, the newcomers were still a long shot. This time out, we're after your thoughts on who will be the EPL's top scorer. And to those wits amongst you, please invent a humorous collective term for the Europa League spot challengers and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.