The Golden Boot is still up for grabs… But who’s plotting to pick it up?
Harry Kane – The Model
Injured a lot, yet nailing the Golden Boot anyway – he doesn’t know how he does it himself.
Basic Info: Twenty-three years old, six-foot, two-inch tall and 190-pounds heavy forward. Known for spending roughly 18 months of his early teenage youth at Arsenal, before roaming again and ending up in the nest of Gooners’ most hated rivals. Later also known as the only Tottenham player capable of scoring in each derby with Arsenal he’d appear in. A shining example to all young footballers, as he’s married to his high school sweetheart and has never been seen in a pub on a Friday night or smoking a joint. Half-Irish on his dad’s behalf, supports UFC superstar, Connor McGregor. Once, spent a year in a footballing purgatory called ‘League One’. Former One Season Wonder; currently, a Three Season Wonder.
Main Strength: Pure finishing. Kane is a quality striker who almost always manages to work the goalkeeper and doesn’t hesitate to try his luck even from the most difficult positions. His style of aiming low and not using excessive force at times resembles Leo Messi – given just a little space to shoot, he’ll surely find a way to trouble the goalie. Also, unlike many others strikers these days, he’s particularly dangerous when it comes to long shots, allowing himself to be a thread from the distance, when he drops deeper to help the team.
Main Weakness: One may argue that Kane’s pace is lacking, which forces his manager to search for different solutions on a counterattack: “If there is one thing that makes me hesitate then it is the lack of pace that I think might hold him back” – said Paul Scholes in May 2015, upon being asked whether Kane will establish himself as a Premier League regular. However, since Spurs’ forward pulled it all off, there’s another issue that continues to hold him back: it’s his notoriously slow start to the season, marked by summer goal droughts.
EPL goals. Harry Kane (silver line) has a last-gasp hurrah on the award – and it’s working.
Standout Performance: Happened yesterday’s night, in Leicester. During a single game, played against freshly dethroned Premier League champions, Kane has secured Tottenham’s biggest away league win since 1989, joined Fowler, Henry, Shearer and van Persie as an EPL player with two, back-to-back 25+ goal seasons and jumped back in the Golden Boot lead for the first time since March. Kasper Schmeichel, the most consistent Foxes’ performer over the last 36 months, could hardly do anything against the inspired finishing of Spurs’ #9 – and neither did the experimental, centre-back duo of Christian Fuchs and Yohan Benalouane.
Game to Forget: A trip to Stadium of Light on a final day of January. The fourth-worst defence in the league has managed to put two, uncharacteristically strong performances against Tottenham this season, falling 0-1 at White Hart Lane after a close fight and salvaging a draw at home in a rematch. During the latter clash, Kane has been kept very quiet by Lamine Koné, not even managing to work Jordan Pickford once. In a retrospect, it was this result that made Spurs’ life much harder, as Chelsea have comfortably outplayed Arsenal four days later and only extended their big lead that continued until this day.
Final Fixture: Hull City (away).
Chances of Coronation: After the Thursday show at Leicester, Kane has basically won the Golden Boot already. He’ll be visiting the relegated Hull side that recently embarrassed itself twice against Sunderland and Crystal Palace. Even considering Tigers’ home record and a potential, shopping-window performance from some of their players, it’s hard to imagine them stopping the in-form forward. Who, by the way, doesn’t even need to do that much anymore: all he needs is to score one goal less than Lukaku and two less than Sánchez.
The Future: With Champions League football secured and a contract until 2022 in effect, Kane will surely be leaving White Hart Lane this summer – but only because Spurs are relocating to Wembley Stadium this summer. Even though his wages aren’t too impressive (£120.000 per week; even Jesse Lingard comes close to that kind of quid), there’s just no team out there that would pay £80-£90 million for his services and simultaneously persuade him to leave the ultra-strong Tottenham side: ‘We’re going into bigger and better things’ – said the man in question after a win over Manchester United. He’s probably right.
Romelu Lukaku – The Tank
“Tanks redirect enemy attacks toward themselves in order to protect other characters or units.”
Basic Info: Twenty-four years old, six-foot, three-inch tall, 207 pounds heavy forward. A freak of nature, outgrowing his junior colleagues physically since he was ten. A victim of rough upbringing, went through a meat grinder of Chelsea loan system at the age of 18. Missed a crucial penalty in 2013 UEFA Super Cup final, which prompted José Mourinho to sell the lad. Everton’s record signing, scored more career goals before 23rd birthday than Michael Owen and Cristiano Ronaldo. Used to be called ‘the new Didier Drogba and accused of being older than he claims to be on the social media. “You want to be remembered by winning trophies at the end of the day.” – he said recently, announcing his Everton departure.
Main Strength: Strength. Lukaku is basically a monster. It’s almost unfair to send him out against any normal human being unlucky enough to be a professional centre-back – the guy will get bulldozed in a heartbeat. Among the few, who survived the onslaught with just few minor scratches, are: Swansea’s Federico Fernández, Chelsea’s David Luiz and Manchester United’s Marcos Rojo. Lukaku, though, singles out someone else: “Koscielny (…) is really good. He’s not the biggest, but I think he’s got the brains.”
Main Weakness: It’s big-game performances that keep haunting the Belgian international. This season, he’s been reduced to the role of a bystander twice against his former club Chelsea and twice against The Toffees’ derby rivals, Liverpool. Twelve games against the traditional English ‘top 6’ saw him scoring just three goals, out of which only one, netted in January against Manchester City, would secure Everton’s victory. “Does he do it in the big games?” – asked Gary Neville three weeks ago on Sky Sports. No, Gary – he doesn’t.
EPL shots on target. Romelu Lukaku (blue line) has been leading this chart for months.
Standout Performance: February demolition of Bournemouth. In the most ridiculous game possible, the Belgian monster struck just 30 seconds in, equalling Pedro’s record of the fastest Premier League goal this season. The Cherries later have come back into it thanks to Joshua King’s brace, but Lukaku was soon back to what he does best – which is striking late in the situations where Everton are still in the lead. “Romelu showed that he is one of the best finishers in football.” – Ronald Koeman summarized the four-goal show.
Game to Forget: Out of all his mediocre performances, one that disappointed everyone the most was the away derby with Liverpool. At Anfield, Lukaku was more isolated than Robinson Crusoe and never really got his game going. He didn’t produce a single shot and couldn’t even use his physical presence properly, losing 9 out of 13 aerial duels he’d enter against Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip. His team might’ve managed to come back into the game despite going 0-1 down but some basic defensive mistakes cost them yet another defeat.
Final Fixture: Arsenal (away).
Chances of Coronation: Given Arsenal’s fine form recently and their surprisingly strong defending in a 3-4-3 system, Lukaku’s brace at Emirates seems extremely unlikely. He’s probably going to face his arch-enemy, Koscielny in a duel – and the Frenchman will do everything in his power to stop the Belgian threat, as it would directly boost Alexis’ Golden Boot odds. Furthermore, on Sunday morning, Lukaku will be on 36 days without a single Premier League goal. It would take a miracle for all those circumstances to reverse.
The Future: The giant is leaving Goodison Park for good. His dream would be Diego Costa-less Chelsea with a potential, £70 million buy-back transfer on the cards. Alas: a lot of things need to happen before it materializes. After all, the Chinese link for Costa has only been an unconfirmed winter rumour and The Blues still have Michy Batshuayi lined up for the Spaniard’s spot. So maybe it’s time for Manchester United instead? Red Devils are supposedly ready to offer Wayne Rooney and a lot of money in exchange…
Alexis Sánchez – The Hero
Doing it all by himself; this season, Alexis single-handedly perked Arsenal up.
Basic Info: Twenty-eight years old, five-foot, five-inch tall and 137-pounds heavy forward or winger. His first football boots were a reward for scoring eight goals in a single youth game; he’d later donate funds to build five synthetic grass football pitches in his dusty, native village of Tocopilla. Debuted in Chilean national team a year before he was legally allowed to purchase beer. Reportedly kicked out of Barcelona by Messi’s whim to have a proper goal poacher in Blaugrana’s starting XI; Alexis had his small revenge on the Argentinian last year, in a tense Copa America final. He’s also known for laughing at his own teammates from the dugouts and posing to Instagram photos with his dogs.
Main Strength: Lack of weaknesses. Sánchez is the type of player than can do about anything; the type of player his teammates feed with passes because they’re confident he’s going to stir something up. His footwork remains quickest in England; his curling shots ruin clean sheets and his cooperation with Mesut Özil in those clever, short-range passing moves has been getting better and better. Even in terms of winning aerial battles, he’s improved; see: the game against Sunderland at Stadium of Light. In short: a complete package.
Main Weakness: For Alexis, the main weakness is that he has Arsenal team around him. Week after week, it was him, who’s been the instigator of positive change, scoring dozens of goals and assisting whenever he could. Still: unlike Hazard for Chelsea or Eriksen for Tottenham – it did not lead Gunners anywhere because the teammates would refuse to step up. Aaron Ramsey, Héctor Bellerín, Nacho Monreal, Francis Coquelin, Özil… the list of players who’ve been letting down their Chilean leader on a weekly basis is long.
EPL shots attempted. Alexis Sánchez (red line) has been well above his two rivals – but wasteful.
Standout Performance: There were many. However, a 5-1 away victory over West Ham first comes to mind. Yes: it’s just West Ham and their constantly terrible defending; yes: it’s been a bit of a struggle, as Arsenal waited until the final 20 minutes to obtain something more than just a 1-0 lead. Still: considering the spoils of war (three goals and one assist) and their time frame (scoring that hat-trick took just 14 minutes) – the choice couldn’t have been different. So let’s just consider the brace at Sunderland a close second.
Game to Forget: Two-legged nightmare against Bayern in the Champions League would be the first instinct. Alas: the Chilean was actually the only Gunner to come out of it with a shred of credibility; in fact, those 162 minutes have probably convinced Bavarians to get interested in his signature. So that leaves a February visit to Stamford Bridge. Hazard 1, Alexis 0; the Belgian scored a stunner while his AFC counterpart didn’t even get to try a single shot on Thibaut Courtois’ goal, getting dispossessed five times. Not good enough.
Final Fixture: Everton (home)
Chances of Coronation: For starters, Sánchez needs a hat-trick. It’s not out of question: after all, he’s been doing great against both Stoke and Sunderland. Also, Everton maintain a terrible, winless record at Emirates since the 1995/96 season. To make things even more encouraging: Gunners boast a recent history of netting many goals on a final day with Giroud’s three against Aston Villa last year coming to mind. The chance is there – but, above everything else, Arsenal have to just win and pray that Liverpool slip against Middlesbrough.
The Future: Let’s face it – Arsenal are not moving forward. Wenger’s contract is likely to be extended and with it, the chances of Gunners picking up silverware next season should remain as slim as they are at the moment. In view of those facts, Alexis’ move elsewhere remains likely. The Chelsea direction has been suggested for months but new options are emerging every week, with Bayern Munich and Manchester City being on the cards. The Germany awaits; Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben are both old and tired…