Top 30: Strikers

The way in which football has changed as a game has led to necessity for changes in style all over the pitch. Keepers have more responsibilty, defenders are often box-to-box players, midfielders are more demonstrative than they are physical, and strikers are expected to employ a higher-than-traditional workrate. Once upon a Sunday afternoon, a striker would be a tall, boastingly strong figure who received high balls over the top of the defence, who never really made his way out of his respective attacking third of the pitch. Nowadays, a striker is often found starting a counter-attack from his own team’s box, or making last ditch tackles when the defenders themselves are lost in no-man’s land. Some strikers, of course, are still “lazy” and prefer to linger closer to the opposition goal. But they do not rank highly here, as Vantage Football explore some statistics, and determine rankings for some of the world’s most revered finishers. This, ladies and gentlemen, is our Top 30.

30: Klaas Jan Huntelaar 30 Klaas Jan Huntelaar

Age: 29

Current Club: Schalke 04

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 14 goals, 5 assists

Huntelaar is a massive name in football past, who is currently playing in the Bundesliga. The Dutchman is a regular starter with “Die Königsblauen“, who finished in 4th place this term -10 points behind 3rd placed Leverkusen. The ex-Ajax and Madrid hitman is a naturally gifted finisher, who also holds the ball up very well to support his team mates. However, his defensive workrate is very low, which seems to be somewhat characteristic of him, and is a tarnish on the quality of his all-round game. For this reason, and his loss of a yard or two of pace over recent years, he has only been ranked 30th, despite being somewhat of a legend to many.

29: Mame Biram Diouf30 Mame Biram Diouf

Age: 25

Current Club: Hannover 96

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 15 goals, 8 assists

At number 30, we have ex-Manchester United striker Mame Biram Diouf. The Senegalese frontman has been consistent for Hannover 96 since joining them in January 2012, and is a key man for the German side, starting 29 games this season in all competitions. His key attribute is his aerial ability, however his all-round game, in terms of passing and crossing lets him down. However, he still has a fairly impressive striking record, and deserves his spot in the top 30.

28: Olivier Giroud 28 Olivier Giroud

Age: 26

Current Club: Arsenal

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 13 goals, 7 assists

Twenty-eighth place may seem a little harsh for this Frenchman, but it can be justified. He has the makings of a complete striker – but has he left it too late to achieve a high prolific status? His aerial ability, long, short, and through passes, as well as long shots and short ones are all technically sound. In terms of ability, there is no doubting what Olivier could do for the Gunners, having oreviously impressed in France playing for Montpellier. However, at which stage in a player’s career does he stop having “potential” and start being just one who never quite made the cut? It’s a subjective margin, and one which I feel Olivier is yet to reach. He has more on offer than we saw last season – he still has time to prove himself, and move up the ranks to being closer to the world’s greatest modern strikers.

27: Christian Benteke 27 Christian Benteke

Age: 22

Current Club: Aston Villa

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 22 goals*, 4 assists

*3 of these goals were for Genk, from whom he was signed on 31st August 2012.

Christian Benteke is the spearhead of a fresh, young Aston Villa team. It has been uttered that without his services up front, Villa would have joined QPR and Reading in being relegated from the Premier League. His massive 19 Premier League goals in his debut season is a very impressive feat – not all 22 year olds can adjust so quickly to life in a new country, playing for a new team. Benteke has the makings of a terrifying striker, and is bound to start every game for the Belgian national team if and when they qualify for the World Cup next year. His aerial presence is a key characteristic, whilst his overall physical strength as well as clinical finishing and a decent range of passing ability show high promise. The young Belgian has been likened to Didier Drogba, who is a role model for many strikers. Watch out for Benteke next season, as it promises to be his best yet!

26 Burak Yilmaz26: Burak Yilmaz

Age: 27

Current Club: Galatasaray

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 32 goals, 0 assists

Yilmaz has a scintillating record, with 32 goals from 31 league and Champions League starts last season. Why then, is someone of that standard so far down the rankings, I here you ask? It’s simple: he seems to play to score, and does not contribute to the team as a whole. We can see that he has ZERO assists, despite having Didier Drogba alongside him at Galatasaray. This makes it quite clear that Yilmaz is the trigger of the gun, rather than the ammunition. He shoots whenever he finds himself in a situation where his causing of a ripple in the back of the opposition net is plausible. This selfishness has led to him sliding down the rankings, as he is in no way a complete forward. His age also lets him down slightly, as he is at the peak of his career, and after next season, we may see him lose a yard of pace, or drop his clinical fashion of play. Sorry Burak, bu25 Roberto Soldadot goals aren’t everything.

25: Roberto Soldado

Age: 28

Current Club: Valencia CF

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 26 goals, 5 assists

Soldado is another ageing striker down in the bottom third of the list, who never really broke away and became something special. Granted, his finishing ability is brilliant, and he has an instinctive striking ability. He is a credit to Valencia, who he has played for since 2010, making over 100 appearances. However, besides his finishing and his ability to hold the ball up and wait for support, he does not have much to offer. He’s not the fastest frontman around and is relatively weak in the air. The 5ft 10″ Spaniard has made only 7 appearances for his senior national team since 2007, with players such as Torres and Villa seen as better options. This is where a hint of misfortune comes in for Roberto – if he was of any other nationality, he would probably have found himself starting most international matches for his country, but he was born into the now Golden era for Spain, and has therefore missed out a bit.

24: Wilfried Bony 25 Wilfried Bony

Age: 27

Current Club: Vitesse

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 31 goals**

**no data on assists

Wilfried Bony seems to slip under the radar of most who consider the world’s best strikers. It may be because Vitesse are comparatively unknown alongide other European teams. This is a shame. As a great admirer of Bony, I feel he should gain more recognition. I fully expect rumors to start flying around of an English club such as Chelsea or Arsenal being in to sign him this summer, as his 31 goals have been from 30 starts in the Dutch Eredivisie, and zero substitue appearances. Bony is a tall, physically strong forward, and would be a great fit in the Premier League, where I feel he would show his worth, and through higher standard of play in a tougher league, would justify a move further up the Top 30.

23: Gonzalo Higuain 23 Gonzalo Higuain

Age: 25

Current Club: Real Madrid

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 16 goals, 7 assists

Gonzalo Gerardo Higuain is a striker who is sometimes overlooked at Real Madrid, as he has to compete with the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema, and Di Maria for a place in the starting 11. Making 12 starts and 12 substitute appearances in La Liga and the Champions League, and playing a part in 23 goals in these games is a great record. Higuain’s strength is his sharp finishing, and he is known for scoring goals from both long range and from creating chances in a packed opposition box. However, his offside awareness is poor, and he often gets caught out by the offside trap when trying to catch an easy headstart onto through balls. The Argentinian is frequently touted as a target for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, but if he is to make a move to the Premier League, it would probably be best to do it this summer, rather than leaving it another season or two when he may start to struggle, especially with the adaptation required in a new league.

22 Javier Chicharito Hernandez22: Javier Hernandez

Age: 25

Current Club: Manchester United

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 13 goals, 3 assists

Chicharito is arguably one of the most instinctive finishers on the planet. He’s a thorn in the side of opposition defenders, as high high agility and speed make him very difficult to mark, and very easy to lose sight of all together. He is well known for his predatory instincts inside the box, and his ability to kep the ball is also very impressive, given his size. Like Higuain however, his tendency to find himself in offside positions is very high, which often results in missed chances, particularly on counter-attacks. His lack of a regular starting place in a United side brimming with talent and competition is the only thing holding him down in the 20s on this list – I feel that he could break the top 10 or 15 in the next few years if given a chance to show his ability week in, week out.

21: Fernando Llorente 21 Fernando Llorente

Age: 28

Current Club: Bilbao (Juventus as of 1st July)

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 5 goals, 3 assists

You may have been told that stats don’t lie, but in the case of Fernando Llorente’s season, they do. When looking at raw stats for goals and assists, 2012/13 appears to have been a shocker for the Spaniard – but it hasn’t. It has been a frustrating one, but not in terms of his goal return. He dropped out of favour at Bilbao this season, and only made 6 starts, as oposed to his 26 substitute appearances. In the latter half of the season, Bilbao were unhappy that he agreed to join Juventus on 1st July 2013, which led to a continuation of Fernando not msking the starting 11. Despite this, he fully deserves his place in the world’s top 30 strikers – if he didn’t, why would an ever-strengthening Juventus team have bought him? Llorente’s aerial abillity is very good, which is aided by his height of 1m 95cm – he is taller than a number of goalkeepers. He isn’t just lanky though, he is also physically strong and his style of play is well suited to his new destination in the Serie A.

Didier Drogba, Galatasaray20: Didier Drogba

Age: 35

Current Club: Galatasaray

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 6 goals**

**no data on assists

Didier Drogba. “The Drog”… The Ivorian goal machine is getting on a bit now, but still has what it takes to score goals. Having won the Champions League with Chelsea in May 2012, he decided to broaden his horizons and join Galatasaray of Turkey. The veteran diesel-drinker scored 6 goals from 15 starts in the Turkish Super Lig and UEFA Champions League this season, which is brilliant for a man of 35 years. Known for his physical strength and lethal finishing, Drogba maintains those characteristics to date. He loves playing through balls both along the ground and aerially for his team-mates, and enjoys a shot from distance when he feels he’s in range of the goal. A legend to some, Drogba is definitely one of the best strikers of the generation coming to an end, and this may have been his final season in the top 30.

19: Karim Benzema19 Karim Benzema

Age: 25

Current Club: Real Madrid

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 15 goals, 14 assists

Benzema was bought by Real Madrid from Olympique Lyon on 1st July 2009. Since then, he has scored over 120 goals for “Los Blancos”. That’s an average of 30+ goals per season, which shows you just how special this Frenchman is. His 29 goal contributions this season come from 24 starts and 15 substitute appearances in Liga BBVA and the Champions League. Benzema likes to cut inside onto his other foot to wrong-foot opposition defenders, and can score from all sorts of positions and ranges. He is another striker of seemingly un-human instinct, and is a huge threat no matter the balance of the game. He could easily move further up the rankings with better offside awareness. His disciplinary record is also exemplar, with zero yellow or red cards last season. I believe he is yet to peak, and could be at his most dangerous in the 2014-15 season.

18 Mario Mandzukic18: Mario Mandzukic

Age: 27

Current Club: Bayern Munich

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 18 goals, 2 assists

In the 60th minute of the Champions League final, Mario was man to open the scoring…. no, not Mario Gomez, or Mario Gotze; it was the Croatian frontman, Mario Mandzukic. After impressing at Euro 2012, Mandzukic was snapped up by Bayern for an undisclosed fee. With 34 league and Champions league appearances last for the Germans, he hit 18 goals and provided 2 – putting his goal contribution at 0.66 per start. He is incredibly strong in the air, perhaps the most potent we have looked at yet. He is also a massive team player, and has a high work rate going forward and getting back to defend when he is needed the most. He definitely gets stuck in, and is fouled/commits fouls frequently. He has perhaps peaked already, across the 2011/12 and 2012/13 campaigns, so expect his game to change slightly in the coming years.

17: Mario Balotelli 17 Mario Balotelli

Age: 22

Current Club: AC Milan

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 14 goals, 1 assist*

*2 of these goals were for Manchester City, from whom he was signed on 31st January 2013

What words can be used to describe Mario Barwuah Balotelli? The man is a maverick – a controversial genius. He is clinical from the penalty spot, and scored a last minute winner from 12 yards for Milan on his debut in February. After his transfer from the defending Premier League champions, Balotelli scored 13 goals in 14 appearances for “i Rossoneri”, and many of these goals proved decisive. His only real weakness is his discipline, whilst his key strengths are his defensive contribution, finishing, and dribbling. The future is bright for young Mario, as long as he keeps himself out of trouble.

16 David Villa16: David Villa

Age: 31

Current Club: FC Barcelona

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 10 goals, 6 assists

Renowned for his spectacular finising ability, David Villa fully deserves his spot in the top 30, despite only having scored 10 goals last season. It’s not easy to steal the headlines and score in every game when you have the likes of Francesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi to contend with for a starting spot! Villa was deployed as a substitute in 43% of his appearances in Liga BBVA and the Champions League this season – often in situations where Barcelona were cruising and were not in dire need of his killer goal-scoring instinct to salvage the match. He is getting older, however, and I think it is safe to say this season just gone will be Villa’s last inside the top 20 strikers in the world – unless he moves away from Barcelona into a starting role elsewhere, which may revive his goal-scoring ruthlessness.

15: Carlos Tevez15 Carlos Tevez

Age: 29

Current Club: Manchester City

Goals/Assists 2012-13:  11 goals, 8 assists

Tevez…. You know he’s a character when you find out that his surname was changed for “footballing reasons” during a dispute over a transfer in Argentina – his birth name is Carlos Alberto Martinez. Anyway, I digress. Tevez is a marmite figure, you either love him or hate him – but regardless of your stance on him as a person, his footballing ability can not be ignored. He is a born striker, and has made his impact no matter what shirt he’s turned out in – from West Ham to Manchester United to Manchester City – and I wouldn’t rule out another transfer, either. His key characteristics on the pitch are his dribbling and his ability to hold onto the ball, and he is also a massive threat from set pieces. His abilities are best employed in a swift counter-attacking team, as were Manchester United in the 2007/08 season, where he starred alongside Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

14 Stephan El Shaarawy14: Stephan El Shaarawy

Age: 20

Current Club: AC Milan

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 18 goals, 6 assists

“El Sha” as he is commonly known is supposedly a striker – but I think he’s more of a left-attacking midfielder or left-winger. This is because, despite 18 goals from 45 appearances this season, his crosses and longer shots seem to be of a much higher quality than his finishing in and around the box. With Balotelli playing as a central striker, and El Shaarawy and Niang on their respective wings, the goal return would be much bigger than having Stephan play through the centre. His record last season shows that he performs better away from home – he scored only 28% of his Serie A and Champions League goals at the San Siro. Along with his 24 goal contributions, Stephan El Shaarawy picked up 6 Man of the Match awards last season – yet another sign of promise for the young Italian.

13: Antonio Di Natale13 Antonio Di Natale

Age: 35

Current Club: Udinese

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 26 goals, 5 assists

For a 35 year old (36 this year!), 26 goals in one season is an incredible feat. What is more, contributing to 31 goals in 39 appearances (a rate of contribution per game of nearly 80%!) is simply outstanding – and Di Natale doesn’t look finished yet! Last season was the fourth consecutive season in which he broke the 20 goal barrier, and he has received high praise from outside the club and inside the club. His attitude on and off the pitch is admirable, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone who dislikes the veteran Italian. His strenghts lie in his sharp finishing and ablity from setp ieces, whilst he is also a good crosser of the ball, and is very well disciplined. His main weakness, like with many other strikers who are close to or over the dreaded 30, is his defensive workrate – but who can blame him? At his age, reserving his energy to score goals probably benefits the team more than making himself tired with tireless box-to-box runs. I think it is safe to say Di Natale is one of the world’s most loved strikers, as well as one of its best.

12 Stevan Jovetic12: Stevan Jovetic

Age: 23

Current Club: Fiorentina

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 13 goals, 5 assists

Starting 80% of Fiorentina’s Serie A games this season, and recieving a man of the man reward in 3 of them is bound to boost any 23 year old’s confidence – especially when some of the names around him include Giuseppe Rossi and Luca Toni. Jovetic hasn’t been used as a centre forward in all of his games this season, he is often put in an attacking midfield position, usually on the left. He loves to cut inside and is very good on the ball. Jovetic often slices through opposition defences with brilliant passes and through balls, as well as having a rocket shot on him from long range. The future is bright for the young Montenegran, with his performances sparking much debate over possible transfer destinations across Europe. Juventus and Chelsea are just two of the teams rumored to be in for him this summer, and Fiorentina have conceded that a man of his potential and quality won’t stay at the club forever.

Related link: Juve deny bid for Jovetic – Sky Sports

11: Neymar da Silva Santos Junior 11 Neymar da Silva Santos Junior

Age: 21

Current Club: Barcelona (June 3rd)

Goals/Assists 2012/13: 0 goal, 0 assists

…..

Scrap that. Those stats tell you nothing about this Brazilian wonderkid, because there has only been 1 game in the 2013 Campeonato Brasileiro Série A. Not that it matters, because as of 1st June, he has played his last game for Santos, after announcing that he will be moving to Spanish Champions Barcelona. Neymar is only down here at number 11 because I haven’t seen him play enough times to really rate his performances – and I didn’t want to write this from somebody else’s point of view. However, what I have seen of the young Brazilian has impressed me, on most occasions. His speed, agility, awareness, and goal-scoring ability along with ability to make passes all over the pitch are just some of the attributes which has led to many likening Neymar to Pele and Ronaldinho, and saying that he could be one of the greats of his generation – possibly as good as Lionel Messi, whom he will line up alongside next season. Beware Europe, a prodigy is arriving.

And as for his ranking, watch this space. He’s bound to be promoted upon good performances at Barcelona, where everyone’s estimations of him will undoubtedly increase.

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The Top 10

These men have battled their way to the top with goals, assists, tackles, passes, interceptions, and much much more. All ten of them are seemingly crucial to their team, and have impressed thousands over the course of the season. You may feel that one or two members of this Top Ten are not fitting of the berth they hold – but this is no objective task. Please remember that raw stats for goals and assists are not the only reasons behind places in this list – that goes for all 30 strikers. Age, potential, appearances, style of play and other factors have all been taken into account. Now sit back and enjoy, as we bring you, the best ten strikers in the world right now…

10 Mirko Vucinic10th: MIRKO VUCINIC

Age: 28

Current Club: Juventus

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 12 goals, 6 assists

Estimated transfer value: €22.3 million

Another Montenegran from Serie A in the list, Mirko Vucinic has captured the acclaim of many since this time last year, thoroughly impressing in an ever-strengthening Juventus side. The Old Lady are really threatening to return to power in Europe, building the side up from the inside out, along with the signing of some key players, such as Fernando Llorente, who will join them this summer. Vucinic has played as a centre forward throughout the season, making 30 starts, including 6 in the Champions League. He scored Juventus’ only goal in their final game of the season, a 1-1 draw at home to Cagliari, which meant that they didn’t end their season on a low.

Vucinic’s style of play is very direct, and his ability to dribble, play quick passes into feet, and pick out a through ball is very effective in scoring and assisting goals. He also enjoys cutting inside from one of the flanks, thus putting the full back on his wrong foot – this is when Mirko hits a long range shot and tries to catch the keeper off guard.

 With his age, it could be said that there is little room for improvement – Vucninc can simply mature, and lead his younger team mates in the right direction. Players such as Paul Pogba will greatly benefit from the help of the older, wiser heads in the dressing room, such as Barzagli, Vucinic, Buffon, and Vucinic. Therefore, despite the arrival of Fernando Llorente, the future still looks good for Mirko. His experience, along with his still technically sound and powerful ability, can play a massive part in Juventus’ defence of the Scudetto, and their Champions League rebate next season.

9th: MARIO GOMEZ09 Mario Gomez

Age: 27

Current Club: Bayern Munich

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 13 goals, 3 assists

Estimated transfer value: €35 million

Competing for a place in a history-making Bayern XI would bring the best out of any player. Contending a spot on the pitch week in, week out with Arjen Robben, Mario Mandzukic, Claudio Pizarro, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Thomas Muller is no easy job. Mario Gomez really has proved his worth this season, and despite being left out of the Champions League final against fellow Germans Borussia Dortmund, he has scored some marvellous and vital goals; most recently, he scored twice in the DFB Pokal Final against Vfb Stuttgart, which Bayern eventually won 3-2.

Gomez is perhaps the possessor of the best finishing abilities mentioned thus far – his clinical style of play means his quick, sharp passes really count for his team, as was shown in Bayern’s 6-1 demolition job of Wolfsburg on 16th of April, then again 4 days later, when the same scoreline was repeated away to Hannover 96. Gomez scored a hat trick in the former, and a brace in the latter – and a goal in each of the games sandwiching these two thrillers – This meant 7 goals in 10 days for the lethal German, with the last of those coming in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League Final against Barcelona.

Aside from his finsihing ability, Gomez’s aerial ability is his next best characteristic. At a height of 1m 89cm, Gomez is taller than many defenders, and this gives him the edge no matter what situation he is in – defending, holding the ball up, laying it off for someone else, and perhaps most importantly, scoring. Gomez is a well rounded striker, with good levels of experience at club and international level, with 25 goals in 58 appearances for the German national team. His age means that by the time World Cup 2018 comes around, he will be approaching 33, which suggests that next year’s tournament in Brazil could be his last hurrah on the international stage.

05 Sergio Aguero8th: SERGIO AGUERO

Age: 25

Current Club: Manchester City

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 17 goals, 2 assists

Estimated transfer value: €45 million

Kun Aguero has not had the impact this season which he had in City’s dramatic title-winning campaign of 2011/12 – dramatic, because Sergio himself won the Barclays Premier League title for City in the dying seconds of the season. Not only the match. The season. His goal shook the footballing world, with cries of “Aguerooooooooooo!” breaking the hearts of countless United fans.

Aguero’s less notable impact this season has not been entirely his fault – he has been subjected to three injuries – two knee injuries, firstly from August to September, then for almost all of April – and in between those, a hamstring injury which ruled him out from the 1st to the 19th of January.

He has many weakness to go with his strengths – but we shall briefly cover the latter, first. His key ability is his dribbling – he showed exactly what he is capable of when he scored a fantastic solo goal against Manchester United in the Premier League in April. Obviously, his finishing is another of his strenghts – he is a very precise striker, and has a lot in his bag – long shots, tap-ins, curlers, free kicks, penalties… you name it, Aguero can probably do it. But as I said, his game does have some flaws. His passing isn’t quite up to scratch, if you will. He is also not as powerful in the air as a striker may hope to be – which may be down to his height of 174 centimetres. But perhaps the thing which lets him down the most is his defensive effort. He rarely gets back to help the midfield or defence, preferring to linger around the opposition back-four. This means that if City are exposed to a swift counter-attack, there may not be enough speed or power to stop it, and they may concede.

All in all, Aguero is one of the Premier League’s elite frontmen of the present, but if he wants to be remembered as one of the world’s best strikers in the years after he hangs up his boots, such as his godfather Diego Maradona before him, he needs to sharpen up his game, and adjust his style of play so as to offer more as a part of a team.

7th: LUIS SUAREZ07 Luis Suarez

Age: 26

Current Club: Liverpool

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 26 goals, 5 assists

Estimated transfer value: €38 million

Luis Suarez is an oddity of a professional football player – arguably more controversial than Mario Balotelli. The reason for this is that Balotelli tends to keep the controversy off the pitch – but it follows Suarez out the tunnel and onto the grass like the plague. Branded as a diver, Suarez struggles to win free kicks and penalties perhaps as often as he deserves them – but that is the least of his worries.

The headlines were first made for the wrong reasons by Suarez when he was sent off for recieving two yellow cards on his Uruguayan national team debut in 2007. Then, in November of the same year, he and Ajax team-mate Albert Luque were fined for a dressing-room altercation during half-time against Feyenoord. 2008 and 2009 appear to have been the eye of Hurricane Suarez, as nothing too out of sorts happened in that time. But during the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, the storm returned with a vengeance; this time, a blatently purposeful handball on the line prevented Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah from scoring in the last minute of the semi-final. Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty which was awarded… he missed. Uruguay won the penalty shootout, and Suarez can in for copious criticism, deservedly. Perhaps it was justice that they failed to win in the semi-final which followed, against a determined Netherlands side. And if that wasn’t controversial enough for you, Luis struck again; and this was his worst deed yet. He managed to increase his notoriety by earning a seven-game suspension for biting into – and drawing blood from – the shoulder of PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal during an Eredivisie clash. Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf called Suárez the “Cannibal of Ajax”. And that was only his first taste of fellow footballer… But first, we have even MORE of Suarez’s antics. Following a month-long investigation, Suarez was charged with racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. The Frenchman made the claims immediately after the match at Anfield, telling Canal Plus that Suarez had used a racist insult to him ‘at least 10 times’. Suarez was banned for eight matches and fined £40,000.

The spin-off from this horrific act of callous hasn’t ended – firstly, Suarez refused Evra’s offer of a handshake in the next meeting of United and Liverpool. Suarez has never formally apologised to the French left back. After Manchester United’s title win this year, a model of a bloody forearm was thrown onto the pitch, which Patrice picked up, and proceeded to bite, which was taken by most as a sarcastic stab at his Uruguayan nemesis – and threw Liverpool fans into uproar. Nothing resulted of this officially, as it is obviously not a matter on which a conlusion can be reached.

You think it stops there? Oh no… this time against Fulham, Suarez was the centre of attention yet again in a Premier League game, as hewas seen making a gesture with his middle fingers at supporters following A stark contrast to racism, I know, but it was still worth a mention. Penultimately, on 6th January 2013, Suarez made another very obvious handball against Mansfield Town, which helped Liverpool reach the FA Cup fourth round. It was not spotted by the referee this time, however, and it resulted in a game-killing goal; there was no way back for Mansfield.

Finally, “The Cannibal of Ajax 2: Luis is Liverpool”. That’s what the film should be called, anyway. Yes you guessed it, Suarez sunk his teeth into yet another member of the opposition team. This time it was Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic who was on the recieving end of those infamous Uruguayan gnashers. Suarez escaped without punishment from the referee, meaning that the FA could step in and offer their discipline.

Suarez Bites Ivanovic

They gave Suarez a 10 game ban, meaning that he missed the end of the season, and will, if he remains at Liverpool, miss the start of next season too… not to mention that Robin van Persie rushed in to steal the Golden Boot from under his nose while he was unable to play…. So now we’re up to date with the Suarez debacle – and although it is a tangent from his ability as a striker, it is relevant, as it affects his mannerisms on the pitch.

I’ll try to keep the tangents minimal from now on. So, the ability of Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz. His talent is exceptional. Just like the aforementioned Sergio Aguero, Suarez’s dribbling is one of his key strengths. He is constantly trying to get onto the ball, because he knows exactly what he can do – he can tear opposition to shreds with his lighting quick feet. The man is an absolute monster in front of goal, with his finishing, long passes, short passes, through balls, direct free kicks, crosses, and long-range efforts all of an exceptional standard. He really is an outstanding striker – but until he cleans up his act, he can not be an outstanding footballer. I think that sums it up nicely.

08 Edison Cavani6th: EDINSON CAVANI

Age: 26

Current Club: Napoli

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 36 goals, 4 assists

Estimated transfer value: €55 million

This 26 year old Uruguayan has just had the season of his life. 36 goals in 37 starts is a statistic which speaks for itself. The man is in sensational form, and promises to be a huge threat to any defence in Brazil for next year’s world cup. He is a rumored transfer target for Chelsea, Manchester City, Monaco, and Paris Saint Germain. For the sake of his furthering of his career, I hope he goes to Chelsea. The other three clubs are flaunting cash around as if it grows in trees; and whilst Chelsea do still spend big, they are a team of good technical ability and cohesion, which is somewhat paradoxical to the lack of a long-standing successful manager. Player such as Ramires, Torres, and Ivanovic show maturity, whilst future stars such as Azpilicueta and Lukaku really offer something fresh to the team. I think Cavani would fit right in at Stamford Bridge.

As far as his international performances are concerned, he is also outstanding. On 6th February 2008, Edinson made his first appearance for Uruguay’s national team; and immediately made an impact, scoring a goal on his debut against Colombia. He was praised by Andre Villas Boas as, who said Cavani is “a player with an immense capacity for the technical ability of scoring goals of tremendous skill and magnificent technique”. A brilliant example of this technique is his overhead kick vs Barcelona on 22nd August 2012 – which was unfortunately disallowed.

As we can deduce from the goals/games ratio which Cavani earned himself last season, his finishing is of the finest breed. His game as a whole is fascinating to watch. He keeps the ball well, has good dribbling ability, holds the ball up for team-mates, and he has a very high defensive workrate. If he stepped his passing accuracy up a gear, he’d be close to being a complete striker. He is a truly wonderful talent.

5th: ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI 04 Robert Lewandowski

Age: 24

Current Club: Borussia Dortmund

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 34 goals, 7 assists

Estimated transfer value: €29 million

Is he really off to Bayern Munich? Or will he be joining United? Those are the questions constantly hurtling around whenever someone talks about this big Pole; but the reality is that he is sure to be leaving Borussia Dortmund this summer, which is a shame, as they are a team who are really blossoming, with Subotic, Hummels, Gundogan, Reus, and Lewandowski all shining during Dortmund’s journey to an eventual loss in the Champions League final. However Jurgen Klopp seems to know how to replace players – he brought in Reus to replace Kagawa, and now he’ll have to replace Gotze in a similar fashion, and most probably obtain a new spearhead for his attack.

Lewandowski’s 34 goals and 7 assists last season came from 44 appearances in the Bundesliga and the Champions League – on 41 of these occasions, he was in the starting eleven. The young twenty-four year old would walk into a starting place at any club in the world – they would simply have to make room for him. His game is similar in style to that of Robin van Persie, and his youth compared to the Dutchman’s means that he has plenty of time to emulate and over-achieve him.

He is a pure striker of the ball, and his strongest attribute by far is his finishing. He is deadly, as he showed by scoring four goals in one game against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final. This was a Madrid team consisting of players such as Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Varane, Sergio Ramos, and Mesut Ozil; yet Robert Lewandowski brushed them aside with ease, shoing his superiority up front and stating his intent for the future – there is every chance that once the older strikers on this list retire, Robert will be the best and most experienced one left – he will be at his peak in two or three years, which is a scary thought considering his current capabilities.

On top of an impressive amount of goals for Dortmund since his arrival in 2010, Lewandowski has 17 goals in 53 appearances for Poland – including the opening goal of Euro 2012. He promises to light up the World Cup next year if Poland qualify.

04 Wayne Rooney4th: WAYNE ROONEY

Age: 27

Current Club: Manchester United

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 13 goals, 13 assists

Estimated transfer value: €66 million

Wayne Rooney has had a tough time at Manchester United this season. Due to the arrival of Robin van Perise, he has not been guaranteed his spot on the front line. As a result of United having 4 main strikers to call upon, Rooney’s role has been an experimental one. He has been played as a centre forward, a a left-winger, a right-winger, a left attacking midfielder, a right attacking midfielder, a centre attacking midfielder, a central midfielder, and a central defensive midfielder. He has scored when starting in all of these positions, except left attacking midfield. The most goals were scored by Wayne when he played in “the hole” – as a centre attacking midfielder, behing either one striker or two. The trouble with this, however, is that Shinji Kagawa, who was signed from Dortmund last year having just been awarded Bundesliga Player of the Season, also plays in that role. This is why Wayne has had to play in so many different roles; and the fact that he succeeded in all of them shows the diversity he adds to the team. He is a crucial player, and depsite reportedly wanting away from the club, I think he should, and will stay. He is a talisman for the Red Devils, and if he plays out the rest of his career with them, he will be firmly cemented into Old Trafford folklore as one of their very greatest. Rooney is unstoppabl when in form. He perhaps didn’t really hit top form last season, but 13 goals and 13 assists in 27 starts for the club is very impressive, especially under the pressure the media put on him. If he doesn’t play well for England, or the whole team plays badly and he makes one mistake, he is more often than not the scapegoat – because everyone knows that he is the best in the country.

Rooney has changed his game drastically from when he first burst onto the scene as a 16 year old at Everton. Back then, he was a fearless, hot-headed youngster, who ran at everything and everyone (including Patrick Vieira) without a care in the world. He shot as soon as he was in range of the goal and relied on his pace to take him past opposition defenders. This rapid and often reckless style of play did have a bad side though… his temper. He was infamously sent off against Portugal for an alleged stomp on Ricardo Carvalho, something which English media seemingly still haven’t let go of. He has matured over recent years, though, and become a calm team player. He loves to sit deeper and pop a long pass through to the striker – which was demonstrated beautifully in United’s title-winning victory over Aston Villa in April, when Rooney lofted a seamless 40 yard through ball to Robin van Persie, who watched it over his shoulder and smashed it past Brad Guzan without it even touching the ground. It was voted United’s goal of the season, and all credit went to Robin van Persie – but Rooney’s incredible pass was just as important as the strike itself.

One characteristic which Rooney has never let go of is his love of taking a shot from 20 yards out or more; and more often than not, thy end up in the back of the net. He is well known for his thunderbolt striking ability, which has produced some terribly beautiful goals over the years. But perhaps his most famous goal is his sensational bicycle kick against Manchester City. It was a carbon copy of what all youngsters dream of scoring. It was probably the best goal he will ever score. It was simply out of this world.

Others amongst Rooney’s many strengths are his aerial ability, and his direct free-kick taking. He is a well built, sturdy man, and this raw strength gives him the edge in the air, even when the opposition are taller than  him. His free kicks are of a great breed. He takes them best from the left hand side id the ‘D’, where he curls them up and over he wall, usually into the top left-hand corner of the goal. They are very difficult to stop.

I think that’s enough on Wayne…. I apologise if that seemed a tedious amount of diction, but I have a tendency to get carried away talking about him, as he is and always has been my favourite football player. For those of you who wonder who the others are, I’ve always loved Pavel Nedved, Jay Jay Okocha, and Edwin van der Sar.

3rd: ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC03 Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Age: 31

Current Club: Paris Saint Germain

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 33 goals, 15 assists

Estimated transfer value: €38 million

Zlatan is the ultimate mercenary. He’s played for 7 clubs in the 14 years since making his first senior professional appearance for Malmo in 1999. But what are his motives for moving so frequently? Does he simply want to experience  playing in lots of top teams? Does he move for money? Does he move when he sees a team which he thinks has good strength? Or does he go where he thinks he is needed? I can’t find an answer. I think that if he was moving for experience, he would have come to England at some point, but he has rejected Arsenal on more than one occasion. Moving to newly-rich PSG suggested that he was seeking a higher wage packet… Well at least he’s earnt it. He played a part in 48 goals during 43 appearances for the French side last season, and said last week that he will remain there for 2013/14, when PSG will commence the defence of their Ligue 1 crown. I’ve only watched one domestic match of Zlatan’s this season, and 3 of his Champions League games – but they told me enough. This season just gone may have been his best yet.

Ibrahimovic career

The many clubs Zlatan has graced with his presence…

Like Rooney, Zlatan is a very well rounded player, and is gifted with impressive abilities in finishing, passing, crossing, heading, dribbling, holding the ball up, taking free kicks, and taking penalties. He is without a doubt the most dangerous striker on the list so far – and whilst some may dispute his occupation of 3rd berth here, I feel it is fully justified, and there could be arguments for him to be moved into the top 2.

It’s difficult not to love Ibrahimovic. He has over 330 career goals to his name, which roughly averages out at 24 per season (including international goals). That is a record to envy for any striker. It’s simply outstanding – but perhaps the reason why he is adored so much by both the public and the press is the the things which come out of his mouth… here are a few select quotations:

1) On being marked by then Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz: “First I went left, he did too. Then I went right, and he did too. Then I went left again, and he went to buy a hot dog”.

2) Reporter – “You’ve got some scars on your face, Zlatan. What has happened?”
Zlatan – “Well…I don’t know…you’ll have to ask your wife about that”

3)  In answer to criticism from John Carew that Zlatan’s skills are pointless, he said: “What Carew does with a football, I can do with an orange.”

4) When asked what he got his wife for her birthday ”Nothing, she already has Zlatan.”

5) After moving to PSG: “We are looking for an apartment [in Paris]. If we don’t find anything, then I’ll probably just buy the hotel.”

02 Robin van Persie2nd: ROBIN VAN PERSIE

Age: 29

Current Club: Manchester United

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 29 goals, 8 assists

Estimated transfer value: €46 million

Robin van Persie may have been the pivot through which the title swung in favour of the red (half?) of Manchester. Manchester City are said to have offered Robin higher wages to leas=d their attack, but he turned them down in favour of working under Sir Alex Ferguson at the might Old Trafford. And it paid off. After many long, frustrating, trophyless years at Arsenal, Robin won his first Premier League title with United in his first season, picking up a second consecutive Golden Boot along the way. I don’t think there’s a single United fan who’d have his signing any other way. He is a perfect fit at United, and really has made an impact worth his transfer fee – which has doubled in estimation over the course of the season, rather unsurprisingly

He is possibly the best striker on this list in terms of commitment, drive, and determination – he has no weak points in his game. He is still fast, agile, quick-witted, and has great experience. He’s impressed up front for club and country, no matter the opponent. His finishing and passing styles are magnificent, and some of the balls he plays are simply majestic. It’ll take a mammoth effort from all the aforementioned strikers to knock him out of the top 3 next season, which looks just as promising as the one just gone. He also has the World Cup to look forward, where he should be playing all the games for a diverse Dutch team – and I expect him to star. He is a player in his peak, and he is in his element as a title-winner… an honour which has eluded him thus far, but one which he truly deserves.

Robin scored some special goals last season – a well-taken equaliser against West Ham United which kept his team in the FA Cup; His 2nd of his hat-trick against Aston Villa which is nailed on for goal of the season, and most notably, his last-minute Manchester Derby-winning free kick. It was taken from the right hand side of City’s box, and Robin curled it beautifully, and it dropped into the bottom-left corner of Joe Hart’s goal after taking an embarrasing deflection off ex-Arsenal team mate Samir Nasri, who was in the wall. That goal is certain to go down in United history, as it was a goal which really stated United’s title intentions.

RvP freekcik vs City1st: RAMADEL FALCAOFalcao 2

Age: 27

Current Club: AS Monaco

Goals/Assists 2012-13: 31 goals, 1 assist

Estimated transfer value: €60 million

So there we have it… Vantage Football rank Ramadel Falcao as the best striker in world football. His finishing is definitely the best – I’m sure that there is very little room for dispute over that matter. His importance is underlined by the fact that he hasn’t made a substitute appearance all season – he has started 38 games, and scored 31 goals in them. One explanation for his lack of assists could be that he is more often than not a lone striker – Atletico do not possess the strength in depth that is present at other big European teams. But perhaps Falcao plays best as the alpha-male, leading his team to victory single-handedly on numerous occasions.

His aerial presence is vastly superior – he often nets with his head, which is made to look easy by the big Colombian, as his height and physical strenght give him almost complete dominance in the air. However, despite his barrel-chested, monstrously large appearance, he is a relatively careful footballer, and does not dive into tackles, which is another positive attribute of his. He likes to shoot from distance, which is a big threat especially when his team take an indirect approach to a free kick – if the ball if nudged into the path of a waiting Falcao, he knows exactly what to do to make the goalkeeper still with fright as the ball bulges the back of the net. He is a monstrosity, a terrible, yet beautiful creation. And not terrible in the more colloquial meaning of the word – terrible in his very nature – i.e. he strikes terror into the very hearts of the opposition.

It was announced this week that he would move to AS Monaco, who have found themselves in possession of ludicrous amounts of money – and Ramadel was their number one target. They landed him, and in the past few days, Falcao has been lambasted and accused of extreme greed – moving for money, and many have suggested that moving to a newly promoted French side could signal a premature end to his career – especially if Monaco turn out as a French-edition of Queen’s Park Rangers, and end up in a situation where they could win the league on paper, but their players can not produce the goods on the pitch. It is now a case of let’s wait and see with Ramadel Falcao – he could either take Ligue 1 by storm and battle shoulder to shoulder with Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the Golden Boot, or he, whether singularly or as part of the team as a whole, could flop, and seek recompense this time next year by moving to Chelsea or Manchester City. Only time will tell…

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That, ladies and gentlemen, is that. It’s been a big old slog to write this in such a way that all appropriate perspectives were covered, with fulfilling statistics, some nice pictures, and 5 top class “Zlatanisms”. Now, here, I am feeling a sense of achievement – The hard part is over, I only have the formalities to cover now… so let us commence…

Firstly, I would like to draw your attention to the rather obvious fact that this is not an official or conclusive list in any way. Vantage Football has no affiliation or vested interest resulting from the publication of this article. It is a subjective piece, meaning that you may or may not disagree with some or all of the points made.

Secondly, I want to state that I know I have left some big names out of this list – and now is your chance to tell me if you would have put them in:

This third point concerns the statistics included in this article –

1) Appearances, goals, and assists are only for the player’s domestic league and Champions League/Europa League, unless otherwise stated.

2) The statistics mentioned above for the South American players include Copa America appearances.

Sources: Goals and assists = http://www.whoscored.com/

Estimated Transfer Values (Top 10) = http://www.transfermarkt.co.uk/en/

3) Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been left out of this article as I feel they are both midfielders, technically.

Finally, I want to offer my congratulations in advance to anybody and everybody who reads every single one of the 8,400 words in this article – I appreciate that it may be tedious in places.

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THANKYOU FOR READING!

As always, if you have any queries, questions, or issues concerning the blog or more specifically this article, please do not hesitate to contact me on Twitter, @JamesBrowning96, or email us at vantagefootball@hotmail.co.uk

If you enjoyed this article, go check out “The Top 4 Enigma” by @robinsleftfoot – https://vantagefootball.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=219&action=edit

Make sure you follow @Vantage_Futbol on Twitter for more articles!

By James Browning

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The Top 4 Enigma

As the exhilarating 2012/13 Premier League season comes to an end, we take a look at what may happen this time next year! The top 4 of the Barclays Premier League is one of the most dynamic and exciting of any league in the world – with the title race and the marathon run for a Champions League place. Of course, there is a consolation prize of a Europa-League place for the 5th placed team, but it is a world away from the prize of playing in Europe’s biggest competition! The race for the top 4 in the upcoming 2013/14 season looks to be the most eagerly contested yet, with United, City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Everton and Liverpool all aspiring to be ready for a big push!

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Let’s start with the most entertaining battle in the Premier League: the title race. For the past decade, Manchester United have dominated the league – winning it 5 times. The other 5 years saw 3 titles won by Chelsea and 1 each by Arsenal and Manchester City. However, things have changed. A new era has begun, due to the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and the arrival of David Moyes at Manchester United. The managerial saga has put Manchester City, Chelsea, and Everton in a bit of a roller-coaster. For Manchester City, the obvious target is Manuel Pellegrini, the Malaga manager, who may leave due to Malaga’s ban from being eligible to play in Europe as they have failed to pay both wages and taxes. As for Chelsea, Roman Abramovic is keen to bring ‘The Special One’, Jose Mourinho, back home, which could surely benefit them, as he knows Chelsea like the back of his hand and would have the full backing of the fans. In addition, Everton are targeting Roberto Martinez, whose relegated Wigan side will be playing in the Europa League next season. As for Liverpool, who are certain to stick with Brendan Rodgers who has done fantastically in turning around the sinking ship,  they could surely be a candidate in fight for Champions League football.

Manchester United

Image

2012/2013 season’s position: 1st place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 1st place

Key men: David de Gea, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Robin van Persie

The only reason why I have said that Manchester United’s expected position is first place is because they are consistent. Consistency is key in a league like the Barclays Premier League – you cannot afford to slip in standard in any way. Manchester United’s team may consist of a couple of 30 year old’s, but they’re fit as ever and have a lot of experience, in Europe and in the Premier League. With David Moyes’s arrival, United could be targeting a few midfielders to partner the unsung hero, Michael Carrick. They have been linked with some signings such as Marouane Fellaini, Thiago Alcantara, Kevin Strootman, Viktor Wanyama, and midfield general Cesc Fabregas. David could also have a look on Tottenham’s star Gareth Bale as United’s wingers lacked ambition throughout the season (*cough* Antonio Valencia *cough*). On the contrary, Moyes could bring in very few signings, as the current players are keen to impress; the likes of Anderson, Antonio Valencia, Luis Nani, Tom Cleverley, Fabio da Silva, Alexander Buttner, Ashley Young, and the young wing wizard Wilfried Zaha will all be keen to nail a place in the starting XI. As for Wayne Rooney, Moyes’ options are limited,with Robert Lewandowski’s agent stating that his client is joining the champions of Europe, Bayern Munich…but who knows? This leaves Rooney either staying at United (increasingly plausible) and keeping on winning titles, or going abroad – where his likely destinations are Paris Saint Germain or Real Madrid, who both can afford his wages and demands. As for the goalkeeping issue, if Manchester United want to keep Ben Amos, then they should sell their Dane, Anders Lindegaard. This can benefit both Ben Amos and Sam Johnstone, who can step up his game and become United’s third goalkeeper. This is highly likely to happen as David Moyes believes in the development of youth. All in all, Manchester United are the most consistent team in England and that is why they’re highly likely to win the league again.

Manchester United will not only fight for the title, they’ll want to fight for the Champions League title.

Chelsea

Image

2012/2013 season’s position: 3rd place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 2nd place

Key Men: Petr Cech, David Luiz, Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku 

Chelsea started off the campaign flying high, scoring goals galore which made everybody think that this was their year. However, they crashed out of the Champions League early, which affected their morale as a team. As a result of the premature end to their Champions League title defence, Chelsea’s manager, Roberto Di Matteo, who won the Champions League a couple of months earlier, was sacked. This rather unsurprisingly angered almost all Chelsea fans, but not as much as Rafael Benitez’s appointment as an ‘Interim’ manager by the trigger happy Roman Abramovich.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Chelsea v Fulham - Stamford Bridge

A Chelsea fan protesting about Rafael Benitez’s appointment as an Interim Manager

On the contrary, not all was bad for the club. some Chelsea fans did come to the realisation that their temporary gaffer could surely improve their £50m “flop”, Fernando Torres, as they had both worked together very successfully at Anfield in the past. He’s not entirely a flop; 22 goals in all competitions is good for a player who’s under pressure week in, week out. However, the Chelsea fans were wrong when complaining that Fernando was their main striker, as Benitez’s first signing was Newcastle United’s star man, Demba Ba. Ba is undoubtedly one of the best finishers in the Barclays Premier League, I mean, Newcastle ended their season with him as their top scorer… poor Alan Pardew. As for next season, their on-loan prodigy, Romelu Lukaku, who spent the entire season under Steve Clark at West Brom, hit a fantastic number of 17 goals and 4 assists, including a hat trick against Manchester United on the final day. If Chelsea have Lukaku as their main striker for next season, or even alongside Demba Ba in a more traditional 4-4-2, expect a minimum of 20 goals from the big man.

Jose Mourinho’s seemingly imminent arrival could turn Chelsea into a consistent team, who are surely good enough to compete for the title. However, Jose is known for believing in fielding big names over youth, (with the exception Raphael Varane at Madrid). He could set a few transfer targets to improve the club’s goal tally further next season. With Radamel Falcao going to the newly promoted Ligue 1 team AS Monaco, this leaves Mou with limited options. Chelsea have been linked with Edinson Cavani for quite some time now so they could look to bring him to the Bridge. Also, they have been targeting Bayer Leverkusen‘s Andre Schurrle for the past 2 years who is looking much more likely to sign for them this summer. To sum it up, Jose can lure all the stars he wants, but if he does, expect Chelsea in the Europa League because he has to satisfy all of the players, and some of their stiflingly large egos. However, if Jose plays his cards right, and allows younger players such as Piazon and Lukaku to flourish, Chelsea should ease their way to a top 2 finish.

Manchester City

man_city_2251303b

2012/2013 season’s position: 2nd place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 3rd place

Key Men: Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Sergio Kun Aguero 

The past season for Manchester City has been terrible compared to the 2011/2012 campaign, as they failed to win a Champions League game during the group stages, as well as failling to retain their Premier League crown. You cant blame them, an inexperienced team in the Champions League in a group with Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, and Ajax – winning 0 games out of 6. To add to their misery, they also failed to win the FA Cup final when the relegated Wigan Athletic crushed their aspirations of a second win in 3 years, in the 90th minute, when aBen Watson header left Joe Hart in its wake. Moreover, with only 2 games left of the campaign, Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed sacked Roberto Mancini, due to the reports suggesting Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, and Alexander Kolarov approaching the owner and putting him in ‘Us or him’ situation.. Surely their team isnt full of ego’s. Mancini’s assistant David Platt also left the club which leaves them with Brian Kidd. The most likely candidate to fill Mancini’s shoes is Manuel Pellegrini; we all know that Pellegrini and money together does not always ensue success, as has been proved in the past, when he was previously the Real Madrid manager.

City have lacked consistency from their strikers, even though they have one of the best finishers in the league, perhaps the world! Surely Aguero,  Tevez, and Dzeko are good enough to score goals, right? The inconsistency at City has also come from their midfield, such as the lapses in form from David Silva, who was sublime during the previous campaign. Samir Nasri was most probably the biggest culprit though, often failing to maintain a performance for 90 minutes, or just not having any kind of influence on the game more often than not. City’s defense has been vulnerable as their captain Kompany missed large chunks of the season along with Micah Richards – leaving them with the unsatisfied Joleon Lescott, Kolo Toure, and the inexperienced Nastasic. Their situation at the back was unfortunate – nobody wants an injury crisis, but it highlighted what Mancini lacked: Plans for the near future, for example, back-ups for multiple positions. This is an area in which United obviously have the upper hand – their reserve team epitomises the importance of having a prosperous youth academy.

City’s transfer targets, as always, have to be big names such as Gareth Bale, Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez, Gonzalo Higuain, and much more. I expect City to make a clear-out and sell Edin Dzeko, Lescott, Alexander Kolarov, and perhaps Samir Nasri in order to bring those stars. Their expected position is 3rd as these players surely need time to adapt to such league as the style of play diversify in each country is very different. In addition, there is a chance of silverware, surely either the FA Cup or Carling Cup, but nothing more. They will be financially busy in the market. Expect big names.

Arsenal

The Invincibles

The Invincibles

2012/2013 season’s position: 4th place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 4th place

Key Men: Wojciech Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski

Without a doubt Arsenal are one of the best clubs in England, but where has it gone wrong for them? Perhaps the sale of Robin van Persie, Thierry Henry, Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Patr.. okay I’ll stop now. As we all know, Arsene Wenger is very fond of French players, but he really needs to diversify his search in the market.. A few targets Arsenal have been tracking are Jovetic, Loic Remy, Ashley Williams, Christian Benteke, and Lyon’s young star Clement Grenier. However, Arsene Wenger should consider the options he has such as Gervinho, Chamberlain, and Podolski. How will they feel if an another striker comes along? What suits them best? Should they leave the club? Another thing Arsene needs to consider is to tighten up his defence, as Vermaelen hasn’t been extremely impressive of late – hence why Arsene is after Swansea’s captain Ashley Williams. Also, what has happened to Bacary Sagna? He has been linked to 2 Italian giants, Inter Milan and AC Milan. If he seals a move there, Arsenal should consider a defender who is a long-term solution and loyal if possible. Firstly, there’s Gremio’s fullback Mario Fernandes who can play both right-back and centre-back. Arsene should have competed with Chelsea for Cesar Azpilicueta, who is such a hard-working lad and is both attacking and defensive.

Arsenal have lacked the ambition to fight for title and they instead seem to concentrate on the possibility of playing Champions League football each year. Some of Arsenal’s goals conceded should be perhaps blamed on Szczesny, as he has been poor for a period of time, therefore Arsene has went in for numerous goalkeepers in the league and abroad such as QPR’s Julio Cesar and Barcelona’s Victor Valdes. The Arsenal squad also lacks encouragement which caused them to be inconsistent throughout the season.

As you may have noticed, I have picked Lukas rather than Giroud or Theo as the key man from the strikers as he has the potential to cause the defenders a problem. As much as Olivier is good in the air and all that, pace is sometimes the important factor (Unless you’re Robin van Persie. Let that sink in Gooners…oops I diverge!). Ever since Arsene brought Podolski over from the relegated Cologne last summer, he hasn’t played a hefty amount of games as the lone striker. Wenger preferred to see him as a winger in order to be able to play the Frenchman, Olivier Giroud, upfront. As for the midfield, Santi is surely the main man as he has been terrific for a foreign player in a Premier League debut season. He has enough experience to control the midfield, unlike Wilshere, who’s still young and naive, not to mention injury-prone.

I hate to see a club like Arsenal to ‘fight’ for Champions League football nowadays. They should fight for the league title, the Champions League title. They should win a piece of silverware every year. That’s the Arsenal everybody knows. The Invincibles..

Tottenham Hotspur

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2012/2013 season’s position: 5th place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 5th place

Key Men: Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Gareth Bale, Jermaine Defoe 

Tottenham were a bit inconsistent, as seems characteristic, this season past, however, when they are flying high, goals galore occur. A large amount of their goals came from one player, Gareth Bale. Bale was outstanding throughout the campaign, but did he deserve both the ‘Player of the Year’ and ‘Young Player of the Year’ awards? He did deserve the ‘Young Player of the Year’ award, but as for the other trophy, it should’ve definitely been presented to Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez, or Juan Mata all of whom had brilliant seasons. Contribution matters. Andre Villas-Boas’s side failed to reach the final of the Europa League, after Basel knocked them out on penalties. This was in some ways a benefit, as Spurs then had less chance of players becoming fatigued or obtaining injuries, which would have been disastrous because they had been aiming to qualify for Champions League football since the campaign began. However, their efforts weren’t enough, as Arsenal were determined to clinch 4th place. The only reason why I said 5th place is expected for next season is because of the $1,000,000 question: will Gareth Bale stay? Furthermore, are Tottenham a “one man team”? You might think they are, but who delivers the crosses and passes to him? Surely he hasn’t scored all of his goals this season from his own elbow grease, so to speak? To be honest, I think Gareth Bale will either stay for an another one or two seasons at White Hart Lane, or will try to seal a move to his preferred destination, which is rumored to be Real Madrid.

As for Jan Vertonghen being elected as the key man above all of their central-defenders and full-backs is because he has been extremely impressive for a “new kid on the block” – he scored 6 goals and had 3 assists in all competitions throughout the season. An another candidate that caught my eye is Danny Rose, who spent the entire season on loan to Sunderland. The loanee has been exciting to watch as he has shone under both Martin O’Neil and Paulo di Canio. He may have not played a good amount of games under Martin, but Paulo recognized the talent he has and hopefully Andre Villas-Boas recognizes it too.

Liverpool 

liverpool_1990_1213235c

You’ll Never Walk Alone

2012/2013 season’s position: 7th place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 6th place

Key Men: Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge

As a Manchester United fan, nothing pleases me more than seeing our old rivals pulling a Titanic manouvre, however, as a football fan, it hurts to see a club like Liverpool to not compete for the Premier League title. What has happened to Liverpool? Do they lack confidence? Ambition? Ever since their stars and legends left such as Milan Baros, Harry Kewell, Luis Garcia, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, etc. They haven’t been very competitive. However, not all is bad. If you look at their team, Liverpool are trying to build a team that has a future, unlike Manchester City, with all due respect. If you look at players they’ve brought in and produced, you’d recognize that they are trying to build a team. Such as Andre Wisdom, Jesus Fernandez Saez (Also known as Suso), Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Ibe, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Pacheco, etc. Brendan Rodger’s arrival meant that Liverpool’s youth will have a go every now and then during Cup matches and so on. The reason why I chose Daniel Agger as the key man for Liverpool’s defense is because he has to fill Jamie Carragher’s shoes. He has to be the leader for them at the back. He has to take responsibility. That’s what made Jamie Carragher heroic to the Liverpool supporters. As for the Coutinho, the little Brazilian has been oustanding ever since he arrived at Anfield. He may be overlooked by some due to Steven Gerrard’s evergreen presence in the midfield, but I think Coutinho is the one that can replace him. Not Jordan Henderson. Jordan has been used as a false winger rather than a central midfielder due to Sterling’s injury and Downing’s lack of form. As for Daniel Sturridge, this is because badboy Luis Suarez is highly likely to leave Anfield. Perhaps Bayern? Barcelona? Madrid? Who knows? Daniel Sturridge now has to fill in Suarez’s boots and start scoring goals galore for Liverpool as he is now their star man upfront – not Andy Carroll, who looks like he may not return to Merseyside in a red shirt anyway.

Liverpool have targeted many players in order to enhance their squad – they have already signed Kolo Toure on a free transfer and are now said to be targeting Popodoupolos to replace wantaway Martin Skrtel. Another target for the Reds is Christian Eriksen who apparently just declined a contract extension at Ajax, according to the Daily Mail (not the most reliable, I know, but a source is a source!). They are supposedly battling for the Danish playmaker with 2 Premier League giants, Manchester United and Manchester City. Also, according to the Daily Express, Liverpool are targeting Malaga’s Chilean midfielder Manuel Ittura. A player who Liverpool may not be targeting and wouldn’t is Edin Dzeko. Dzeko is reportedly unhappy at City due to the lack of playing time. If Liverpool go in the hunt for him and were able to sign him, then expect a lot of goals from them..

The reason why I said Liverpool may finish at 6th place is because they still have young players who cannot handle all of the pressure and stay consistent throughout the season. Just have a couple of experienced players who’s influence may seem not enough. 6th place is realistic at  the moment..

Everton

everton

2012/2013 season’s position: 6th place

2013/2014 season’s expected position: 7th place

Key Men: Tim Howard, Leighton Baines, Steven Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas

As an era has ended at Everton due to David Moyes’ departure and everything may not turn out the same as last season, as he knows Everton like the back of his hand. The most likely candidate to replace him is Roberto Martinez who submitted his resignation and is leaving Wigan with his own staff to the Merseyside team.

David Moyes’s departure may cause other stars to leave such as Marouane Fellaini, Jelavic, and their youth star Ross Barkley. However, Roberto Martinez is determined to lure some of Wigan’s stars over such as Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman perhaps, or even James McCarthy as they have all been superb for the Latics.

The reason why Everton’s expected position for next season to be 7th is because they may lose their star man Marouane Fellaini as he has hinted for a move to Manchester United. Chelsea are apparently interested in him as well, alongside other European outfits.

The man who can have the same impact if Fellaini leaves is Steven Pienaar, as he is dangerous on the flanks, in the middle, and does go back and defend.

Last dance? Steven Pienaar (Left) - Marouane Fellaini (Right)

Last dance? Steven Pienaar (Left) – Marouane Fellaini (Right)

Another candidate who can have a go in this new era at Everton is Ross Barkley, who has a bright future as a professional footballer. He has proved himself well under David Moyes and hopefully he can do more under the new manager, and fulfill his exciting potential.

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Please note that everything I have said is based simply on the premise of my opinions as a football fan, and  does not contain bias towards Manchester United. This should be obvious through neutrality in tone throughout the piece.

Thank you for reading this article – do not hesitate to contact me on @robinsleftfoot or @Vantage_Futbol, or email us at vantagefootball@hotmail.co.uk

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