This English Premier League season has been a curious one thus far, even in its infancy. It seems all the top forwards/strikers have been bitten by a bug of poor form. Of course, there is no blanket to cast over for every man and there are differing reasons as to why they have all made uncharacteristically slow starts to their season. Between Sergio Agüero, Harry Kane, Diego Costa, and Wayne Rooney there has been only one solitary goal scored. What ails them?
Slow starting Sergio
It’s odd that after such a commanding performance against Chelsea in which he could have had three or more goals if not for the brilliance of Asmir Begović that he would stall in this fashion. In the West Ham defeat alone, he slipped when he could have pulled his deadly trigger, he shot wide after Adrian was left stranded and defenders scrambled to cover and he miscued and skied a Kevin De Bruyne pass, admittedly on his weaker left and at a difficult height.
However, by the standard he is capable, he should have converted at least one and although it’s no time to panic he may get anxious given his own aspirations. Curiously there is no one stat that explains his slow start. David Silva has created virtually the same number of chances per minute as he did last season and City have created just as many. The only variation of note is that he has completed four less passes per 90 minutes, albeit at 92% accuracy versus 85% last season and coupled with his lesser shot total it shows that the dependency on him is less.
City have taken an average of 20 shots per 90 minutes versus 17.63 last season thus far. This means that Agüero might just need time to adapt to not having the weight of the team on him and Silva only. In that same vein, new additions De Bruyne and Sterling will take a little time to get completely in sync with him although the former is well on his way. He can begin his season in earnest against his bread and butter team Tottenham against whom he averages more than a goal a game and plundered four in one encounter last season. Let’s see.
Costa needs Cesc
His slow start is primarily down to two or three main factors. Firstly it’s symptomatic of Chelsea and their poor start. The poor form of Cesc Fabregas is most telling as he provided six assists for Costa last season and in the advanced role he has been more forced into of late, he has not exerted the sort of influence that he had in the first half of last season. Only just now are there signs of an improvement on that front. Hazard too has been slightly off colour and only opened his account with a charitably awarded goal in the win against Arsenal.
The biggest miss is the form of Fàbregas make no mistake about it. The synergistic manner in which they operated in the first half of the season set the tone for Costa’s 21 goal tally and Chelsea’s title winning season. Indeed it was over by December as a contest and the eight goals he scored as opposed to the 13 before January was the foreshadowing of what a falloff in Fàbregas’ form means for Costa.
There are signs that it may turn around. Chelsea have come off two controlled, if not dominating performances against Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Arsenal in which Fàbregas has looked more like himself. Also important is that the leaking of goals has dried up for now and there could be a ripple effect to the attack. Of course, this would be after his deserved three match ban is up as he will miss two league games because his zeal for winding up his opponent finally caught up to him. This is another stumbling block but he may find himself returning at the right time after Chelsea have revived their season.
Chelsea need the predatorial Costa who takes his chances first time.
Let’s not be hasty. Harry Kane is not the saviour of English football as he was touted. What he is however, is a very good young striker. There is a bug going around for the top strikers to which second season syndrome that is caused by defenders adapting to your style has been added in his case. Harry Kane was bound to catch pneumonia.
The fact is that you can be only as good as your supporting cast allows you and there is no exception. Ronaldo and Messi need a supporting cast (see International records versus club) and Harry Kane and any other striker will also. What he has missed is the main and only real top class creative talent in Christian Eriksen. In his two starts (three appearances) Eriksen has already managed three assists and Kane clearly misses the understanding they have.
Those who say Kane is a one season wonder don’t understand his game. In the same way that Costa can be effective despite not being able to do what an Agüero can do and vice versa, Kane has different strengths. His understanding of when to run into space and take shots on the first touch is Lampard-esque and without a true creative force that understands how to facilitate his runs he will struggle to have the influence that is expected. He relies on not simply service, but facilitation of his footballing intelligence. Bless his soul, but for all the crucial goals that Nacer Chaldi scores, he is not the man to do so.
One good thing that has come from Kane’s subdued start is that while all the attention is focused to him it allows players like Son Heung-Min and Dele Alli more space to cause damage doing a similar thing. Both have one goal each.
The most concerning on this list but also the most likely to start slowly at the beginning of the season, Rooney, has failed to score in around 1,000 minutes of league football. You read that right. Wayne Rooney has scored no penalty, free kick, or goal from open play in that long. Somebody give this man a goal. But for a three goal burst against Club Brugge in a straightforward Champions League qualifier and a few penalties in some soft International friendlies he would be undergoing some serious goalscoring withdrawal just now.
For those who follow Rooney and aren’t blinded by his past brilliance, this has been in-the-face obvious for some time. Instead of dwelling on what is wrong such as his seeming inability to use his left foot when clear in on goal (a schoolboy would fancy himself there 9 times out of 10), his ball control deserting him, and his hesitation to pull the trigger we can look at what it will take for him to rediscover some semblance of form. To be fair, he has suffered from United’s feebleness in the final third. United have created fewer chances than all the other top six teams thus far and while saying that he has had his fair share of clear cut chances that any half-decent striker would put away. There the isolation excuse loses merit.
Rooney has been handed a lifeline in that new signing, 19 year old Anthony Martial has begun with a bang, scoring three in two. Taking him out of the limelight somewhat to what must be his best position now supporting the talented teen can only benefit him. Rooney is suffering from a crisis of confidence and there is still a top player in there somewhere. Class doesn’t desert completely; ask Fernando Torres. Once Rooney knows that there is less pressure on him the shackles can be released.
No need to panic
Yes, no need to panic. These men know how to score and it’s a matter of time before they all will. Some have passed their best, some need to get on the same wave length with their new teammates and some need to adapt to better prepared defenders but they will pick up to some degree. They all should shoulder blame to some degree but overall goalscoring is the lowest in EPL history so far at 2.43 goals per game which supports the theory that the league’s premier playmakers are yet to exert their influence.
In the meantime we can watch Bafétimbi Gomis, Riyad Mahrez, and Callum Wilson pull the trigger.