Huddersfield, Swansea, West Brom: Lack of goalscoring will sink these teams
The bottom ten are all crying out for the same thing: a better striker
It’s now two-thirds of the way through the Premier League season and the battle for relegation is as open as ever. Just 11 points separate the bottom half of the table, whilst Bournemouth and Everton in the top half aren’t yet clear of danger.
There’s a continuing theme with each club in the relegation battle: each club in the bottom half have had an issue with getting a good return from their strikers.
Take a look at each team in the bottom half’s top scorer:
|11. Watford||Abdoulaye Doucoure||7|
|12. West Ham||Javier Hernandez / Marko Arnautovic||6|
|13. Brighton||Glenn Murray||8|
|14. Crystal Palace||Luka Milivojevic||6|
|15. Southampton||Charlie Austin||6|
|17. Swansea||Jordan Ayew||5|
|18. Stoke||Mame Biram Diouf / Xherdan Shaqiri||5|
|19. Huddersfield||Laurent Depoitre||5|
|20. West Brom||Jay Rodriguez / Salomón Rondón||4|
That it’s February and each team in the bottom five doesn’t have a player with over five league goals explains the position they find themselves in.
With Stoke for example, others contribute to the goal-scoring, such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting who have 20 goals and assists between them. But they need more from a centre-forward, especially as they often need to outscore their opponents – they have only kept four clean sheets all season and have conceded more goals than any other team.
Peter Crouch has shown himself a useful asset at times, but to have him starting, at the age of 37, is a damning indictment on their striker recruitment strategy.
Variations on this theme apply to all of their competitors.
Newly promoted teams struggle
The three promoted clubs have relied on players only ever proven at a Championship level, or hopeful punts in the summer transfer market.
Surplus to requirements at Stoke, Newcastle signed Joselu. He has four league goals, a sad exhibit of what £5m buys in a striker in 2017. Dwight Gayle, Newcastle’s top scorer in the Championship, has shown he doesn’t have the requisite quality to trouble Premier League defences.
Laurent Depoitre leads the ranking for Huddersfield with just five goals. Alarmingly, that’s over a quarter of their total in the league after Steve Mounie quickly faded after a bright start.
Glenn Murray has done better for Brighton, with a 1-in-2 record as a starter, although three of his eight goals have been from the penalty spot. As a low-scoring team, they might need more to stay up.
Spending not translating to goals
Established names and big-money arrivals have also been unable to do well.
Crystal Palace’s record signing Christian Benteke has just two league goals in 18 starts, a team which plays to his strengths with regular crosses from traditional wingers. Javier Hernandez at West Ham has occasionally looked bright, but six goals is a poor return for a marquee signing.
At Watford, Andre Gray only has four goals, whilst Troy Deeney has only scored from the penalty spot this season. Shane Long has scored once for Southampton. Striker has been a problem position all season for Everton after Sandro Ramirez failed to settle.
There are a couple of notable exceptions:
Charlie Austin only made five league starts before falling victim to another hamstring tear, but scored six goals and remains Southampton’s top scorer. His return from injury could be crucial to avoid relegation.
Since returning from injury in late October, Callum Wilson has been instrumental in Bournemouth’s recent rise up the table, with a good return of seven goals in 16 appearances.
Almost all the clubs in danger of relegation have identified the issue and attempted to combat it in the January transfer market.
Of the ten clubs in the bottom half, six clubs have signed an out-and-out striker, whilst three have at least added attacking players, as they all look to turn their seasons around. Of the clubs in danger of relegation, only Stoke and Bournemouth haven’t added firepower
January Arrivals (forwards and attacking players):
|Everton||Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Cenk Tosun (Beşiktaş)|
|Watford||Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona)|
|West Ham||Jordan Hugill (Preston)|
|Brighton||Jürgen Locadia (PSV), Leonardo Ulloa (Leicester)|
|Crystal Palace||Alexander Sørloth (FC Midtjylland)|
|Southampton||Guido Carrillo (Monaco)|
|Newcastle||Islam Slimani (Leicester)|
|Swansea||Andre Ayew (West Ham)|
|Huddersfield||Alex Pritchard (Norwich)|
|West Brom||Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)|
The arrivals in January reflect the realities of the transfer market – where the demand far outstrips the availability. Proven, high-calibre goalscorers will only move to the biggest clubs, or for a premium. That leaves behind a strange pool of players available – those unsettled and wanting minutes (Slimani, Sturridge, Ulloa) and players with a good record but no guarantee that will apply to the Premier League (Locadia, Hugill, Sørloth).
Certain moves should offer fans hope – Slimani at Newcastle, and Sturridge at West Brom especially look like instant upgrades on their current available options.
Others are intriguing – Sørloth from FC Midtjylland will finally give Roy Hodgson the option to bench Benteke. Locadia, moving from PSV to Brighton could alleviate Murray’s load. But it’s difficult to speculate how they’ll adapt to English football.
The clubs have acted, but there are only 12 games remaining. New arrivals will need to hit the ground running if they’re to drag their teams out of the mud.