The Hottest Strikers from Week 1 of the Premier League
It feels so good to sit here and have actual, real things to write about again. No more outlandish transfer rumours (well, we can only say that for certain on September 2, but still), no more in-between, second-rate international tournaments, no more tennis.
Just pure, unadulterated football until May. Then we'll have a short break, and then the mother of all tournaments kicks off next summer. It should be good...
But enough of that rambling, let's take a look at the strikers who did themselves proud this weekend, in no particular order (beyond those who didn't fully heat up).
All stats are courtesy of Transfermarkt unless linked otherwise, and we couldn't feature players from Manchester City or Newcastle United for obvious reasons (they play on Monday night).
Wilfried Bony (Swansea City 1-4 Manchester United)
Swansea City’s club-record signing, brought in by Michael Laudrup in July for £12 million, found himself on the bench for the first half of his side’s meeting with Manchester United.
His debut came in the second half of the game, with Swansea 2-0 down but still very much in the game. He gave a glimpse of the movement and aerial prowess that earned him 31 goals in 30 games with Vitesse Arnhem last season.
Naturally, Michu will remain the first choice to lead the line, but Bony added another dimension to Swansea’s attack. He found himself on the end of a number of chances before capping his debut with a well-taken first-touch shot into the bottom corner.
Olivier Giroud (Arsenal 1-3 Aston Villa)
It seems unlikely that Arsene Wenger is entertaining the idea of another season relying on Giroud as his main goalscorer, but the Frenchman didn’t do too badly on Saturday against Aston Villa.
Giroud knocked in a well-taken close-range finish from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s deft low cross, a situation that could easily have resulted in him tripping over the ball on another day.
A couple more chances came his way and went begging. The former Montpellier player will be hoping to improve on last year’s tally of 11 league goals, and this was a good way to start.
Wayne Rooney (Swansea City 1-4 Manchester United)
Although there is still no public confirmation from the player or his representatives over whether or not he wants to leave Old Trafford, David Moyes saw fit to introduce Rooney as a second-half substitute, and what a good decision that was.
While he was nowhere near his best, even a partially in-form Rooney is an asset, as demonstrated by the two goals he created during the 20 or so minutes he was on the pitch.
However, a couple of fundamental mistakes—such as uncharacteristically drifting offside—showed a lack of focus, while a certain picture of an isolated Rooney while his teammates mob Robin van Persie has also been doing the rounds. Some journalists, even the astute Jonathan Northcroft of The Times, have insinuated that the picture is indicative of Rooney being ostracised at the club—but that straddles being speculative and borders on ridiculous.
Still, even with all the media distractions, it was not a bad showing at all.
Rickie Lambert, Southampton
West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Southampton
As far as a week can go, Rickie Lambert has had what may have been the best of his career.
The 31-year-old warmed himself to a nation by scoring the winning goal on his England debut midweek, and that trend continued into Southampton’s first game of the 2013/14 season.
Lambert imposed himself in the West Bromwich Albion box and had a first-half assist incorrectly ruled out for offside. He also forged a number of chances for himself, but he could not find the net in open play.
However, the industry of Luke Shaw—who will be key to Southampton’s season along with Adam Lallana and new signing Victor Wanyama—saw him brought down for a penalty by Youssuf Mulumbu in the 89th minute. Lambert stepped up to score in the collected manner that has seen his previous 26 league penalties hit the net.
With the tall order of trying to match or better last season’s 15 goals in 38 games, Lambert has certainly started in the right way.
Roberto Soldado, Tottenham Hotspur
Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur
It was always expected that, regardless of where Gareth Bale ends up this summer, Andre Villas-Boas would buy wisely—especially with his contacts down on the Iberian Peninsula. Bringing Roberto Soldado in from Valencia for a club-record fee of £26 million looks to have been a good move.
One of three players in this list to get on due to his penalty-taking ability, Soldado’s inclusion is down to much more than that.
While the rest of his team struggled to get into their rhythm—a possible side effect of not having the direct play of Bale—Soldado weaved his way through the spaces in the Crystal Palace defence in a manner which begged for him to see more of the ball, but it wasn’t to be.
Even so, when a chance as good as a penalty presented itself—Spurs didn’t receive one for the whole of last season—he wasn’t going to spurn it. The Spaniard calmly dispatched the ball into the left side of the net while Julian Speroni went the other way.
Soldado looks ready to blossom, and under AVB he very probably will.
Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool
Liverpool 1-0 Stoke City
Chelsea must be kicking themselves for choosing Fernando Torres over Daniel Sturridge, if only for the price difference.
The young England international showed how lost Liverpool are not without Luis Suarez toward the end of last season, and he has carried on in that vein into 2013/14.
With Philippe Coutinho calling the shots just behind the attack, Sturridge was free to wander in and out of the Stoke City back four, causing them to constantly look over their shoulders, always knowing that the ball would reach him. A headed goal ruled out for a narrow offside and a close-range effort that blazed past the angle let viewers know it was only a matter of time before the ex-Chelsea player put Liverpool ahead.
And that goal came in an explosive fashion, with Sturridge receiving the ball 25 yards from goal and setting himself before unleashing a daisy-cutter that rolled past Asmir Begovic and into the bottom corner.
Sturridge is one of the most exciting players to watch out for this season.
Christian Benteke, Aston Villa
Arsenal 1-3 Aston Villa
With Aston Villa having managed to hold on to their star man so far, Christian Benteke showed them why he is one of the most coveted young strikers in Europe.
Granted, both of his goals in Villa’s 3-1 victory over Arsenal originated at the penalty spot, but each was notable. The first demonstrated quick reactions to head the ball in after Wojciech Szczesny’s save, while the second, stroked calmly into the bottom-left corner, gave the keeper no chance.
The performance of Gabriel Agbonlahor gave Benteke plenty to work with, and the Belgian was a nuisance to the Arsenal back four for the duration of the game, even more so after Laurent Koscielny's red card.
It was a good start to Benteke’s season, and we should expect plenty more to come.
Danny Welbeck, Manchester United
Swansea City 1-4 Manchester United
After an early moment of hesitation, when he should have been putting Ryan Giggs through on goal rather than attempting a stunted effort of his own, Welbeck’s game against Swansea City improved dramatically.
With concerns over his ability in front of goal hanging over him last season, the 22-year-old responded appropriately by getting himself into the box far more regularly than was seen in 2012/13, and his efforts paid off handsomely.
An easy tap-in from Antonio Valencia’s cross-box ball opened his account for the season, while a brilliantly executed late chip over Michel Vorm brought the match to a close. Even when he wasn’t scoring, Welbeck gave the Swansea defence plenty to think about.
By scoring two goals on Saturday, he has already doubled last year's league tally.
Robin van Persie, Manchester United
Swansea City 1-4 Manchester United
With the headlines currently occupied by the holy triumvirate of Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and Van Persie’s teammate Wayne Rooney, the Dutchman set about getting himself into Sunday’s papers the way he knows best: as a dead-eye in front of goal.
Ryan Giggs’ looping ball into the box bounced high, and while Chico Flores and Ashley Williams floundered helplessly, Van Persie athletically wrapped his foot around the ball at an awkward height, sending it past the stricken Michel Vorm.
The second goal was even better, with the 30-year-old using Wayne Rooney’s run to create some space before lashing the ball into the roof of the net.
It remains to be seen if there will be another midseason dip in form like last year, but based on this evidence, Van Persie will again be the key man in Manchester United’s campaign.