The 2014-15 Premier League season is right around the corner. And with preparations for the upcoming campaign nearly in the books, it's time to start looking ahead at how yet another year of glorious English football will play out.
We already know last year's Golden Boot winner won't be making it two in a row. Luis Suarez, who finished as top scorer with 31 goals in 2013-14, moved to Catalan giants Barcelona over the summer. The Premier League still has an arsenal of gifted scorers, however. And this year's Golden Boot race should be a good one.
With several talented new entries and former winners going head-to-head, punters will have a deep pool of players from which to choose. Let's have a look at the odds for this year's Golden Boot, courtesy of Oddschecker:
|Robin van Persie||9-2||Alexis Sanchez||14-1|
|Sergio Aguero||11-2||Edin Dzeko||14-1|
|Daniel Sturridge||11-2||Romelu Lukaku||16-1|
|Diego Costa||7-1||Olivier Giroud||20-1|
|Wayne Rooney||11-1||Yaya Toure||20-1|
For the full list, visit Oddschecker.com by clicking here.
Robin van Persie
Two-time winner Robin van Persie tops the oddsmakers' list, coming in at 9-2. The 2013-14 season was one to forget for the Dutchman. And while he seemed to return to top form during the 2014 World Cup group stage, his struggles continued in the latter parts of that tournament.
He has history on his side, however. And when healthy, he's still one of the best poachers the Premier League has to offer. The Dutchman isn't particularly fast or strong, but his football IQ is off the charts. He's always in the right position, and his finishing is deadly.
This stunning goal against Spain, as shared by Squawka, perfectly illustrates the kind of player Van Persie is: Smart, instinctive and very good at putting the ball in the back of the net:
The biggest obstacle in his quest for a third Golden Boot has to be health. Physioroom.com came up with a list detailing his injury history, and it isn't pretty.
If the Dutchman can stay healthy for a full season, however, he has every chance of finishing the season as the Premier League's top scorer.
Manchester City's top finisher is No. 2 on the oddsmakers' list, thanks to his consistency when it comes to scoring goals. Quick, technical and always around the box, the Argentine international has to be accounted for every single time Manchester City cross midfield.
Like Van Persie, Sergio Aguero has had some struggles with injuries in the past, but he faces a far bigger threat to a potential Golden Boot win: City's offensive depth. With Yaya Toure, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo stealing plenty of good looks on goal, there simply aren't as many opportunities for Aguero as there are for other strikers.
The small forward is a safe bet to be one of the top players in the upcoming season, but at 11-2 odds to win the Golden Boot, punters better look elsewhere.
Depending on what your favourite Premier League team is, you either believe Daniel Sturridge will benefit from not having to share chances on goal with Suarez, or that his excellent scoring return last season was a by-product of playing with the Uruguayan.
Glass Fish guitarist Jimi Walsh is a believer:
As shared by Liverpool's official Twitter account, so is Jamie Carragher:
Sturridge's particular skill set won't vanish just because Suarez isn't around. He's still a remarkable finisher and an excellent technician playing in a wide-open offensive philosophy that thrives on scoring more than it does on preventing goals.
Oddsmakers have taken note of his great campaign in 2013-14, however. And at 11-2, he might not represent enough of a return for punters looking to score big. Coupled with the uncertainty of life after Suarez, Sturridge is a risky pick that might not pay big dividends.
Looking at last year's numbers, new Chelsea signing Diego Costa is by far the most attractive option for punters. The Spanish international scored 27 goals in La Liga (per WhoScored.com), an impressive haul. And with odds of 7-1, he presents punters with the perfect risk/reward scenario.
Much will depend on how the striker adapts to the Premier League. Costa appeared to struggle against Chelsea's close marking during the Champions League, a defensive strategy he'll be facing a lot in 2014-15.
He finished the club season with an injury that forced him to leave the pitch during the Champions League final and didn't impress at the 2014 World Cup, leading to some concerns his first season in England might not go as planned.
Costa will be Chelsea's focal point in attack, but like Aguero, he could suffer from the multitude of attacking talent around him. The likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Andre Schurrle all scored freely last season. And while that's good news for the Blues, it's bad news for Costa's Golden Boot hopes.
But compared to the odds of some of the other top strikers around the league, 7-1 for a proven scorer is a tantalising prospect.
The biggest enigma is without a doubt Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez, who comes in at 14-1. The Chilean is wildly talented, scored an impressive 19 league goals in Spain last season (per WhoScored.com) and is undoubtedly the Gunners' most gifted finisher.
But apart from the usual question (how will he adapt to the Premier League), there's one which is even more pivotal: Where will he play?
At Udinese and with the Chilean national team, he played as a striker in a two-man front and did arguably his best work. At Barcelona, he was used as a wide man, and on paper, that should be his role with Arsenal as well.
Arsene Wenger thinks otherwise, however, as he told the club's official website (h/t ESPN):
He is a striker and he's a good finisher. He made a great impression in Italy [with Udinese] - I saw him there and he was really outstanding. At the moment I want to see him in both positions, but I took him because he is a player who has the qualities of [Theo] Walcott, he goes behind the defenders off the ball. And with the quality of his runs he can be very important for us.
Thierry Henry played as a winger with Juventus before joining Arsenal and converting to the striker position, but the Frenchman was also well over six feet tall. Sanchez is not, and while he boasts impressive power for a player his size, conventional wisdom indicates he's too small to play as a lone striker in the physical Premier League.
Wenger couldn't care less about conventional wisdom, and if there's anyone who could convert Sanchez into a successful striker, it's the Gunners' manager. But such a conversion takes more than just one pre-season—don't expect results to be immediate.
As a two-time winner, Van Persie is arguably the safest option available. While he's not a flashy pick, and he wouldn't give punters a massive return, he's probably the one player you'd have to select if your life depended on it.
Don't sleep on Sturridge, however. The English international showed his value in 2013-14; if the Reds can find him a suitable partner, he could put together a similar season this year, which could be enough to lift the Golden Boot.
Punters looking for a solid return have to go with Costa, who carries the best odds of any of the players with a history for scoring plenty of goals (don't sleep on Wayne Rooney, either). As for predictions, give me Sturridge in a minor upset.