It is a truth universally acknowledged that scoring goals is the hardest thing to do in football. That's why those who can are worth the most money.
Much has been made over how much Premier League clubs have spent on strikers over the summer, with Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea all having paid over £50 million to land their targets.
For the last two seasons, Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane has been the Premier League's most clinical marksman, winning the Golden Boot on each occasion with 29 and 25 goals respectively.
What's remarkable about the forthcoming season is how the leading clubs, with the exception of perhaps only Tottenham and Liverpool, could all start the new campaign with a different first-choice centre-forward than last term.
At Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, it is anticipated Romelu Lukaku, Alexandre Lacazette and Alvaro Morata will all start in the weekend's opening fixtures, while Sergio Aguero has a fight on his hands at Manchester City to fend off the precociously talented Gabriel Jesus.
Here we look at the possible contenders to win the Golden Boot and predict how the new boys will fare in their debut Premier League campaigns.
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
The COYS Boys @thecoysboys
Spurs one, Juventus nil, off the head of Harry Kane. #COYS https://t.co/zLVzbO7LJ82017-8-5 16:47:48
Premier League goals last season: 29 in 2,531 minutes played (87 minutes per goal)
Total shots and conversion rate last season: 110 (29%)
Big chances missed last season (Premier League data): 11
Premier League points won with goals: 13
Premier League goals in last three seasons: 2016/17—29, 2015/16—25, 2014/15—21.
Kane heads into the new campaign looking to become only the third player to win the Golden Boot three times on the spin. FA rules are unclear as to whether he gets to keep the trophy if he does it.
Alan Shearer had no desire to wear golden boots, but putting personal preference aside between 1994 and 1997, he became the first Premier League player to top-score for three consecutive seasons. Thierry Henry followed suit from 2003 to 2006, scoring a remarkable 82 goals in 101 appearances over three seasons.
Last season Kane was the first player to retain the trophy since Robin van Persie scored 30 goals for Arsenal in 2011/12 before following it up with 26 for Manchester United the following campaign.
Kane is no stranger to trebles, with four of 11 hat-tricks scored in the Premier League last term belonging to the Spurs striker. This propensity to score goals in gluts (seven in his last two matches saw him beat Lukaku to the crown) has led to accusations of him being a flat-track bully. Kane's 29 goals were scored in just 16 of the 30 league matches he played in. There's a thin line between bullying and ruthless efficiency. Neither is a bad trait for a goalscorer to have.
If he is a flat-track bully, he's one who would walk into any other Premier League side as first-choice centre-forward. Chelsea boss Antonio Conte must have given new boy Alvaro Morata quite the boost over the summer when he said if he could have signed any striker, it would have been Kane, as reported by the Guardian. It's like a groom's speech that begins by first raising a toast to the bridesmaid that got away. "If it couldn't have been you, Carol, I'm more than happy with my lovely new wife Jayne. To Carol!"
Over the past three years, Kane has scored 75 Premier League goals, a one-season wonder who is one of only four players to score 20 league goals in three successive campaigns. He keeps company with Shearer, Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy on merit.
If he hasn't extended his tally of Premier League goals into three figures by the end of May, something will have gone badly wrong for Kane and Spurs.
If Kane can stay fit, this may be the season when he steps it up another level again to push past the 30-goal mark. He's a firm favourite with the bookies for good reason.
Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
BT Sport Football @btsportfootball
"Lukaku is Premier League proven and Matic for me is an excellent signing." Steven Gerrard believes Man Utd are serious title challengers https://t.co/23VpUOCnzC2017-8-6 12:49:16
Premier League goals last season: 25 in 3,267 minutes played (131 minutes per goal)
Total shots and conversion rate last season: 110 (22.7%)
Big chances missed last season (Premier League data): 8
Premier League points won with goals: 9
Premier League goals in last three seasons (All for Everton): 2016/17—25, 2015/16—18, 2014/15—10.
Manchester United's record £75 million signing Lukaku moves to one of the biggest clubs in world football charged with the twin task of replacing its all-time record goalscorer, Wayne Rooney, and replacing its recently most prolific, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
While the former could have multi-tasked as Fred the Red such was his peripheral role towards the end of his time at Old Trafford, Ibrahimovic was responsible for 28 goals, including 17 in the Premier League. Given United only scored 54 all season, fewer than Bournemouth, it's quite the gap to fill.
If Lukaku is feeling the pressure, he has done a decent job of disguising the fact over pre-season. A fledgling partnership with Marcus Rashford has looked exciting, while a big personality appears to have been ingratiated immediately into a dressing room many believe has become a bit quiet and polite since Sir Alex Ferguson left the building. If his double act with Pogba is half as engaging on the field as it is off it, the Belgian could have quite the season.
History dictates he has every reason to be confident. Over the past five years, Aguero is the only player to have scored more Premier League goals than him, while Kane alone bettered the 25 he bagged last season.
Just like Kane, he has every chance of joining the Premier League 100 club by the end of 2017/18. He's currently on 85, which, at 24, is more than any of Cristiano Ronaldo (84), Carlos Tevez (84), Eric Cantona (70) and Luis Suarez (69) managed in their respective spells in England. He joins Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Rooney as one of only four players to reach 80 Premier League goals before the age of 24.
In 184 starts in English football, he has notched 104 goals, while last term he scored 40.3 percent of Everton's league goals. No player since Bob Latchford in 1978 had scored 25 goals in all competitions prior to Lukaku's typically robust assault on the club's record books.
At 24, he still has his rough edges. His movement, work rate and first touch are works in progress (jeez, what'd you expect for £75 million?), but he's pretty much as close as it gets to a guarantee of Premier League goals. On an aesthetic level, Lukaku will always have his critics, but in terms of raw effectiveness, it's hard to argue against him meriting his place on last season's PFA Player of the Year shortlist. At Manchester United, Jose Mourinho will demand he steps it up another level still. There's no reason why he can't.
It would certainly be a surprise if he were outscored by any of the other new signings featured here, with debut campaigns in the Premier League not always the easiest to negotiate. Especially for strikers, where expectations can be charted against the mother of all tangibles: goals.
According to a recent study conducted by Bwin, 27 percent of strikers signed from another Premier League club scored a goal every other game in their first season, compared to only 17 percent of overseas signings.
Better the devil you know seems an apt a way as any other to describe Mourinho's transfer dealings over the summer.
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Simon Peach @SimonPeach
#MCFC manager Pep Guardiola says Sergio Aguero is going nowhere this summer (Claudio Bravo is staying, too) https://t.co/un95cxyXb72017-7-19 18:14:49
Premier League goals last season: 20 in 2,403 minutes played (120 minutes per goal)
Total shots and conversion rate last season: 139 (14.4%)
Big chances missed last season (Premier League data): 13
Premier League points won with goals: 13
Premier League goals in last three seasons: 2016/17—20, 2015/16—24, 2014/15—26.
In the history of the Premier League, there have been few more reliable performers than Aguero. In his debut campaign at Manchester City, having arrived in the summer of 2011 from Atletico Madrid with a reputation as big as the Ritz, he scored 23 league goals. Manchester was made for Aguero. He and Dave Silva are bigger Mancs than the Gallagher brothers these days.
In four of his six seasons in England, he has scored more than 20 league goals. A goals-per-minute rate of one every 106 outstrips any player in the competition's history, with only Shearer quicker to 100 Premier League goals. Despite the odd moan over his injuries and hamstrings being made of straw, the numbers hardly suggest he's on the decline. Only Kane has managed more goals over the past three seasons, 75 to Aguero's 70.
Aguero's a phenomenon, and an under-appreciated one at that (cough, Pep).
Across all competitions, his tally for City stands at 169 in 253 games, including surely the most iconic one ever scored since the Premier League's inception in 1992.
Having finished last season by scoring 15 goals in City's final 17 matches, to take his tally to 33 in 45 games, one might presume he will kick off the new campaign from where he left the previous one.
Pep Guardiola is not a man easily pleased. Give him the Eiffel Tower for his birthday, and he'd look listlessly at the Statue of Liberty. He sees the glass as neither half-empty nor half-full but instead ruminates on why he should be made to see it as a glass at all.
In fairness, his alternative to Aguero doesn't look half bad either (see below). There's a fair-to-middling chance Aguero may become better acquainted with the substitutes' bench than a player of his calibre should ever have to endure. For all the noise, the Premier League is nowhere near strong enough to have a player of Aguero's quality zipped up in a tracksuit on matchday.
A potentially complicated striking situation at Manchester City is quite simple really. Either Aguero will play, and almost certainly as a consequence be a contender for the Golden Boot he won in the 2014/15, or he won't, which will mean Jesus is lighting up the Premier League.
Both played and scored in City's 3-0 win over West Ham United in Iceland on Friday, giving rise to the possibility of the pair starting in tandem.
Make it so Pep, make it so.
Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)
Premier League goals last season: Seven in 651 minutes played (93 minutes per goal)
Total shots and conversion rate last season: 24 (29.1%)
Big chances missed last season (Premier League data): 3
Premier League points won with goals: 6
League goals in last three seasons: 2016/17—7 (Manchester City), 2015/16—12 (Palmeiras), 2014/15— 4 (Palmeiras).
It's a measure of Jesus' quality that, at 20 years old and with just 10 Premier League starts under his belt, any list of this nature without his name on it would seem incomplete.
As previously stated, whether he can usurp Aguero as City's first-choice striker will dictate how frequently he troubles the scoresheet. Though his impact last season was only fleeting, having arrived in Manchester from Palmeiras at the back end of January, it was more than enough to suggest this kid is the real deal and then some.
Prior to a broken metatarsal in his right foot at Bournemouth in February, he had done enough to convince his manager he should be leading the line. An infectious willingness to press, coupled with what seems a God-given talent when he gets on the ball, had Guardiola purring. When he started matches, City looked as good, if not better, than at any other stage in the season.
If it seems fanciful he's ready for a full campaign of senior football at the sharp end, it's worth noting he's first-choice centre-forward for Brazil, with five goals from seven caps testimony to his looking at ease in the most elevated of company.
His goals-per-minute record for City isn't too shabby either. While it would represent a surprise were he to seriously push for the Golden Boot in his first full season in England, such is the previousness of his burgeoning talent, few would be dumbstruck were he to have 20 league goals on his radar.
Least of all his manager.
Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
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"He's here, he's here!" Arsene Wenger on why Alexis Sanchez is absent from the Arsenal squad vs. Chelsea. 🎤 @DesKellyBTS https://t.co/Q5vhUdVGAk2017-8-6 12:29:47
Premier League goals last season: 24 in 3,223 minutes played (134 minutes per goal)
Total shots and conversion rate last season: 129 (18.6%)
Big chances missed last season (Premier League data): 8
Premier League points won with goals: 11
Premier League goals in last three seasons: 2016/17—24, 2015/16—13, 2014/15—16.
Less than a week to go until the big kick-off and he's still here, then. The sight of Sanchez in his shades sat in the stand at Wembley with Mesut Ozil on Sunday led to frenzied speculation over his absence from the matchday squad. Manager Arsene Wenger was quick to confirm he was left out as a precaution. It seems the wantaway Chilean is staying.
When the Premier League's last remaining economist, Wenger, refuses to even countenance selling a player for £50 million he will almost certainly lose for nothing in the summer, there can be little doubt football has finally eaten itself.
As it stands, next season will essentially be an open audition for Sanchez. In pursuit of the best possible move, and most amount of money, he'll probably score 50 as Arsenal march to the treble.
To allow such a talismanic figure to essentially drift away from the club, like a bottle tossed into the sea, is an almost unprecedented gamble. The feeling within the club is the most likely way to make an immediate return to the Champions League, having missed out for the first time in 20 years last season, is to keep Sanchez chained to an Emirates radiator and only let him free on matchdays. It should be a fascinating watch.
Urban Arsenal @ArsenalUrban
.@Alexis_Sanchez kissing the Arsenal badge at Members' day today #afc https://t.co/Qh5xNqe0ph2017-8-3 14:09:07
If he stays, will he fluctuate between frustration and petulance as he did for much of last season, leading to reports he had pushed the patience of a number of his team-mates too far? Or will he find an inner tranquillity safe in the knowledge this is just a fleeting problem—not even really his—like when, as a kid, you holidayed with a friend and never quite knew where to put yourself when their parents argued in front of you?
Either way, he will do well to match last season's herculean effort that saw him score a career-high 24 league goals. The signing of Lacazette will likely see him used more sparingly through the middle, which when coupled with the uncertainly over his future, probably makes him more of an outside bet for the Golden Boot than is appropriate for a man of his oversized talent.
Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal)
BT Sport Football @btsportfootball
"He looked class. He certainly looks like an Arsenal player." Alexandre Lacazette put in an impressive display against Chelsea. 👏 https://t.co/rq8llKg8kK2017-8-6 15:42:58
Premier League goals last season: N/A. 28 in 2,408 minutes played (86 minutes per goal) for Lyon
League goals in last three seasons (All for Lyon): 2016/17—28, 2015/16—21, 2014/15—27.
Despite being tipped to win the Golden Boot by Michael Owen in an article on the official Premier League website, there's no reason why Lacazette shouldn't be a success at Arsenal. The club's record £52 million signing arrives in north London with a strut in his step on the back of a career-best 28 league goals last season. Since 2013, he has never failed to score fewer than 20 goals per campaign, with 129 in 275 games his overall record in Lyon.
He outscored Karim Benzema during their respective stints at Lyon, which somehow seems important given Wenger has spent much of the past decade trying to make eyes with the Real Madrid man. Interest was first lodged when Benzema was still in the womb.
Gerard Houllier has compared compatriot Lacazette to Ian Wright, so no pressure there. Most Arsenal supporters would settle for him being an upgrade on Olivier Giroud. Though the calibre of Ligue 1 is decidedly comme ci comme ca, Lacazette's physicality and single-minded obsession with scoring goals should make a real difference in an Arsenal side always the prettiest girl in the class but not always the smartest.
With the best shot conversion rate (28 goals from just 84 attempts) of any player in Europe who scored at least 20 goals last season, he may just prove to be the proper No. 9 Arsenal have needed for years. A player who would rather score two ugly goals than one beautiful one could be quite the novelty at the Emirates.
At 26, Lacazette is no pup. He should have enough knowhow in the locker to make a decent fist of it. After an indifferent pre-season, talk has been of him requiring time to settle, with the player having conceded he needs to get up to speed with the language barrier. What he needed was to hit the ground running in order to fend off the not-inconsiderable competition posed by the oft-derided but talented Giroud and Danny Welbeck.
Sunday's Community Shield was a more than decent start. His linkup play was lively, while he was unfortunate not to score after striking the post.
Alvaro Morata (Chelsea)
Premier League goals last season: N/A. 15 in 1334 minutes played (89 minutes per goal) for Real Madrid
League goals in last three seasons: 2016/17—15 (Real Madrid), 2015/16—7 (Juventus), 2014/15—8 (Juventus).
Lukaku is not alone in having to fill the boots of a bona fide legend. Morata pitches up at Chelsea as a like-for-like replacement for Diego Costa, a man whose pantomime villain act should not disguise the fact he is brilliantly effective. A total of 59 goals in 120 matches is nothing shy of phenomenal.
Twice in the last three seasons, Costa has delivered 20 league goals in title-winning campaigns. Compared to his international team-mate, Chelsea's record £58 million signing from Real Madrid is greener than Bruce Banner.
His pedigree is immaculate, though. At 24, his trophy cabinet from stints at European titans Real Madrid and Juventus boasts two Spanish league titles, two Champions Leagues, two Scudettos, two Copas del Rey, two Coppas Italia, a UEFA Super Cup and a FIFA Club World Cup. He has played in three of the last four Champions League finals and top-scored for Spain at Euro 2016.
Yet still, after all that, there's an air of the unknown quantity about him. Last season was the first time in Morata's career, he has got into double figures for league goals.
Even more disconcerting is only once has he started more than 15 league games, while he completed a full 90 minutes on just five occasions last term.
On the positive, there's no doubt he's a lovely and potent finisher. Last season he scored 15 in just 14 league starts (and a further 12 substitute appearances), with 20 bagged in total. In the whole of La Liga, only Lionel Messi bettered Morata's goals-per-minute ratio of 15 in 1,334, working out at one every 89 minutes. That's right up there with Kane.
While particularly proficient in the air, eight of his 20 goals last term were headers, Morata is capable of scoring all types of efforts. Earlier in the summer I compared his unerringly unfussy finishing to Van Nistelrooy.
In the Dutchman's first season at Manchester United, he scored 23 goals in 32 league games and a further 10 in the Champions League. Oh, and he was named the PFA Players' Player of the Year.
Something like that would do just fine, Alvaro, just fine.
Having admitted to suffering from self-doubt in the past, he could probably have done without introducing himself to English football by missing a penalty in Sunday's Community Shield penalty shootout between Chelsea and Arsenal after a 1-1 draw at Wembley.
It can only get better from here, and it will.
Best of the Rest
Jack Lusby @jacklusby_
Mohamed Salah scored a goal every 79.3 minutes in pre-season, the best average of any #LFC player despite also being top scorer (4). https://t.co/pUD7OZ3WLm2017-8-6 09:56:01
Liverpool are a weird one. Despite housing probably the best front four in the whole league, it's difficult to envisage any of Sadio Mane (13), Philippe Coutinho (13), Roberto Firmino (11) or Mohamed Salah (15 for Roma in Serie A) topping the scoring charts. It's not, though, unfeasible any one of the four could end the campaign as a serious Player of the Year candidate. If Salah's pre-season form is anything to go by, Jurgen Klopp may just have pulled off the signing of the summer.
Tottenham's Deli Ali will be looking to break the 20-goal mark having scored 18 last season, while Eden Hazard is another midfielder-cum-forward plenty good enough to do likewise.
Javier Hernandez is tipped by many to do well at West Ham United, but anything over double figures will be regarded a quiet success for the Mexican.
Rashford will almost certainly improve on his figures from last year, but he will play second fiddle to Lukaku too often to have a serious chance of making a dent on the big boys.
Down on the south coast, it will be interesting to see if Joshua King and Jermain Defoe can hit it off in what will be the quintessential big man-little man partnership at Bournemouth. The pair scored 31 Premier League goals between them last season.