Manchester United's 10 Most Deadly Strikers in the Premier League Era

Kyle Diller@kdiller6Contributor IIIFebruary 7, 2012

Manchester United's 10 Most Deadly Strikers in the Premier League Era

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    Manchester United are blessed that some of the world's greatest strikers have called Old Trafford home over the last two decades.

    Since the introduction of the Premier League in 1992, United have been the dominant force in England, winning 12 Premier League titles in 19 seasons. That is in no small part thanks to the wealth of attacking options Sir Alex Ferguson had at his disposal.

    Two decades later, United supporters have plenty of reasons to be proud as they look back on the deadly strikers that contributed to the club's ongoing success.

    But what makes a striker "deadly"?

    A deadly striker is simply one that scores consistently. The more often a striker finds the back of the net, the deadlier he is.

    These 10 strikers are ranked based on their goals-to-games ratio during their time in the famous red of United. Only players that made 50 or more appearances for the club were considered.

    While the consistency of these strikers is certainly impressive, it is also worth noting that the quality and importance of the goals scored are equally spectacular.

10. Ole Gunnar Solskjær

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    "...Solskjær has won it! Manchester United have reached the Promised Land." With these words, Clive Tyldesley forever ingrained Ole Gunnar Solskjær's name in the history of Manchester United. 

    Solskjær scored arguably the most important goal in United history: the game-winner in the 93rd minute of the 1999 Champions League Final to defeat Bayern Munich 2-1 and secure an unprecedented Treble.

    Down 1-0 entering stoppage time, Teddy Sheringham scored for United to pull them back even with Bayern Munich. Moments later Sheringham set up Solskjær to be the hero as he nodded on David Beckham's cross for the Norwegian to hit into the roof of the net.

    Solskjær's legend goes far beyond that May night in Barcelona, however. In his 12 seasons at the club, Solskjær developed a reputation as a "super sub." He regularly came off the bench to score goals, many of which were decisive.

    The obvious example of this is, of course, his winning goal against Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final.

    Another memorable performance from Solskjær came against Nottingham Forest, with the Norwegian scoring four goals in 12 minutes after coming on as a substitute. Though in that situation the goals were far less decisive, as United cruised to an 8-1 victory.

    Such moments are what Solskjær will long be remembered for. If the ball came to him in the box, the outcome was almost certainly a goal. He studied the game and had an instinct to be in the right place at the right time, and was lethal when the opportunity arose.

    Following his retirement in 2008, Solskjær remained in Manchester to pass on his experience as manager of the United Reserves. until November 2010 when he returned to his former club Molde FK as manager. In his first season, he led Molde to their first Norwegian Tippeligaen title in the club's 100-year history.

    The opportunity remains for Solskjær to extend his legend at Old Trafford. After a successful start to his managerial career, Solskjær was tipped by Sir Alex Ferguson to be his potential successor as manager at United.

    126 goals, 366 appearances

9. Mark Hughes

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    Mark Hughes was one of Manchester United's first strikers in the Premier League era, and was an integral part of the club's early success in the new league.

    Hughes played for United in the mid-1980s, and after brief stints abroad with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, he returned to Old Trafford just in time to begin building Sir Alex Ferguson's dynasty.

    In the first season of the Premier League, Hughes amassed 15 goals in 41 appearances as United went on to win the inaugural title. He continued his contributions the following season with 11 goals in 26 appearances as United secured back-to-back titles, in what proved to be Hughes' final Premier League triumph.

    Although Hughes was a striker of the Premier League era, much of his accomplishments with the club came prior to the league's inception. Hughes was at the tail end of his best years when the Premier League came into existence, and after three seasons with United in the new league, he was sold to Chelsea.

    Hughes' most memorable moment at United was likely during his second spell at Old Trafford, when he scored two goals against former club Barcelona to lift the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1991.

    While still playing for Wales, Hughes was made player-manager in 1999 and remained until 2004 when he took over at Blackburn Rovers. He has since proved himself to be a good Premier League manager with spells at Manchester City, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers.

    During his time at Blackburn, Hughes was suggested by some to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at United. However, a spell as manager of heated rivals City along with mediocre results cooled that talk, and it seems Hughes' legend will be strictly as a player. What a legend it is, though.

    163 goals, 467 appearances

8. Dimitar Berbatov

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    Dimitar Berbatov is probably the most technically gifted footballer on this list, but his inconsistencies in front of goal for Manchester United means he'll have to settle for eighth among the deadly strikers.

    With a majestic touch, Berbatov makes the beautiful game beautiful. He has such poise and elegance with the ball at his feet and is capable of unlocking a defense with a bit of magic and trickery. 

    Simply put, Berbatov plays the game to entertain. Thus, it is little surprise that his goals are often of such high quality.

    While United's star man, Wayne Rooney, was struggling for form last season, Berbatov shouldered the goal-scoring burden to propel United to their record-breaking 19th league title. The Bulgarian finished the season as the joint-leading scorer of the Premier League with 21 goals.

    The style in which he scored many of the goals made it all the more impressive. Berbatov became the first United player to score a hat trick against Liverpool in 64 years as he led the club to a 3-2 victory at Old Trafford in September 2010.

    Berbatov's second goal against Liverpool was magnificent, beautifully controlling the ball from a cross before executing a superb overhead kick. Pepe Reina stood helpless as the ball dipped into the top corner of the net. It was one of the best Premier League goals from a United player.

    That season Berbatov continued his devastating form with a five-goal performance against Blackburn Rovers and another hat trick against Birmingham City.

    However, this means that 11 of Berbatov's 21 goals came from only three games. Two goalless months passed between Berbatov's hat trick at Liverpool and his five goals at Blackburn. Such droughts have been the great criticism of his time at United.

    Nevertheless, with nine goals in 18 appearances this season, including a hat trick against Wigan and a brace against Blackburn, Berbatov shows no signs of letting up.

    Sir Alex Ferguson already confirmed Berbatov would get an extension on his current deal to keep him at Old Trafford until the end of next season. Although Berbatov enters the twilight of his career, plenty of opportunities remain for him to prove himself as one of the deadliest strikers United have seen.

    56 goals, 146 appearances

7. Javier Hernandez

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    Javier Hernandez stunned the world in April 2010 when it was announced that Manchester United had signed him from Chivas Guadalajara for an estimated £7 million.

    Though Hernandez was relatively unknown when he first signed with the club, his outstanding performances in the 2010 World Cup got United supporters thinking that Sir Alex Ferguson may have unearthed yet another gem.

    And a gem he was. Hernandez scored in his debut for the club, with a chip over Nick Rimando in the 2010 MLS All-Star Game. Just weeks later, Hernandez scored on his competitive debut as the ball awkwardly ricocheted off his face past Petr Cech, as United beat Chelsea 3-1 in the 2010 Community Shield.

    There was no slowing down from that point forward: Hernandez went on to score an impressive 20 goals in his debut season. The most important of these goals was arguably against Chelsea in May 2011, with Hernandez slotting it into the goal in just 36 seconds. United won the game 2-1 as Hernandez's goal propelled the club to a record-breaking 19th league title.

    While at the club, Hernandez has demonstrated a sixth-sense ability to find the goal. He is the perfect example of a poacher, and his intelligent movement in the box often creates fantastic opportunities.

    When his teammates get the ball to him, he regularly manages to score. Hernandez has the perfect predatory instinct, knowing exactly where the goal is. It seems, at times, like he is simply drawn to it.

    Hernandez has suffered from a "sophomore slump" this season, having only scored eight goals in 25 appearances. Injuries have kept him in and out of the team, and he has thus failed to build any momentum.

    Whether he can escape this slump and replicate the form of his debut season remains to be seen, but an extraordinary goal return in that first season masks the struggles of his second season and earns him a spot as one of United's 10 deadliest strikers in the Premier League era.

    28 goals, 70 appearances

6. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Cristiano Ronaldo began his Manchester United career on the right wing, but transformed into a pseudo-striker during his final years at Old Trafford.

    Some will argue that Ronaldo has no place on a list of strikers, but his goalscoring record and positioning later in his career prove he does. After all, in his final game for United he started as a striker, pushing Wayne Rooney to the left wing for the 2009 Champions League Final against Barcelona.

    As Ronaldo began to fulfill his potential at the start of the 2006-'07 campaign, Sir Alex Ferguson allowed the Portuguese phenomenon more freedom on the pitch. That freedom increased as Ronaldo proved to be the best in the world, ultimately winning the prestigious Ballon d'Or in 2008, only the fourth United player to receive the honor.

    Playing in a free role, floating around the attacking third, Ronaldo became one of the most lethal attacking threats in the game.

    From 2007 until his departure for Real Madrid in 2009, he was the most consistent goalscorer for United. In the 2007-'08 season, he broke George Best's long-standing record for most goals in a season from a midfielder with 42 goals, although by then he was playing as a midfielder-striker hybrid.

    Ronaldo was possibly the most complete goal threat United has seen in the Premier League. He could score with his right foot. He could score with his left foot. He could score with his head. He could score from set pieces. In case that wasn't enough, he also scored the occasional back-heel goal.

    Not only did he score an impressive number of goals, he scored them in spectacular fashion as well. His 40-yard screamer against FC Porto earned him the FIFA Puskás Award for goal of the season. Among his other exhilarating strikes were free kicks against Portsmouth in the Premier League, Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League group stage and Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final.

    Ronaldo never quite reached the heights he has with Real Madrid, having scored 117 goals in 120 appearances, but he will nevertheless go down in the history books as one of the greatest forwards to pull on a United shirt.

    118 goals, 292 appearances

5. Dwight Yorke

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    Dwight Yorke was not with Manchester United for long, but his impact was great.

    After joining United from Aston Villa in 1998, Yorke played a massive role in securing a historic Treble for the club. He quickly struck up a dangerous partnership with Andrew Cole. Yoke scored 30 goals in 51 appearances as United won the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in 1999.

    Yorke continued to excel the following season as United won another Premier League title, with Yorke providing 23 goals in 47 appearances.

    When United won their third successive title the following season, Yorke's involvement began to diminish, with just 12 goals in 37 appearances.

    In his fourth season at the club, Yorke played only 12 games and scored a solitary goal. His relationship with model Katie Price was rumored to have caused tension with Sir Alex Ferguson, which may have led to his exit. After a dismal season, Yorke was sold to Blackburn Rovers in 2002 for just £2 million.

    Although his stay at Old Trafford ended on a low note, in all but one of his seasons at the club, Yorke earned a Premier League winner's medal. He will forever be remembered as an integral part of the team that won the Treble.

    His time at United was short-lived, but his contributions in that period were significant to the club's success.

    66 goals, 152 appearances

4. Andrew Cole

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    Andrew Cole joined Manchester United in January 1995. For eight seasons he scored crucial goals for the club and was a fundamental player for the 1998-'99 Treble.

    After joining United from Newcastle in a record-breaking £7 million deal, Cole quickly found his shooting boots for the club. In only 18 appearances his first season, Cole found the net on 12 occasions. That season, he became the first player of the Premier League era to score five goals in a game during United's 9-1 triumph over Ipswich Town.

    Cole played alongside some of the all-time United greats in his time at the club, one of his first partners being the legendary Eric Cantona. In the 1998-'99 season, Cole struck up a famous partnership with Dwight Yorke. United won the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League that season with Cole making a massive contribution of 24 goals in 50 appearances.

    Cole continued for three further seasons after that, winning two more Premier League titles. With the arrival of Ruud Van Nistelrooy in 2001, Cole fell down the pecking order and was sold to Blackburn Rovers for £8 million. Following his time at Blackburn, he played for various English clubs in the twilight of his career.

    In his eight seasons at the club, Cole won the Premier League five times, the FA Cup twice and the Champions League once. He will long be remembered at Old Trafford for the success he brought to the club with his goals.

    121 goals, 275 appearances

3. Eric Cantona

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    Eric Cantona would be at the top of the list if this was a contest for most iconic Manchester United player of the Premier League era, but his return in front of goal means he'll have to settle for bronze on this occasion.

    Sir Alex Ferguson signed Cantona from rivals Leeds United in November 1992 for £1.2 million, which quickly proved to be a bargain. He was the missing piece in the puzzle at Old Trafford. Over the next few seasons, Cantona was the catalyst for United's earlier Premier League success.

    Cantona was erratic. He was unpredictable, and Sir Alex allowed him great freedom rather than trying to harness his power. It was a masterstroke. Cantona was virtually unplayable at times, and defenders had no idea what he'd do next.

    It made him brilliant. He made football incredible.

    "I have the impression that if he cannot score a beautiful goal, he'd rather not score," Michel Platini once said of Cantona.

    A goal against Sunderland in 1996 epitomized the enigma that is Eric Cantona. After collecting the ball near the halfway line, he took off on a breathtaking run at the Sunderland defense before playing a one-two with Brian McClair just outside the box, and then chipping the goalkeeper with the ball deflecting in off the post. He turned, stoic, and raised his arms into the air.

    In that moment, the aura of Cantona was on display for all to see. He exuded such confidence, such charisma.

    That was Cantona. Watching a highlight reel of the man is simply a breathtaking experience. What he could with the ball at his feet was nothing short of extraordinary, and he settled for nothing less.

    It is thus with good reason that Cantona is one of only two strikers to earn the title "King of the Stretford End" from the United faithful, the other being the legendary Denis Law.

    Forget the Premier League era—Cantona is one of the all-time greats at Old Trafford.

    82 goals, 185 appearances

2. Wayne Rooney

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    Wayne Rooney is on course to surpass Sir Bobby Charlton's long-standing record as the all-time leading scorer of Manchester United.

    Rooney will likely leave the club with his name heavily intertwined in the history of United. Only 84 goals separate him from being the club's all-time top scorer.

    Rooney became the most expensive teenager in the game at the age of 18 when United signed him in 2004 for a staggering £25.6 million. The young Rooney quickly proved he was worth such a significant sum, scoring a hat trick on his debut against Fenerbahçe in the UEFA Champions League.

    He has not looked back since. With an unquenchable desire to win and supreme intensity, Rooney quickly became an important player for United.

    Even those with no knowledge of the game can clearly see that without Rooney the team tends to struggle. Such is his influence. He works so hard that he can improve the players around him while continuing to perform at an exceptional level himself.

    The one aspect of Rooney's game that has plagued him, however, is inconsistency. Although he can never be faulted for his work ethic, Rooney is very much a form player. He's hot and cold. When he's on form, he's a world beater. When he's not, Rooney is painfully frustrating. Such spells have hindered his time at United, but fortunately his good performances compensate for his inconsistent periods.

    Rooney happens to be the striker who arguably scored the best goal for the club during the Premier League era. His exhilarating bicycle kick against Manchester City secured a 2-1 victory for United in February 2011. It seemed almost surreal. He rose and met Nani's cross with an overhead kick of such perfection that Joe Hart stood rooted to the line as the ball found the top corner of the net.

    Some of the United faithful have yet to forgive Rooney for his demands to leave the club in October 2010, and this fact alone may keep him from being revered as a legend at Old Trafford in the way that loyal servants Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes will be.

    166 goals, 349 appearances

1. Ruud Van Nistelrooy

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    Ruud van Nistelrooy famously only scored one goal from outside the box for Manchester United, but where he scored them mattered little given his impressive record for the club.

    No player in the history of United reached the 150-goal milestone as quickly as Van Nistelrooy, and in doing so he has the best goals-to-games ratio of a United player in the Premier League. Unfortunately, he never had an opportunity to add to his tally after reaching that achievement.

    Van Nistelrooy was the prime example of a poacher. If United could get the ball into the box, the Dutchman was most likely going to be on the end of it. He was a clinical finisher. If he had an opportunity in front of goal, it was shockingly rare that he didn't hit the target.

    After a protracted transfer saga, with United delaying the deal for an entire year due to a serious injury Van Nistelrooy sustained, he finally signed in 2001 for a £19 million fee. In his first season at the club, Van Nistelrooy burst onto the scene with 36 goals in his 49 appearances.

    The second season is when Van Nistelrooy demonstrated that he was one of the best strikers in the world. Scoring 44 goals in 52 games, he was just short of Denis Law's record of 46 goals in a single season.

    Van Nistelrooy's first three seasons were nothing short of spectacular. In each of those seasons he reached the 30-goal landmark.

    During his five seasons at United, there was only one when Van Nistelrooy failed to score more than 20 goals in a season. That one season, he spent most of the campaign sidelined with injury, only making 27 appearances in all competitions.

    Surprisingly, Van Nistelrooy's time at United coincided with a period of rebuilding at the club. United's honors while Van Nistelrooy was at the club amounted to one Premier League, one FA Cup, one Football League Cup and one Community Shield.

    Following a bust up with Sir Alex Ferguson, Van Nistelrooy was sold to Real Madrid in July 2006. He continued his lethal goal-scoring form with the La Liga outfit. He has since had spells with Hamburg and Malaga.

    Although he only stayed at Old Trafford for five seasons, Van Nistelrooy ensured himself the status of legend among the United faithful. Never has the club had such a deadly striker in the Premier League. 

    150 goals, 219 appearances