EPL: Super strikers wanted

EPL: Super strikers wanted
Manchester United's Dutch manager Louis van Gaal arrives ahead of the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on August 8, 2015.
PHOTO: AFP

Save the sugarcoating for the spin-doctors.

The opening weekend of the Premier League season took on the complexion of a paint-stripping contest, with less colour and fewer incidents. Once the hype gave way to reality, three out of the Big Four got poorer reviews than the Fantastic Four.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal either stumbled at the first hurdle or, in the case of the Gunners, clattered into the hurdle in heavy headgear.

But the fundamental flaw isn't Petr Cech. It's the shared concern of inadequate firepower.

After their 2-0 defeat by West Ham, Arsenal are Premier League candidates in the way that Donald Trump is a presidential candidate - sputtered because of the glaring absence of striking depth.

Chelsea started with Diego Costa against Swansea, but the Spaniard struggled as the thought of another tweaked hamstring hampered both his movement and his manager's selections.

INEFFECTIVE

Eager for all three points at Stamford Bridge on opening day, Jose Mourinho persevered with the flailing Costa, a damning indictment of Falcao, who managed a six-minute cameo and Loic Remy, who never left the bench, in the 2-2 draw.

Manchester United, at least, managed a 1-0 victory, but the stuttering attack expressed itself with the finesse of a Tourette's sufferer, guilty of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time and embarrassing those around them.

Wayne Rooney required so many touches to control and dispatch a simple pass he left it to Tottenham's Kyle Walker to supply the clumsy finish.

United prevailed in large part to Spurs' never-ending transitional period that began when Gareth Bale left the club and has yet to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

But the Gunners were the colossal disappointment, not a surprise particularly, just a crushingly predictable collapse with the usual mental weaknesses.

Olivier Giroud must grow tired of the "decent, but not a world-class striker" tag.

The description has been thrown at him like a patronising crumb of comfort for so long now the Frenchman might as well have it printed on a T-shirt.

But a couple of presentable chances were spurned against West Ham, the kind usually put away by - all together now - world-class strikers.

Ironically, there was one smart striking acquisition on show yesterday (Singapore time), but he was bought by a club that have started the season more schizophrenic than ever before.

Christian Benteke is the right striker lost in the wrong formation, or even the wrong club, if Brendan Rodgers doesn't compromise quickly.

The brutish, occasionally brilliant, Belgian would flourish at Mourinho's Chelsea, an obvious replacement for Didier Drogba.

Instead he finds himself at Liverpool, where short passes between fullbacks and inverted wingers remain the order of the day.

Against Stoke, he looked like a static bumper in a pinball machine, unable to trap the ball or influence proceedings.

But Benteke opted for Liverpool because the Big Four never came calling, reiterating the ongoing dilemma for the title chasers.

HARDWORKER

Benteke isn't quite good enough to chase for continental and domestic honours, but he is a committed, honest toiler perhaps capable of a dash for Champions League qualification.

The next, upper tier of talent is harder to come by.

Despite the avalanche of TV cash engulfing the Premier League, the pool of genuine world-class strikers continues to shrink.

By the time Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain have pulled out their hooks, there's no big fish left to catch.

The English anglers are currently fighting over Barcelona bench-warmer Pedro Rodriguez or Karim Benzema - but only if Real Madrid are certain they are better off without him of course.

So the inconvenient truth promises to be more self-evident this season. The Premier League's big boys are cash rich, but asset poor in the penalty box.

They're overhyped over here. But the finest strikers are over there, elsewhere.

The squads of Chelsea, Arsenal and United resemble bloated pyramids with blunted apexes, filled with creative dynamos and scampering wide men, but starved of proven, dependable quality up front.

Put bluntly, their respective title challenges depend on a raging bull with the hamstrings of a hamster, a mercurial Frenchman and a weary warrior heading towards his 30th birthday.

The title contenders really should go shopping for strikers to reinvigorate their squads and wake up the season.

Or we'll all be hitting the snooze button.

 Who can fit the bill?

Neil Humphreys picks the strikers with the best chance of joining the Premier League big boys before the transfer window closes.

1. KARIM BENZEMA (Real Madrid)

After the West Ham defeat, an irate Arsenal fan reportedly confronted Arsene Wenger and demanded that he either sign Benzema or resign immediately. The incident highlights two truisms.

First, the Gunners faithful remain notoriously fickle, considering they were supposedly going to win the title 90 minutes earlier with the best squad in a decade. And second, the supporter has a point.

Benzema would be perfect for Arsenal. The 27-year-old is not foolproof in front of goal, but far more consistent than his fellow Frenchman Olivier Giroud. It would take a club record fee for Arsenal to persuade Real Madrid to let him go, but the cash is available.

It's now a test of Wenger's nerve and principles, particularly if Manchester City are also serious about pinching Benzema.

2. Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona)

According to Italian media reports, Pedro has secretly taken part of his medical at Manchester United after a £24.7 million deal ($53m) with Barcelona was agreed. Having sold Angel di Maria to Paris Saint-Germain, the funds are available and Pedro's services are obviously required.

Wayne Rooney is a willing runner, but lacks the acceleration. At 27, the World Cup, European Championship and Champions League winner Pedro should be hitting his prime.

Instead, he's hitting a brick wall behind Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. Old Trafford should be his new home.

3. GONZALO HIGUAIN (NAPOLI)

He's already rejected a new contract at Napoli and popped up on both Chelsea and Arsenal's radar screens.

If Wenger fails to capture Benzema, he may see Higuain as a fall-back. Still only 27 and the quintessential No. 9, the Argentinian managed 18 goals in 37 games last season.

But he's also famously erratic and comes with a rumoured £66m release clause. Even United manager Louis van Gaal rarely takes such transfer gambles.

4. HARRY KANE (SPURS)

Sources are claiming that van Gaal has made discreet enquiries about the 22-year-old sensation, presumably after watching pigs fly past the kitchen window.

But the athletic, freakishly strong forward would be an invaluable asset up front with his England partner Rooney.

He bludgeoned his way to 31 goals in all competitions for Spurs last season and will come with a prize tag of at least £40m.

It's the longest of shots, but van Gaal has shown in the past that he's just as willing to splash the cash as Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is to receive it.

When we can buy another striker who has a lot of qualities, more than our players, then we buy. But we have always done that. - Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal on buying a striker.

 


This article was first published on August 11, 2015.
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