The business end of the Premier League season is upon us, and while the title race has become a bit of a procession for Manchester City, the Golden Boot chase remains anything but a foregone conclusion.
Throughout the campaign fans have been treated to exhibitions of world-class attacking play, with the division’s scintillating centre-forwards, wing wizards and penalty-box assassins producing the goods yet again to maintain the Premier League’s competitive edge.
So, as we inch towards the home straight, we thought now would be the perfect time to reflect on the season and look back at some of the best forwards 2020/21 has had to offer, assessing which players have been the most influential in the final third.
Of course, ‘forward’ is such a broad term, so we’ve split the position up into two categories: wide-forwards and strikers. The former being those who essentially occupy a wide role regardless of the specifics of their function, and a striker, well, being those who play through the middle, be it as a ‘false nine’, a centre-forward, or in a two-man partnership.
For each category, we’ve selected a top five from the 2020/21 Premier League season so far, ranking each ‘forward’ based on the impact they’ve made for their respective clubs.
5. Harvey Barnes
- Age: 23
- Club: Leicester City
The England international has enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence this season and, should he recover seamlessly from a knee injury sustained at the end of last month, will no doubt be on Gareth Southgate’s mind when he comes to decide his squad for Euro 2020. Under Brendan Rodgers, Barnes has not only a added a serious menace and threat to Leicester’s left flank, but he has also added goals to his game, netting nine so far this season, with a further four assists.
Such final-third potency works well to illuminate Barnes’ influence at the King Power this season, and shows exactly why the Foxes are justifiably in third and daring to dream of Champions League football.
4. Mohamed Salah
- Age: 28
- Club: Liverpool
They say the true test of any great side is to win games when not at your best. By that logic, surely the same measure can be applied to players? Well, in the case of Mohamed Salah, it can be said that he hasn’t been at his most devastating best, and yet, he is still leading the charts for Premier League goals scored this season.
Granted six of his 17 goals have come from the spot, but to lead the Golden Boot race at this stage of a campaign under any circumstance is something to be admired, and certainly underpins the true depth of the Egyptian’s world-class talents. He is one of only five players to have been directly involved in 20 Premier League goals this season, and his touch-and-dink finish against West Ham at the end of January will surely be a contender for Goal of the Season.
3. Marcus Rashford
- Age: 23
- Club: Manchester United
Rashford is an absolute gem of a player and has been a reliable difference-maker for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season, racking up an impressive nine goals and seven assists which, combined with Bruno Fernandes’ devastating output, has consolidated Manchester United’s position in second.
The England international has also completed the fourth-most take-ons in the division this term (70), showing the immense threat he carries when the ball finds his feet. And well, he has just been a joy to watch when Man United canter forward in full motion, snapping ankles with breakneck pace and breaching nets with ferocious precision.
2. Son Heung-min
- Age: 28
- Club: Tottenham
Despite Tottenham largely falling below expectations this season, Son Heung-min has enjoyed one of his best seasons in north London, with the South Korean just one goal shy of his best-ever Premier League tally, and one assist shy of his best ever ‘playmaker’ campaign in the English top flight (13 goals, nine assists).
Such has been Son’s proficiency in the final third that he has nearly doubled his expected goals (7.52), while his 14-goal link-up with Harry Kane this season is the Premier League’s record combination, surpassing the 13 goals set by Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton for Blackburn in 1994/1995.
1. Jack Grealish
- Age: 25
- Club: Aston Villa
The Aston Villa captain has been simply unplayable for most of this season, skinning full-backs without a second thought, gliding infield with a majestic gait and creating chances with an instinctive verve. Regarding the latter, he is currently second (75) only to Fernandes (82) for most created, while he is one of only four players, alongside playmaker kingpin Kevin De Bruyne (11), Harry Kane (13) and Fernandes (10) to register at least 10 assists. An unbelievable talent.
5. Michail Antonio
How many Premier League goals have you scored against Tottenham, Michail?
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) February 21, 2021
- Age: 30
- Club: West Ham
West Ham’s unexpected rise to the upper reaches of the table can be attributed to a number of their burgeoning stars, not least Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek, while Jesse Lingard has also added a touch of class in recent weeks. But Michail Antonio has been the emblematic player of the David Moyes era in east London.
As far as strikers go, Antonio is far from orthodox, but that is the beauty of his game and why he is so important to Moyes’ system. His brains-and-brawn approach has brought a new dimension to the club’s frontline, and it is his influence in the final third that has allowed fans to harbour dreams of playing in Europe next term.
4. Jamie Vardy
Jamie Vardy has assisted two goals in a Premier League game for the second time since the start of the 16/17 season.
🅰️🅰️ vs. Brighton
🅰️🅰️ vs. Sheffield United
Turned provider today. pic.twitter.com/JCJ1sCNeYP
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 14, 2021
- Age: 34
- Club: Leicester
There have been signs that Vardy’s incisiveness and presence in the final third has just slightly waned in recent weeks, but looking at the season as a whole, the Foxes forward has once again been a force to be reckoned with, playing a key role in Leicester’s rise up the table.
With 12 goals to his name and seven assists, Vardy remains one of the competition’s most productive forwards, while it wasn’t too long ago the eulogies were ten a penny after the ageing striker netted that devastating hat-trick against champions-elect Man City. If Leicester do achieve a top-four finish, then Vardy once against deserves huge plaudits for elevating the club to stratospheric heights.
3. Dominic Calvert-Lewin
- Age: 24
- Club: Everton
After Calvert-Lewin netted his first senior hat-trick earlier this season, in the 5-2 win over West Brom, Carlo Ancelotti went on to liken his star striker to AC Milan legend Filippo Inzaghi. Burdened by that seismic comparison, Calvert-Lewin has handled the weight of expectation with consummate proficiency and continued to find the back of the net at a considerable rate throughout the campaign.
Everton are another club outside the so-called ‘elite bracket’ who harbour ambitions of breaking the glass ceiling and securing European football, and they remain firmly in the mix to achieve just that, with Calvert-Lewin very much at the forefront of that charge.
2. Patrick Bamford
Five players have been directly involved in 20 Premier League goals this season:
🏴 Harry Kane
🇵🇹 Bruno Fernandes
🇰🇷 Son Heung-min
🇪🇬 Mohamed Salah
🏴 Patrick Bamford 🆕
Four of them have been called up for international duty. 🙃 pic.twitter.com/5sDFy04Xo0
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 19, 2021
- Age: 27
- Club: Leeds
The Leeds striker will no doubt feel hard done by in that he was recently shunned for England’s World Cup qualifiers this month, as he has been one of the division’s most prolific and hard-working forwards this season. He has fully embraced the ‘murderball’ nuances of Bielsa’s press-and-possess doctrine, leading the line with merit, while also chipping in with a considerable number of goals. He, alongside the aforementioned Salah, is one of the five players to have been directly involved in 20 Premier League goals this term, and continues to go from strength to strength.
1. Harry Kane
Harry Kane is the only player in the Premier League this season to have attempted 30+ shots, created 30+ chances and made 30+ clearances.
A manager's dream. 😍 pic.twitter.com/fSPU4KdTqG
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 7, 2021
- Age: 27
- Club: Tottenham
It’s been another season of goalscoring devastation for Kane who, alongside Roberto Lewandowski, is one of only two players in Europe’s top five leagues to have been directly involved in 30+ goals this season, combining his typically lethal form in front of goal with a playmaker edge that would have Rivaldo weak at the knees.
Not only has Kane netted 17 goals to sit level with Salah in this season’s Golden Boot race, but he is also leading the charge for the ‘Playmaker’ award this term with 13 assists. His almost telepathic link-up with Son has contributed to nine of those assists, with the South Korean reciprocating the favour five times, making their combination the most prolific in Premier League history.