Football Features

How Dominic Solanke compares to every ‘Big Six’ club’s main striker

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 17:06, 19 January 2024

Dominic Solanke is enjoying his most prolific top flight campaign.

The one-time England international netted Premier League goal number 12 for Bournemouth in their 3-0 victory over Fulham, doubling last season’s tally in just his 18th league appearance. The 2022/23 season had been his best goals tally in a single top flight campaign, but he looks set to smash that record this term with his eyes firmly set on the 20 goals mark.

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Having come through at Chelsea, where playing time was limited, Solanke joined Liverpool but found himself once again without minutes and will hoping to show the Reds what they have been missing, when they meet at the Vitality on Sunday. After impressing at Bournemouth under Iraola and finding his goalscoring touch, it’s no surprise that Arsenal are reportedly keeping tabs on Solanke this winter, whose present deal at Bournemouth expires in June 2027.

Andoni Iraola will be hard-pressed to lose Solanke this month seeing as he’s been responsible for 46.4% of their goals (one assist to go with his strikes). But he wasn’t born yesterday, growing interest has to be expected, more so when there’s a seemly dearth of consistent and credible number nine’s especially among the so-called elite teams.

Half possess what you would describe as front-line strikers while the remainder have been utilising either those new (to role and club) or stop-gap solutions. It’s also worth noting some of these clubs’ present top scorers are not centre-forwards rather than personnel found playing from the flanks.

Among those whose leading marksman isn’t a striker are Liverpool and the aforementioned Gunners who are led by Mohamed Salah and Bukayo Saka while it can’t be said for champions Manchester City who not only have an Erling Haaland understudy but will not be dipping into this market for the foreseeable future. City’s title rivals likewise opt for a 4-3-3 meaning a nine supported by wide forwards, though it’s fair to say Darwin Nunez and Gabriel Jesus haven’t lit up this season’s competition, though mitigating circumstances exist.

Jesus has been regularly in Arsenal’s physio room — missing five matches through either a knee or hamstring injury — while Nunez, pretty much ever-present, can be described as a tad unlucky then again what separates good from great is clinical finishing regularly and nothing illustrates this fact better than Nunez underperforming his xG by 3.66 only Dominic Calvert-Lewin is a worse offender with -4.58.

Even with his time on the sidelines Jesus (3) has netted two fewer Premier League goals than Núñez (5) and neither sits in the rarefied air where Haaland can be found. The relentless Norwegian scoring machine struck 14 times across 15 appearances before Pep Guardiola sent him away for a tune-up.

Lining up for any of these sides — managed by Jurgen Klopp, Mikel Arteta and Guardiola — is something Iraola feels Solanke is capable of doing given his technical attributes. “He is unique as a No 9,” he recently said. “He can play in a low block because he is fast enough for all the counters, and he can play in a very offensive team because he’s good enough in the box. And out of possession he’s the first one that gives the intensity to the press.”

The same can be said for Tottenham, Manchester United and boyhood team Chelsea although the priority for those clubs at the moment is strengthening elsewhere. Spurs recently added Timo Werner, joining on a six-month loan from RB Leipzig, and leading attacker Son Heung-min will have returned in time for the final push.

Harry Kane’s departure last summer was seismic but Ange Postecoglou has dealt with that blow credibly well even if that meant Richarlison, who for much of his time in North London has been deployed out wide, spearheading Tottenham’s frontline. He’s returned with seven goals which is six fewer than his best return (13 for Everton in 2019/20 and 2018/19).

That’s five more than Rasmus Højlund who Man Utd signed from Atalanta last summer and was handed the unenviable task of carrying them forward. To say the Dane has struggled would be an understatement but it’s hard to see United looking elsewhere as Højlund is a long-term investment. But even in his defence, it’s not like any of his teammates are lighting up the scoring charts, to date it’s Scott McTominay with five goals that head the club’s very own table. Højlund wasn’t the only striker moving to a Premier League club from a ‘big five’ European league six months ago.

Chelsea, in another crazy transfer window, brought in Nicolas Jackson and Christopher Nkunku from Villarreal and RB Leipzig, respectively. Nkunku, though, was ruled out before a ball was kicked after sustaining a serious knee injury which he’s only recovered from recently. That setback put a spanner in Mauricio Pochettino’s plans. Nkunku was set to lead Chelsea’s attack but that responsibility fell on Jackson’s shoulders.

It felt like the Senegalese forward was ill-prepared hence the early struggles. What has not helped is the West Londoners are yet to find an identity under the fourth different coach (and third permanent) under their current ownership. One goal in his first six Premier League appearances before netting five in five (helped by a bizarre hat-trick against Spurs) though it’s currently one in eight furthermore Jackson (-3.59) and Hojlund (-2.10) find themselves in Nunez’s orbit as both should have scored more when comparing their xG to their actual total.

Nkunku’s re-emergence will likely see Jackson move away from the limelight and there’s no indication the Blues are going to dip into the winter transfer market for another striker. But like at United, it’s a midfielder who is Chelsea’s main attacking threat, and to be fair Cole Palmer has been among their most successful additions. Having averaged 18 goals in his final two Bundesliga seasons it’s unlikely Nkunku will reach that figure this season though netting in this present Chelsea team could be a challenge.

Despite having a worse shot accuracy (46%) than every player to score 5+ goals in the Premier League this campaign apart from Eddie Nketiah (40%), Solanke has actually overperformed his xG by 0.96, which is second highest compared to any forward for a ‘Big Six’ side after Tottenham’s Son Heung-min (+4.88).

The Bournemouth forward currently ranks 7th for touches inside the opposition box (128), behind Mo Salah, Dejan Kulusevski, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, Ollie Watkins and Son Heung-min, but in terms of chance conversion (including blocks), ranks third among the players listed (18.18%), with only previous Premier League Golden Boot winners Mohamed Salah (21.54) and Son Heung-min (23.08) sitting above him. However, when comparing to players with nine or more goals this term, only Ollie Watkins’ conversion rate is lower (14.75).

Solanke is likely to outscore Man Utd and Chelsea’s best. He should also finish ahead of Jesus, Núñez and Richarlison in the Golden Boot race. Consequently, it could end up being his final year in a Bournemouth jersey, after brief spells at Stamford Bridge and Anfield he may very well feel there’s unfinished business in the higher echelon of English football.

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