As we delve further into the transfer market, the pressure to spend has cranked up another notch.
At the very top of every wishlist for fans across the country will no doubt be a striker, a goal-getting hero who washes away the mid-week blues and becomes the emblematic player of your side.
Over the years, the Premier League has borne witness to some of football’s most clinical marksmen; from Les Ferdinand to Ruud van Nistelrooy and more recently, Harry Kane, the English game has been awash with penalty-box assassins.
But the role of the striker has changed in more modern times. No longer are managers quite as reliant on their No. 9s to hit the onion bag on a regular basis as their tactical predecessors were, just look at Roberto Firmino’s selfless centre-forward role at Anfield.
False 9s and trequartistas have become common practice in modern-day tactics, while some strikers have evolved – or even been converted – to play a more unorthodox deep-lying No. 9 role, a la Marko Arnautovic at West Ham.
But which under-the-radar strikers across the game at the minute offer a more unorthodox playing style through the middle, and which Premier League clubs should target them?
Erling Braut Håland (Red Bull Salzburg)
Who should sign him? Manchester United
At 6 ft 3 in, Håland is built in the mould of an old school striker, possessing all the key physical attributes of a traditional No. 9, and yet, the Norwegian tyro is far from the throwback forward his frame would suggest.
On a first glance, Håland appears as some sort of teenage Viking masquerading as a striker, but when the fledgeling forward gets the ball at his feet, his close control, turn of pace and dribbling ability immediately shine through – in that respect, he is anything but an orthodox centre-forward.
Son of former Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Manchester City midfielder, Alf-Inge Håland, the Red Bull forward made headlines last month after breaking an Under-20 World Cup record by bagging nine goals in a single match against Honduras.
With uncertainty surrounding Romelu Lukaku’s future in the North West, Old Trafford could become the ideal breeding ground for Håland to cultivate his craft. Why? Well, compatriot Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows him exceptionally well from their time together at Molde FK, and the current Red Devil coach even compared him to the player Man Utd could be about to lose.
“He can become a top striker, for sure. He reminds me of the type of striker [Romelu] Lukaku is.”
– Solskjaer told NRK
Håland only joined Red Bull Salzburg in January, but that means nothing these days, and while many will urge the young forward to continue his progression away from the searing spotlight, Solskjaer seems to possess the paternalistic instinct to truly develop his baby-faced prodigy.
Michael Gregoritsch (Augsburg)
Who should sign him? Crystal Palace
According to German outlet Bild, Gregoritsch was being courted by Tottenham Hotspur last summer, though that proposed transfer, of course, failed to transpire as Daniel Levy opted against flexing his financial muscle on the market.
Fast forward 12 months, and while the 25-year-old hasn’t exactly been able to replicate his stellar campaign from 2017/18 (13 goals, 4 assists), with just 10 direct contributions this time around, he is still a highly talented and versatile forward that could prove revolutionary at one of the league’s middling clubs.
Nominally a centre-forward, the Austrian is capable of playing anywhere across the frontline, including as a shadow striker in the No. 10 position or even in central midfield – positional flexibility is one of the key traits in his resourceful repertoire.
He became the youngest scorer in Austrian football history when he netted for Kapfenberger SV in 2010 at the age of just 15, and despite standing at a mountainous 6 ft 4 in, the left-footed maestro is seldom deployed in a fixed position.
With Michy Batshuayi heading back to Chelsea, doubts over Christian Benteke’s ability to score on a consistent basis and uncertainty surrounding Wilfried Zaha’s future in south London, Roy Hodgson could do with some serious firepower up top, and Gregoritsch would certainly provide that.
Christian Kouame (Genoa)
Who should sign him? West Ham
Capable of playing on either flank, Kouame is a forward who is blessed with plenty of skill and pace to burn, making him a deadly prospect for any manager in the final third, and while he is not renowned for his goalscoring prowess, with just four Serie A goals last term, he is, without question, a problem causer in the penalty box, and will accentuate the assets of those around him with his rapid movement and link-up play.
Interestingly, despite predominately being deployed as a striker, Kouame has only scored one more goal than he has set up for his teammates across his young career, with 26 scored for AC Prato, Inter Milan Primavera, Sassuolo Primavera, Cittadella and Genoa respectively, while he has registered 25 assists in that time.
Since joining the Griffin last summer, the 21-year-old has provided seven assists across all competitions, and netted just four goals, highlighting his unselfish nature. Delving in a little further, no Genoa player created more key chances or assists in Serie A than Kouame in 2018/19 (48 and 5).
West Ham have been linked to just about every centre-forward this transfer window alone, so why not throw another one into the mix. Kouame has seen his name associated with AC Milan in recent weeks, but under Manuel Pellegrini’s astute supervision, he could thrive.
Josip Ilicic (Atalanta)
Who should sign him? Everton
Ilicic has been around the block a fair bit, and will mostly be remembered for his time at Fiorentina, though he eventually fell down the pecking order at the Stadio Artemio Franchi and ultimately pitched up in Lombardy in 2017.
It has been with Atalanta the previous two seasons where this awkward customer in the final third has accelerated his reputation and put his name back on the map, famously helping the Goddess qualify for the Champions League last term – a first in the club’s history.
Duvan Zapata was the trusty source of goals, Alejandro Gomez was the fulcrum, but Ilicic was the versatile catalyst, roaming around the forward line – or just off it – seemingly of his own accord. The Slovenia international has reportedly been subject to intense interest from Napoli, with the Serie A runners-up said to have offered him a contract. But at 31 he may never have another opportunity to play in the Premier League and he could be tempted should a club come knocking this summer.
His movement, eye for goal, and ability to play anywhere across the frontline, not to mention his experience, could prove indispensable for a club like Everton, who have had little luck with forwards over the past few years.
Matias Suarez (River Plate)
Who should sign him? Southampton
At 31, Suarez has only really risen to relative prominence this season, earning his first Argentina cap in March, while also managing to pip the likes of Mauro Icardi and Gonzalo Higuain to Lionel Scaloni’s La Albiceleste squad for the Copa America in Brazil.
Whether that’s due to the inconsistent form of the two aforementioned elite strikers, or because Suarez simply offers a completely new dimension to Scaloni’s attack is unknown, though given the River Plate forward’s propensity to move across the front line rather than just cause problems through the middle has certainly worked in his favour.
Far from a fox in the box, the seasoned striker is another who possesses bags of ability and is proficient in bringing his teammates up the pitch. Under the tactical ingenuity of a manager like Ralph Hasenhuttl, he could flourish in the Premier League, playing a similar, but more technical role, than Shane Long.