Erling Haaland has one hand on the Golden Boot for a second successive season

Erling Haaland has one hand on the Golden Boot for a second successive season

By Zach Lowy

After relinquishing his Golden Boot title to Ruud van Nistelrooy the previous year, Thierry Henry proceeded to finish atop the scoring charts in three straight years for Arsenal between 2004 and 2006, whilst Robin van Persie got his hands on the award in 2012 before heading for Manchester United and leading them to the Premier League championship with 26 goals.

Harry Kane came away with top honours in 2015 and 2016, whilst Mohamed Salah would become the first Egyptian to win the title the following year, before finishing atop the scoring charts alongside Sadio Mané and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. With just two matches left, it seems a matter of when, not if, Erling Haaland stretches that list to five.

Back-to-back golden boots for Erling Haaland?

After taking England by storm with a Premier League record 36 goals and leading Manchester City to a treble, it’s fair to say that Erling Haaland has taken a step back in 2023/24. The Norwegian striker was kept under wraps in both legs as Real Madrid put an end to City’s Champions League title defense and narrowly edged them out on penalties, whilst he has often been overshadowed by the brilliance of Phil Foden and even spent a month on the sidelines midway through the season due to an injury.

And yet, Haaland remains one of the most lethal strikers in the game, doubling their lead in their 2-0 win vs. Nottingham Forest on April 28. As April turned into May, Haaland looked set to have a real challenge on his hands with former teammate Cole Palmer picking up steam at Chelsea, before kicking off the new month with a four-goal haul vs. Wolves in a 5-1 victory. He endured a frustrating shift in their 4-0 win at Fulham and was hauled off in the 82nd minute after failing to test Bernd Leno in goal, and yet, he remains the odds-on favorite to come away with top honours.

The Norwegian has received increasing scrutiny for his lack of efficiency – missing a league record 33 big chances  – as well as a lack of touches. In contrast to other top strikers like Harry Kane or Kylian Mbappé who tend to drop deep and combine with other forwards, Haaland is far more old-fashioned. He is a world-class athlete whose long strides and acceleration paired with his incisive off-the-ball runs make him a nightmare for any defender, a player who is skilled at bullying the opponent in ground and aerial duels and finding a way into dangerous areas. Speaking to the Men in Blazers podcast, he stated, “My job isn’t to be like Rodri, to control a game, it’s being in the box and finishing the attacks. You can play football without touching the ball, even if it sounds funny for some to hear that. You can do it with movements, the mental part, and the awareness. That’s my focus and I don’t care about what people say. It’s focusing on helping the team win.”

Right now, Haaland is doing a pretty good job of helping the team win, with City winning each of their last seven Premier League matches by a combined 28-5 scoreline. Pep Guardiola’s side are on track to win their fourth consecutive Premier League title, with the Cityzens sitting one point behind Arsenal, who will host Everton on the final day. As for City, they will travel to Tottenham before facing off against West Ham, and they’ll be counting on Haaland as they look to edge the Gunners to the championship.

The 23-year-old striker leads the Premier League in various key metrics such as xG + xA per 90 (1.10), shots on target per 90 (2.2), Expected goals on target (25.1), xG per 90 (.102), Expected goals (26.8) and Goals per 90 (0.95). And although his five assists pale in contrast to the likes of Ollie Watkins and Cole Palmer, he finds himself on track to repeat his Golden Boot heroics with 25 goals in 29 appearances.

The chasing pack in hot pursuit of Haaland

Haaland may have one hand on the award, but there are plenty of other players who have made a valiant push for the Golden Boot this season. Bukayo Saka has led the charge for Arsenal’s title challenge, compensating for Gabriel Martinelli’s nosedive in form and stepping up with 16 goals and 9 assists. Despite often being marked by two or three opponents, the 22-year-old continues to be a difference maker in the final third, capable of wriggling out of tight areas, timing his through ball to perfection, and pressing like a mad dog to win back possession, and with Arsenal building the majority of their attacks through the right flank, Saka has been the chief playmaker and executioner, and after missing out on the Euros title at Wembley on the narrowest of margins three years ago, he’ll be vital for England as they look to come away with their first trophy since 1966.

Another player who could have a big role to play is Jarrod Bowen. Whilst six of Saka’s 16 goals came from the spot, none of Bowen’s 16 goals have been penalties, with the 27-year-old delivering on a consistent basis and racking up a goal contribution in four of West Ham’s last seven matches. An inverted right winger, Bowen is a direct threat on the counter-attack and does a tremendous job of anticipating patterns, attacking space and wriggling past opponents with his unpredictable movement. He has been named West Ham’s Player of the Year, but with the Hammers set to miss out on European football for the first time in four years, it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll be able to keep Bowen in East London as they move on from David Moyes and prepare for the Julen Lopetegui era.

Whilst previous Golden Boot winners Heung-min Son and Mohamed Salah have racked up 17 goals and 18 goals, respectively, one player who has enjoyed a breakthrough campaign is Phil Foden with 17 goals. The Englishman has emerged as Guardiola’s go-to man in attack, stepping out from the shadows of Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland and grabbing various high-stakes matches by the scruff of its neck. He has already claimed the FWA Footballer of the Year, and he has a golden opportunity to lead City to a fourth straight title.

Aston Villa and Bournemouth have both enjoyed stellar campaigns under their Spanish managers, with Villa arriving at the doorstep of a European final and looking set to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, whilst Bournemouth have shaken off an early relegation battle and advanced into the midtable positions. They’ve relied heavily on their attacking talisman, with Ollie Watkins and Dominic Solanke grabbing 19 goals apiece and vying for a place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad.

Alexander Isak has led the charge for Newcastle with an astonishing 20 goals, becoming the first player to reach that figure for the Magpies since Alan Shearer in 2002/03. As for Cole Palmer, he has gone from a benchwarmer at Manchester City to the poster boy of Mauricio Pochettino’s young, new-look Chelsea side, chipping in 21 goals thus far and leading them to the precipice of European football.

(Images from IMAGO)

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