Disclaimer: The stats used were valid as late as 22nd November 2013 due to this article being written before this weekend’s games.
At the top level of football the lone striker is becoming the regular sight, with strike partnerships looking to be a thing of the past. Managers now identify the importance of controlling the middle of the park when it comes to winning games, and since weakening the defence is asking for trouble, the man who must make way for that extra midfielder is the second striker.
Gone are the days of the prolific strike duos – The Keegans’ and Toshacks’, The Rush’s and Dalglish’s, The Henry’s and Bergkamp’s – Or so it seemed.
Liverpool have been scoring for fun this season, having scored 21 goals so far, only less than Manchester City (28) and Arsenal (22), thanks mostly to their two strikers, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suárez.
Their form has started making football fans and pundits alike ask the same question; are they the best strike partnership in the Premier League?
Of course, there is one pair that will be waving sarcastically at those people and they will have some objection to such a question, and that is the Manchester United duo Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, so I feel like I should investigate this thoroughly and see who has been the best duo this season.
In this article I will be looking at the strike pairings based on their performances while on the pitch together, a point I feel I must strongly emphasise. That means yes, individually, the players have scored more goals than I show, but their strike partners wouldn’t have been on the pitch at the time, rendering it irrelevant for this.
How many minutes have they played together?
The popular opinion is that if two strikers have played together for a lot more games than another, they they will have a better understanding and would have much better stats. Please note the stats do not include matches from Round 12 of the Premier League.
As the graphs above show, it Rooney and Van Persie who have played together more this season, which is no surprise really when you take into account that Suárez missed out on the first few games of the campaign – but it isn’t the gulf in numbers that you would expect, with the United twosome not playing together as much in the first four games for their side.
How have they performed together?
Now it is time to see how they play as duos by taking a look at their stats while on the pitch together. All the stats included are between the players, for example passes counted are those between them. When it comes to assists, it’s when one tees up the other for a goal, and this applied for chances created as well.
The most important trait for strikers is their ability to find the back of the net, and between Suárez and Sturridge, they are finding it every 43.6 minutes that they are on the pitch together, whereas Rooney and van Persie have scored every 83.4 minutes – showing that the Reds duo have been more efficient with their time on the pitch in front of goal.
When it comes to passing, despite having more passes per game, with 10.8, as well as a better pass completion rate of 93.9%, the Uruguay and English internationals haven’t been able to better the minutes per assist that the Manchester United forwards have, who boast one every 166.8 minutes, showing they are more effective with their passes and are able to set each other up more.
The final factor I looked at was the ability to create chances, and it is the SAS (I must admit I hate that nickname too) who have the bragging rights in that regard, with them creating a chance every 52.3 minutes to Rooney and Van Persie’s rate of one every 95.3 minutes.
The latter two stats I mentioned go a long way to showing us the type of strikers they are and the way their teams play.
The Manchester United team as a whole rely heavily on their efficiency, especially when it comes to passing the ball between one another due to Rooney and Van Persie’s weaknesses being their relative lack of speed and agility and their strengths being the fact that they possess an unmatched ability of being in the perfect position to score.
Liverpool on the other hand, while also knowing the importance of a pass, have in Suárez and Sturridge two players who can use their speed and ball control to, individually or collectively, unlock a defence. And as the numbers shows they are scoring more goals per game which is, after all, the name of the game.
When you also take into account that the United duo play for the Premier League champions rather than a side that didn’t even qualify for the Europa League, it’s safe to say Daniel Sturridge and everybody’s favourite Uruguayan are currently the better partnership, but there is plenty of the season to go and it will be interesting to see how they stand at the end of it.