We are over half way through the Premier League season and the recent hectic festive fixtures have shaped the table nicely for what will surely be an exciting next few months in the race to be English champions.
Six different teams have won the league since it was formed in 1992, all with their own unique style of play and great players, but what does it really take to win the Premier League? A magician in midfield? The trickery of a playmaker? Or perhaps a rock in defence? All of these types of players of course would benefit any side attempting to finish top of the pile, but when you examine the clubs who have been champions, and the tight games where they have snatched 1-0 wins meaning three points instead of one, it would seem, there are two necessities that are required to be in the number one spot come May.
Many managers and pundits have said a ‘20 plus goal scorer a season’ is required in a title winning side and you can certainly see their point of view when you look at which teams have won and missed out on the Premier League over the years. You would also have to agree that a regular first-rate goalkeeper is also needed for success, a player to keep the goals out and another to score them. You can have the greatest midfield in the world, but if their defence splitting pass is not finished by a classy striker, or they are too far up the pitch they are leaving an average goalkeeper to pick the ball out of the back of the net, then that team will struggle to win the games required to become champions. Some may say the ‘great goalie/super striker’ combination is not a priority for a manager trying to guide a team towards the top of the table, or for those sides that have won it with this blend it is just coincidence, but the evidence is there for all to see.
Arsenal are a prime example of the margins between losing and winning the title with a top striker and goalie. The champions of 1997/98 season had the reliable and excellent shot stopper David Seaman in goal and a top striker to hit the back of the net regularly in Dennis Bergkamp. During the 2001/02 and 2003/04 champion winning seasons, The Gunners had again Seaman in goal then the impressive German Jens Lehmann. Up front, they had the fantastic Frenchman Thierry Henry who scored 54 Premier League goals in total in those two seasons alone. These winning combinations were imperative to Arsenals success, in recent years chasing the title has not been so easy, a regular and reliable goalkeeper has been hard to come by and transfer windows have seen Arsene Wenger lose out on big name strikers so the ‘20 goal plus’ man has disappeared from Arsenal’s frontline, as well as the Premier League title. Coincidence or the proof needed that a mixture of goalie and goal scorer is a big factor behind being crowned champions?
As far back as Blackburn Rover’s 1994/95 title winning season, a star player at both ends of the pitch proved vital. Tim Flowers was imperative between the sticks, and of course, 34 goal man Alan Shearer propelled them to the top of the table and the team ended the campaign as champions.
The same can be said for all three of Chelsea’s Premier League title successes. In the 2004/05 and 2005/06 seasons they had the top combination of Petr Cech in goal and Didier Drogba up front, and more recently, Thibaut Courtois and Diego Costa, in the 2014/15 title winning season.
The great goalkeeper and super striker recipe of course worked tremendously well in Manchester United’s success over the years. Peter Schmeichel, Edwin Van Der Sar and David De Gea have been immense in The Red Devil’s title winning sides. Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney have all been ‘super strikers’ for Manchester United in finishing top of the table. If you look back to the 1995/96 season when Man United overturned a 12-point lead Newcastle had over them to win the title, Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona were one of the main reasons behind that success. The match at St James’ Park where The Red Devils won 1-0 may have ended very differently, as well as the season itself, if Schmeichel hadn’t pulled off a string of world-class saves and Cantona wasn’t in the right place at the right time to score the winner. Even Sir Alex Ferguson concluded himself that he needed a ‘20 goal a season striker’ after losing the 2011/12 title to Man City. Bringing in Robin Van Persie, United won the league the following season.
The incredible 2015/16 season which saw Leicester City clinch an astonishing Premier League title may have been seen as beyond belief, a little luck involved, or just plain brilliant. But whatever you made of it, the fact is Casper Schmeichel in goal and Jamie Vardy up front was key in the close matches in which The Foxes won, giving them the points to win the league.
So, the winning mix of top goalie and top goal scorer has been proven for teams who have lifted the Premier League trophy. With the top four shaping up nicely this season this will be something to bear in mind as we move towards May and anticipate which team will be crowned champions. Liverpool and Arsenal appear to be the odd teams out, a regular reliable shot stopper and 20 goal a season striker eluded Liverpool in the transfer market, as for Arsenal, they may have the goalkeeper but will it be enough without the striker? Will their title push fail without these players or can they prove the facts wrong? Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City have all got the great goalkeeper and a super striker combination, so it would appear all four have reason to be optimistic as they bid to finish in top spot. Either way, it will be interesting to see which club will be crowned 2016/17 champions, and which mixture of players it takes them to lift the trophy.