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5 best big-game strikers in EPL history

Sergio Aguero
Sergio Aguero
Navyash Bhandari

In the 28 years of the EPL (English Premier League), there have been some legendary strikers who have scored goals aplenty for title-winning teams.

However, the title race in the EPL has often been decided in games between the so-called 'top 6', that is, the games between the best six teams in the league. On that note, we are here to find out which legendary strikers have been the best and the most clutch in deciding these big games in the EPL.

To begin with, let's start with a shortlist of 13 players who played for the top six teams and whom I believe to be the best and most proficient EPL strikers of all time. This list includes Sergio Aguero, Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry, Robin Van Persie, Luis Suarez, Harry Kane, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robbie Fowler, Eric Cantona, Andy Cole, Didier Drogba, Ian Wright and Alan Shearer.

For our analysis, we will firstly look at the best EPL teams in each era the aforementioned players played in and then their goals against the top six EPL teams in that era. In this regard, goals against the team considered the strongest opposition would have more weightage than goals scored against other teams. We will also be looking at GPG or Goals-per-game against these teams to analyse the said EPL strikers.

Five best EPL strikers in the 1990's

Manchester United's Eric Cantona was a top striker in the EPL.
Manchester United's Eric Cantona was a top striker in the EPL.

Let's start with the earliest era of the EPL, the 1990s, and the five strikers who tore up every opposition. These were Manchester United stars 'King' Eric Cantona and Andy Cole, Arsenal frontman Ian Wright, EPL all-time top scorer Alan Shearer and Liverpool's homegrown hero Robbie Fowler.

So who were the best six EPL teams in the 1990s? Manchester United were definitely up there as they six out of a possible eight EPL title during this period. Arsenal won one EPL title while finishing runner up on several occasions. Aston Villa were regular qualifiers for Europe and even put up a couple of EPL title challenges.

Liverpool recovered from a slow start to emerge strongly in the second half of the 1990s. Leeds United were a regular feature in the EPL top 5 throughout the 1990's bar a couple of seasons. The last spot will be a tough choice between Blackburn, Chelsea and Newcastle.

While Blackburn did win the EPL in one season, but after that, they were quite mediocre and to truly analyse who a big team is, we are looking for consistency. Newcastle were one of the defining EPL teams of the '90s and having mounted multiple EPL title challenges, it is impossible to ignore them. So Newcastle is the last EPL team in our analysis of the five best EPL strikers during the 1990s.

# Eric Cantona

Eric Cantona
Eric Cantona

Let's start with Eric Cantona. Cantona scored 70 goals in 156 games for both Leeds United and Manchester United. While at United, he won five EPL titles before retiring in 1997. The King, however, did not have an outstanding record against the aforementioned six teams, scoring nine goals and assisting five goals across 38 games.

Cantona's most impressive EPL performances came up against his former team Leeds, against whom he scored three goals and assisted one in eight games. One thing to be noted here is that the main EPL title rivals in the prime of Cantona's career were Blackburn against whom the Frenchman had five-goal contributions in seven games. His record (GPG - 0.24) is not bad at all, but it isn't amazing either.

# Andy Cole

Andy Cole
Andy Cole

Next up, we have Andy Cole who played for both Newcastle United and Manchester United before moving on from Man United in 2002. For our model, it is quite hard to judge Andy Cole as he continued to play in the EPL with other clubs, but during his prime with Newcastle and Man United, hopefully, the stats will show us enough.

Cole had a very good record against the EPL's top six, notching up 11 goals against Liverpool and Newcastle in just 17 games each. However, his form waned against teams like Arsenal and Manchester United, against whom he didn't muster many goals. In total, he played 91 games against the top six EPL teams, in which he scored 40 goals and had five assists, which were definitely better than that of Cantona. Cole had a GPG of 0.44 against the EPL's top six opposition.

# Ian Wright

Ian Wright
Ian Wright

Ian Wright played the whole of the '90s with Arsenal who won their first-ever EPL title in 1998. Wright's is an interesting case. He has the best record thus far, scoring goals against nearly everyone.

However, amazingly, in the 11 games he played against Manchester United, he did not score once, which hurts his GPG immensely. United were the dominant team of his time, so not scoring against them will go against Wright.

All in all, Wright played 55 games against the EPL's top six teams, scoring 22 goals and bagging no assists in typical Wright fashion. This metric may be unfair to Wright because against the other good EPL teams like Blackburn and Chelsea during this period, Wright did have very good records, but his terrible record against Man United gives him a GPG of 0.4.

# Alan Shearer

Alan Shearer
Alan Shearer

Next up is the all-time leading scorer in the EPL, Alan Shearer. Shearer played for both Blackburn and Newcastle in a legendary career that spanned 17 years, winning three consecutive EPL golden boots in as many seasons.

Shearer did play for Newcastle till 2006 which could skew the data a little and go against him. He was scoring 20+ goals all the way till 2005 when other teams like Chelsea became better. Shearer's biggest rivals throughout were Manchester United, against whom he played 25 times, scoring ten goals and making four assists.

For Shearer, we included Chelsea in our metric as they became a much better team in the EPL later on in his career. In all, Shearer played 133 games against the EPL's top six teams, scoring 66 goals that gives him an impressive GPG of 0.5, the highest by any EPL striker thus far.

In this regard, it must be noted that EPL teams like Aston Villa became significantly worse later on in Shearer's career. If we just consider only United, Arsenal, Leeds and Liverpool, Shearer played 87 games against them, scoring 43 goals, a tally that is boosted by his impressive return of 20 goals in 19 games against Leeds. Even with the skewed data, this is vastly impressive and is a testament to Shearer's overall record.

# Robbie Fowler

Robbie Fowler
Robbie Fowler

Last but not least, we have homegrown hero Robbie Fowler. Fowler was another EPL striker who played till the mid-2000s, but his prime certainly came in the 1990s with Liverpool.

Interestingly, Fowler has the best record against United thus far, notching up eight goals and two assists in just 14 games. The second best EPL team of the '90s is considered to be Arsenal; Fowler had an even better record against them, scoring ten goals in 14 games. This definitely shows him in a very good light.

Fowler had an outstanding record of 45 goals in 69 games against the other five top six teams in the EPL, which is the best of any striker thus far. This gives Fowler a GPG of 0.65 and puts him in contention for being the best big-game striker in the EPL. He did not do as well against Chelsea, but good performances against the big two EPL teams of the '90s is enough to put Fowler in the driver's seat for now.

Five best EPL strikers in the early 2000's:

Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry

Let's move on a little further ahead to the early to mid-2000s. The teams that were dominant in this era were again Arsenal and Manchester United, and unsurprisingly, the two players we will be looking at from this era are Dutch star Ruud Van Nistelrooy and the great Thierry Henry. The teams that we will be looking at are Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle United who were good during the early 2000s. The other teams were too inconsistent to be considered a title contender during the seasons these players played in.

# Ruud Van Nistelrooy

Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Ruud Van Nistelrooy

Let's start with Ruud Van Nistelrooy, a player who is one of the great EPL poachers of all time. In the five seasons Ruud Van Nistelrooy played at Manchester United, he ended up among the top three scorers on four occasions, with the exception being 04/05 when he only played 17 EPL games.

Although his goal-scoring record is exceptional, this does not entirely translate to goals in games against the other four big EPL teams during his era. He played a total of 39 games against these teams, scoring 19 goals, which looks mightily impressive. But when one sees that 11 of these goals came against Newcastle, the numbers do look less stellar.

Arsenal and Chelsea were Manchester United's main rivals during Nistelrooy's stint in the EPL. Scoring only five goals in 19 games against them is not all that impressive. This will have to be kept in mind while discussing his selection in our all-time top-five list. Overall, Nistelrooy had a good GPG of 0.49.

# Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry is considered by some to be the best ever player to have played in the EPL. He was a core part of Arsenal's Invincibles and dominated the EPL until he left for Barcelona.

Henry did not only score goals, but he was great at creating them too, which must be taken into account in the overall analysis. His record against the big EPL teams during his time was nothing short of outstanding.

In the 50 games he played against the four other big EPL teams during his stay in the EPL, Henry scored 30 goals and assisted seven. Henry's record against teams like Manchester United and Chelsea, Arsenals biggest EPL rivals during the Frenchman's time in North London, was impeccable.

Henry scored 16 goals and assisted five in just 24 games against Manchester United and Chelsea. During Henry's first few years in the EPL, Leeds United were also a good team, and Henry did incredibly well against them too. That puts Henry's GPG at 0.6, which, along with that of Fowler, puts the Frenchman at the top of the list so far.

Four best EPL strikers in the mid-2000's and early 2010's

Manchester City v Manchester United - Premier League
Manchester City v Manchester United - Premier League

The next era of the Premier League was dominated by mainly four strikers, namely, Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Luis Suarez and Robin Van Persie. By this time, there began to emerge a clear gap between the top six teams and the others in the EPL, and as a result, the level of difficulty of playing a top-6 team also rose, which must be taken into account.

The teams that we will look at during this era are Manchester United who won several titles, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City who emerged as a strong team, as well as Tottenham Hotspur.

# Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney is the all-time top scorer at the club that has won the most EPL titles in history. However, over the years, he hasn't always operated as a striker, moving deeper in his later years. Early on in his career, he even played wider.

This definitely impacts his statistics, as does the fact that he has always had to share the scoring mantle with several other great players, but regardless let's have a look at Wayne Rooney's numbers.

Rooney played a mammoth 113 games against the EPL's top five clubs, scoring 45 goals and assisting 17 more. His record against Arsenal and Tottenham stand out, but against United's main rivals during this time, his record pales in comparison. As mentioned earlier, other factors could be the cause of this, but Rooney ends up with a GPG of 0.4, which over the duration he played in the EPL is still very good.

# Didier Drogba

Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba

Next up, we have Didier Drogba, the man who famously won Chelsea the Champions League with his last kick for them.

Drogba was renowned for being the man for the big occasion but do his stats tell the same story? Over the 51 games he played against the other five big EPL clubs, Drogba scored 21 goals and made a very impressive 19 assists.

So although his goal per game ratio is not that good, he did manage 40 goal contributions in 51 games that makes for outstanding numbers. His best efforts came against City rivals Arsenal against whom he had 11 goal contributions in just nine games. Considering the assists Drogba made into account, his GPG ends up at 0.41.

# Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez only played three full seasons for Liverpool, but such was his impact and goal-scoring, that he is remembered as a Premier League great.

He bagged 31 goals in the 2013/14 season before leaving for Barcelona. As a result, the games he played are not many, but what is to be seen is that he had a lasting impact on those games.

Suarez played 30 games against the other five big EPL clubs during his stint in the competition, scoring 11 goals and making nine assists. While this isn't bad by any means for a player who had an overall GPG of 0.63, a GPG of 0.37 against the bigger clubs does not bode well.

Out of these 11 goals, four came against Tottenham who are arguably the weakest out of these five clubs. Suarez is definitely a Premier League great but will not go down as the biggest big-game EPL striker.

# Robin Van Persie

Robin Van Persie
Robin Van Persie

Lastly, we have Robin Van Persie, otherwise known as the Flying Dutchman. Van Persie is an interesting case because he played for both Arsenal and Manchester United.

However, the big clubs remain the same during the Dutchman's stay in the EPL. Although Van Persie had an injury-plagued last two seasons in the competition, we have enough games to see if he really was clutch against the biggest EPL teams.

Another factor to be considered is that Van Persie was often deployed on the wing during his early days at Arsenal before reaching his prime as a striker.

Considering all these factors, Van Persie has a very impressive record, scoring 28 goals and assisting eight in 61 games against the biggest EPL teams. Manchester City weren't a big team for most of Van Persie's Premier League career. So if his record against City is removed from the equation, the Dutchman's numbers make for even better viewing: 26 goals and eight assists in 48 games.

His records against Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool were all outstanding, and this makes him a very good big-game player. With City, Van Persie has a GPG of 0.46, without them his GPG goes up to 0.54.

Two best EPL strikers of the current era

Manchester City v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Manchester City v Crystal Palace - Premier League

The current era of top EPL strikers include Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane. The top six EPL teams during this period are pretty much clear with a few anomalies in certain seasons.

# Sergio Aguero

Sergio Aguero
Sergio Aguero

Martin Tyler's "AGUEROOO", would for long echo in the heads of all Manchester City and United fans. Some would say that goal alone makes the Argentine a big-game specialist.But what about his record against the other five EPL teams during this period?

Aguero's record is special; after all, there's a reason he has scored the most goals by a foreign player in Premier League history. The Argentine's 12 hat-tricks are the most by any player in the EPL.

In the 67 games he has played against the top five EPL teams during his era, Aguero has scored 44 goals and made ten assists.

His best performances have come against Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, and there seems to be no real blemishes in his record. This gives him an astounding GPG of 0.66, the highest of any striker in any EPL era thus far.

# Harry Kane

Harry Kane
Harry Kane

Since bursting on to the scene in 2013, Harry Kane has been one of the most consistent goalscorers in the EPL.

Still only 26 years of age, the English captain can better his record in the years to come as well. Some would say if he stays on in the Premier League, he could break Alan Shearer's seemingly impenetrable record.

In 49 games against the EPL's top five, Kane has scored 24 goals and made eight assists. His record is helped massively by his tally against North London rivals Arsenal, against whom he has scored ten goals in as many games. Putting his numbers against Arsenal aside, Kane's record doesn't look as pretty against the other teams, but regardless, his GPG stands at a healthy 0.49.

Five best big-game strikers in EPL history:

Now we can start trimming our list of top five big-game strikers in EPL history. To make our task easier, we can begin by eliminating some of the elite strikers. In comparison to the others in our list, Eric Cantona did not have the same level of goals per game in crunch fixtures. As a result, he had a low GPG of 0.24 and misses out on making the EPL's top five strikers.

Another EPL striker whose record is not on the same level as a few others is Luis Suarez who also will not be making the cut. Ian Wright had a good goal-scoring record but no goals against Arsenal's fiercest rivals, Manchester United, at the time means he must be excluded from our list as well.

That leaves us with ten other players and five spots to fill. Wayne Rooney faced several factors that were not in his control like a change in position. But his record against Manchester United's main rivals was not amazing in comparison to some of the other players in our list, and as a result, he will also not make the top five.

Andy Cole's record also wasn't vastly impressive. Against the two best EPL teams of his era, namely Arsenal and Manchester United, he did not perform well; as a result, he also does not make the cut.

What about Ruud Van Nistelrooy? Although Van Nistelrooy's overall record is quite good, his record against the two best EPL teams of his era pales in comparison with his overall record. We did mention that performance against the strongest EPL team of the era would have an impact, and because of this, Van Nistelrooy also narrowly misses out.

Now things become interesting. We are left with Shearer, Kane, Van Persie and Drogba competing for two spots. Controversially, I think, Shearer should not make this list. His record against Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United was average at best. While it must be noted he did not have the luxury of having great players around him; it still will go against him.

He had an impressive record against Leeds and Villa but not against the title-winning EPL sides, and for this reason alone, Shearer will not be in our top-five list. Harry Kane's record is similar to that of Van Nistelrooy. Like Van Nistelrooy, Kane has not scored many against the big boys in the EPL, so the Tottenham Hotspur striker also misses out.

So there we have it, our top 5 EPL strikers of all-time, but who comes out top? Let us find out.

#5: Didier Drogba

Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba

Drogba's goal-scoring record (GPG of 0.41) in games against the top six EPL sides of his era is not nearly as good as the strikers we've analysed, but what puts him in this top-5 list is his goal contributions. With 19 assists, Drogba had 40 goal contributions in 51 games against the EPL's top-6, which is huge and makes a significant difference. He has more APG than any other EPL striker we have analysed, and for this reason alone, he makes the top 5.

#4: Robin Van Persie

Robin van Persie
Robin van Persie

Robin Van Persie is another one whose GPG isn't as good as Shearer's or Kane's, but what sets him apart is his performance against the biggest EPL teams in his era.

He had a decent record against Manchester United and Chelsea and Liverpool but had a poor record against Manchester City who, however, weren't a big-game EPL team for most of Van Persie's Premier League career.

Van Persie had a knack of showing up when it mattered most, and thus he ends up in fourth place in the EPL's all-time top-5 big-game strikers' list.

#3: Robbie Fowler

Robbie Fowler
Robbie Fowler

Robbie Fowler was one of the bigger surprises for me. He has great goal-scoring records across the chart and has the second-highest GPG at 0.65, which are very impressive. The defining team of his era were Manchester United against whom he had ten goal contributions in 14 games; in other words, Fowler did exceptionally against them.

The only reason Fowler is behind Henry is because the Frenchman had more assists and did not have six other teams to compare with but only five, which goes against Fowler.

#2: Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry is regarded as the best EPL player of all time. But if one wonders if he did it against the best, the answer is a resounding 'yes'. Henry had a GPG of 0.6 with 11 goal contributions in 13 games against Arsenal's biggest rivals at the time, Manchester United.

Arsenal and Man United had many EPL title fights during Henry's time in the competition. The fact that the Frenchman had an impact in almost every game shows his brilliance in the biggest of moments. One can also make a case for him to be number one as the difficulty in his era was more than that of Sergio Aguero's and the EPL title races during the Frenchman's time were far closer than that of the Argentine's.

#1: Sergio Aguero

Sergio Aguero
Sergio Aguero

The biggest big-game striker in EPL history is Sergio Aguero. This shouldn't come as a surprise to many especially as Aguero scored the winner in Manchester City's biggest ever game.

Aguero has an astounding GPG of 0.66, and there are no EPL teams against whom he has a GPG of below 0.5. With these staggering numbers, Aguero deservedly takes the top spot. What's frightening is that Aguero still has time to make his record even better, but for now he remains the biggest big-game striker the Premier League has ever seen.


Feel free to let me know in the comments who else could have been considered and what are your thoughts on this analysis.


Paul Merson has predicted Manchester United vs Liverpool and other PL GW3 fixtures! Click here

Edited by Bhargav

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