2014-15 Premier League season review: Top ten forwards

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All week at ProSoccerTalk we are reviewing the dramatic 2014-15 Premier League season. From dishing out awards to looking back at the highs and lows in the 380 games as 20 teams battled it out, we’ll have every angle covered.

[ ARCHIVE: Premier League season review ]

For the full archive of our review content, just hit the link above. Now, let’s see who excelled at putting the ball in the net as we break down the top forwards in the Premier League.

Goals, goals, goals. Everyone wants to see goals. So where did they come from? There are some unlikely sources on this list, including players from relegation candidates that were vital to their team’s minimal success this year. There are still others who were more prolific at the top of the table.

10. Leonardo Ulloa, Leicester City

The 28-year-old Argentinian played a massive role in Leciester City’s successful first campaign back in the Premier League, and thoroughly deserves a spot on this list. He exploded out of the gates to open the season, scoring five goals in Leicester’s first five matches of the year. Then things began to go quiet for the Argentinian, and for the Foxes as well. However, down the stretch, he came back to life and Leicester saved their Premier League status. Overall this season, Leicester bagged 17 points in games Ulloa scored a goal, and 24 when he didn’t; that’s 1.89 points per game when he scores a goal, and 0.82 points when he doesn’t. That, along with his 11 goals on the season, earns him a spot on our top 10 list.

[ MORE: Top 10 goalkeepers | Defenders | Midfielders ]

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Leonardo Ulloa was an essential piece of Leicester City’s historic comeback off the bottom of the Premier League table.

9. Graziano Pelle, Southampton

Another striker buoyed by his furious start to the year, Pelle was still massively important to the successful Southampton year. He bagged 12 goals on the season, including half that tally in the first eight games of the year. He weathered a 14-match scoreless streak, but still managed to end the season on a somewhat strong note. In the nine matches that Pelle scored in, Southampton won seven, drew one, and lost one. That should tell you how important he was to the Saints finishing the year in seventh.

8. Wilfried Bony, Swansea City/Manchester City

Bony was absolutely tearing the Premier League apart, and earned a transfer to Manchester City. Unfortunately, that stuck him firmly behind the league’s eventual top scorer, and it planted him on the bench for much of the second half. Still, his scoring with Swansea can’t be forgotten. He snagged nine goals in 20 games before his move to Manchester, and he even looked to be the best player on the Ivory Coast national team as they charged to the African Cup of Nations title. That momentum was halted after moving to the Etihad, as he logged just 302 minutes with City, but Bony still earns his place here as one of the more deadly strikers this season.

7. Christian Benteke, Aston Villa

It’s hard to believe an Aston Villa striker makes it here. The same Aston Villa that managed a 660-minute scoreless streak this season. The same Aston Villa that beat relegation by three points thanks to the second-lowest goalscoring tally in the Premier League. Well, he’s here. Benteke all season long looked like the only threat Villa had, and when the team wasn’t scoring it was largely because they couldn’t feed the big Belgian the ball. He truly came to life under Tim Sherwood, scoring 11 goals in the 13 games his new manager would take charge of, helping Villa to cling to Premier League safety.

6.  Charlie Austin, QPR

It cannot be understated how absolutely horrific QPR’s season would have turned out had Charlie Austin not been a part of it. Despite finishing bottom of the table, Rangers’ goal output was higher than six of the seven teams in front of them, and Austin is a large reason why. Of the eight wins for QPR on the season, Austin scored in six of them. Rated the fifth-best striker by Squawka’s performance metrics, Austin was undoubtedly one of the best strikers in the Premier League this season and came just two wins shy of nearly singlehandedly keeping QPR in the English top flight.

[ MORE: Top 10 newcomers to the Premier League | The best (and worst) transfers ]

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Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez was not only one of Arsenal’s most important players this year, but emerged almost instantly as one of the most dangerous attackers in the Premier League.

5. Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal

New to the Premier League, Alexis Sanchez fit in perfectly with Arsenal’s free-flowing system, and he adapted to his new environment almost seamlessly. Deployed in the striker role at times and on the wing at others, Sanchez outscored Arsenal’s main striker Olivier Giroud in league play and managed to almost immediately become one of the most creative players on a team oozing with creativity. If it weren’t for Santi Cazorla’s standout season, Sanchez would have been a shoo-in for Player of the Season at the Emirates. In fact, the team relied on him so heavily that it wore on him as the season continued, and he began to show signs of serious fatigue down the stretch as Arsenal’s slim chances at a title challenge faded into a third-place finish.

4. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United

Typically left for a midfield list, Wayne Rooney this season proved Louis van Gaal a genius when he played Rooney up front during a striker crisis. Rooney’s play up front sparked debate about his best position, but it’s hard to doubt his production. His deployment at the top of the Manchester United attack resulted in a crucial seven-match win streak towards the end of the season that helped secure a return to a Champions League table position. Rooney scored four times during that span, including two game-winning goals. In addition, of the 10 Premier League games Rooney scored in this year, Manchester United won nine of them.

[ MORE: Premier League grades: How did each team fare this year? ]

3. Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur

The Hurri-Kane took the Premier League by storm this season, and at just 21 years of age has the entire country of England buzzing about what might become. He didn’t even start from the beginning of the year. Kane came just five goals short of topping the Premier League goals table despite not earning serious league playing time until he forced manager Mauricio Pochettino’s hand by eating the Europa League alive through October. He scored a 90th-minute winner against Aston Villa as a substitute on November 2, and didn’t look back. Kane started every single Premier League game after, and ended the season with 21 on the board. The youngster is still occasionally prone to disappearing from matches he doesn’t receive the service he deserves, but in a league that’s all about production, Kane’s performances have provided hope for a league otherwise starving for true young talent that lives up to the hype.

2. Diego Costa, Chelsea

Costa may not have scored as many goals as Kane, but in a title-winning season where Costa battled hamstring injuries all year, the Spanish international gets the nod. Costa missed seven matches this year through injury and four others via suspension, but still managed to prove dominant up front. Fresh over from Atletico Madrid, the 26-year-old scored in six of Chelsea’s first seven matches of the season, and he scored in 13 of his first 19 league appearances. He found himself on the sidelines more often than not after that point, but Chelsea had already found itself well on its way to the league title by then. Costa still struggles on the international stage, but his performances in league play this year are unquestionably some of the best the Premier League saw all season.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback: Looking back at a memorable 2014-15 season ]

1. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

Sergio Aguero continues to produce, and produce, and produce. There’s little needed here other than he scored 26 goals on the Premier League season, plus six more in seven Champions League matches. No matter who the opponent, Aguero always looks likely to score. Through his four full seasons in the Premier League, Aguero has an absolutely stunning 110 minutes per goal total, meaning he’s one of the most prolific strikers in Premier League history. To put that into perspective, the highest goalscorer in Premier League history, Alan Shearer, scored a goal every 147 minutes on average. Harry Kane’s mind-blowing season produced a league goal every 123 minutes – even counting all competitions to account for Kane’s incredible Europa League campaign, he still bagged just a goal every 119 minutes. Sergio Aguero is undoubtedly the best striker in the Premier League right now, and one of the best it’s ever seen.

EURO qualifying wrap: Spain earns place in stoppage time

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Spain clinched a spot in EURO 2020 via a last-minute equalizer, but the rest of the picture only got murkier thanks to dramatics in Romania and Switzerland.)

[ MORE: How should USMNT line up? ]


Sweden 1-1 Spain

A Marcus Berg header had Sweden on the verge of a significant home win against nearly unbeatable David De Gea and Spain, but Valencia forward Rodrigo delivered a stoppage time goal to give Robert Moreno’s men a place in EURO 2020. But Sweden can breathe a little easier thanks to a stoppage time goal across the continent.

Bad news for Manchester United, though, as De Gea’s strong day ended early due to injury.

Romania 1-1 Norway

New York City FC’s Alexandru Mitrita added another beauty to his collection in scoring for the second successive qualifier, but it wouldn’t stand up thanks to former Crystal Palace striker Alexander Sorloth‘s stoppage time equalizer.

Switzerland 2-0 Republic of Ireland

Terrible from the Irish, who trailed after 16 minutes and then went down to 10 men when Seamus Coleman was shown a red card in the 76th minute. Former West Ham man Edimilson Fernandes put it to bed in stoppage time as the Swiss out-attempted Ireland 20-9.

The Irish are tied for the lead in the group with 12 points but that’s about where the good news ends. They do not have an automatic spot in the playoffs while Denmark does and has 12 points. Switzerland has 11 and has also played one fewer match.

Ireland will need to beat Denmark next month and hope for help on the out-of-town scoreboard when Switzerland meets Gibraltar and Georgia.

Finland 3-0 Armenia

Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki continued his fine year with a pair of goals after Fredrik Jensen staked the Finnish side to a lead in Turku. Group J second place side Finland has a five-point lead on chasing Armenia and BNH.

Elsewhere

Faroe Islands 1-0 Malta
Gibraltar 2-3 Georgia
Greece 2-1 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Liechtenstein 0-5 Italy
Israel 3-1 Latvia

Lloyd: Coming off bench at World Cup “rock bottom of my entire career”

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The upper echelon of the USWNT player pool, especially the veteran generation, just swims in a different competitive gene pool.

Comments from a recent podcast featuring Carli Lloyd are the latest evidence of this, as the USWNT legend calls not starting regularly at this summer’s World Cup “the worst time of my life.”

[ MORE: How should USMNT line up? ]

She says she was happy to be a part of it and happy for her teammates but doesn’t back down from the “worst” diagnosis. Yeah, you read that right.

“I’m not going to lie and sugarcoat it,” Lloyd said on Julie Foudy’s Laughter Permitted podcast. “It was absolutely the worst time of my life. It affected my relationship with my husband, with friends. It really was rock bottom of my entire career. But somehow, you see light at the end of the tunnel, and I can honestly say I’m having more fun now playing than I ever have in my career. I think I just learned a lot throughout it.”

To be fair, Lloyd hasn’t backed up anyone in almost a decade and has since won a Ballon d’Or. Not many elite athletes get used to being second (or fourth) fiddle, especially on a major stage like that.

The personalities on this team are as big as any produced by Ronaldo’s Brazil or Zidane’s France. Some may laugh at this, but it shows what a tremendous job Jill Ellis did in marshaling the team to two-straight World Cups, the first with Abby Wambach in a sub’s role and the second with Lloyd.

It also shows the marvelous competitive nature of Lloyd and the resilience of players who know they’d start for any number of teams in the world. Lloyd says in the podcast that she believed she was playing at near her best level despite being moved from midfielder to forward.

Obviously no player prefers a sub’s role to starting, but — wow — if it isn’t bewildering to hear Lloyd talk about her supporting role at age 37 being the worst time of her life. Different types.

Liverpool’s Alisson, Matip return to training

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Premier League leaders Liverpool have been handed a huge boost ahead of their massive clash at bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Remember: Liverpool are eight points clear atop the table and United sit in 12th, so Jurgen Klopp‘s men are keen to rub salt further into the wounds of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Red Devils.

Alisson and Joel Matip both returned to training at Melwood, with Alisson recovering from a calf injury which he suffered on the opening day of the season.

The Brazilian goalkeeper has been missing after limping out of the 4-1 win against Norwich City on Aug. 9, and his return to full fitness will bolster this already stingy Liverpool defense. Adrian has performed admirably, albeit with a few errors, in Alisson’s absence but it is now time for the superstar goalkeeper to return to action.

As for Matip, the towering center back suffered an injury against Sheffield United and missed Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League win against Red Bull Salzburg and their narrow Premier League victory against Leicester City.

Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren have both come in for Matip but neither have been solid enough and the former Schalke star will slot straight back in alongside Virgil Van Dijk and bring a steadying influence to the entire defensive line. Matip has been sensational this season, just as everyone expected Gomez to take his starting spot.

Another situation to keep an eye on is the fitness of Mohamed Salah, as he trained on his own at Melwood. Salah was caught with a rash challenge by Hamza Choudhury at the end of Liverpool’s win over Leicester and suffered an ankle injury.

Klopp was incandescent with rage about the foul on Salah and it appears the Egyptian winger is in a race against time to be fit for the clash against Man United, although he is reportedly looking good to play at Old Trafford on Sunday.

With the fitness of Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and others a constant struggle for United in recent weeks, Solskjaer hasn’t had much help in that department.

Having Alisson and Matip back is great news for Liverpool and Klopp.

How should USMNT line up against Canada?

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The USMNT take on Canada in Toronto on Tuesday in a very tasty CONCACAF Nations League clash.

With Gregg Berhalter’s side beating Cuba 7-0 last Friday, they’ll be up for a much tougher test this time.

This feels like a massive game in determining which direction Berhalter’s reign will go in, as a convincing win will make a statement but a defeat would see plenty of questions asked about any progress made over the past two years.

Canada’s attacking trio of Junior Hoilett, Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David will cause the USMNT defense lots of problems, with Davies a global star in the making after being named among the Golden Boy finalists.

As for the USMNT, Berhalter will hope Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Zack Steffen stand tall throughout the spine of the team as Canada fancy their chances of grabbing a marquee win in front of a fired up home crowd.

Below is a look at the strongest possible USMNT lineup, in our opinion, with some reasoning as to why these players should be selected.


USMNT starting XI versus Canada

—– Steffen —–

— Yedlin — Miazga — Long — Ream —

—- McKennie —- Bradley —-

— Morris — Lletget — Pulisic —-

—– Sargent —–


Analysis

Berhalter has said Steffen will start in goal, so no surprise there. In defense DeAndre Yedlin should get the nod at right back but Reggie Cannon has played well, while Matt Miazga and Aaron Long will likely continue at center back. The problem position at left back has been filled by Lovitz and Lima in recent game, while Tim Ream could also start there. Ream’s experience could be key, so it would be good to slot him in where you can.

In midfield Michael Bradley was rested for the game against Cuba and is likely to start in his home stadium, while McKennie’s goalscoring ability was on show with his hat trick but we will have to see more of his defensive prowess against Canada.

In attack, having Christian Pulisic, Jordan Morris and Sebastian Lletget linking across the three attacking midfield positions (Pulisic and Morris starting out wide) would make sense. Josh Sargent is suffering with an ankle knock so if he isn’t fit expect Zardes or Boyd to come in with Morris perhaps switching to a central striking role of Boyd or Paul Arriola come in.