The dust is inevitably settling on the career of Manchester City’s greatest ever striker, Sergio Aguero. The rumors swirling around the young prodigy from Norway are reaching a whistling as loud as tornado. The redemption story of Romelu Lukaka re-joining has many Chelsea fans salivating like Pavlov’s dog. Three potential options that each represent highly capable strikers who are respectively all at different stages of their careers.
Erling Haaland has exploded on to the European stage and many consider him to be the true generational talent of his age group at the young age of 20. Romelu Lukaku has taken Serie A by storm with Inter under Antonio Conte and is firmly in the prime of his career. And last, but not least, is Premier League veteran Sergio Aguero who is as proven as nearly any striker in Premier League history, yet is now facing the inevitable battle we all face: Father Time.
Current Chelsea striker options
All three striker options would likely offer a current improvement on the profile of striker that Chelsea FC must currently choose from. Tammy Abraham has been a highly serviceable striker for the club and arguably the best since Diego Costa. His goal output has been better than the rest, but he sometimes goes missing during games. Moreover, when his dwindling contract situation is factored into the equation it paints an even murkier picture for Abraham’s long-term viability as the striker of the future. His talent is there, but the questions of consistency cannot be ignored. Thomas Tuchel also seems to currently value Abraham as his third choice striker.
Betting on Tammy Abraham to become the starting XI striker for years to come seems as risky as heading to Las Vegas after winning the lottery. However, he is a serviceable striker who could have a supporting role for a Chelsea squad chasing titles.
Olivier Giroud is another option currently in the Chelsea squad, but similarly to Aguero, he is in the twilight of his career. Additionally, Giroud is a target man who is best used in and around the 18-yard box and to link play with others in attack. However, in the current 3-4-2-1 system Tuchel is habitually employing, Giroud has less space and therefore time to link play with the two forwards behind him. This is simply a function of space: with two forwards behind him – instead of wingers as commonly seen in previous systems that Giroud was highly effective in – there is less space between him and his attacking teammates, which conversely means there is less space for Giroud relative to the opposition defense as the defenders are more compact.
His effectiveness with Tuchel’s tutelage is also dwindling due to these factors and he seems to be much less capable of creating spaces for others as he once did.
Finally, there is the curious case of Timo Werner. Is he a striker? Is he an inverted forward? Is he a winger? Or is he a hybrid of all three? Whatever your assertions maybe it appears that he will be used as more of a left forward or winger with Tuchel. This alone suggests Werner will not be the pure striker to lead the line for years to come. There is also the additional issue that he is not a highly skilled dribbler on the wings who is able to create his own chances. He is highly dependent on opposition using a higher defensive line and exploiting it with his pace that is as electric as The Flash.
With many opponents using low blocks in the Premier League, this presents a clear and obvious limitation that is likely not going to take Chelsea where they need to be if Werner is used as the out-and-out starting XI striker. His utilization is likely best used elsewhere, and often his work rate in these other positions best creates spaces and opportunities for others. Werner could become devastating if paired in the right system with the right, lethal striker.
The three potentially awkward and limited options for Chelsea FC at striker can only mean one thing: probability would favor that a new man is walking through the gates of the Bridge this summer. In my opinion, it is clearly the position of biggest need and has been for several years now. So, how do each of Haaland, Lukaku, and Aguero compare and potentially fit into the current 3 at the back system Tuchel is continually scheming and deploying?
Striker options elsewhere
The golden boy: Erling Haaland
Try to run from it, but there is no hiding it: Haaland is already a world class striker who is truly on a skyrocketing trajectory towards being a true, undeniable generational talent. Watch him play, look at the stats, and interpret his demeanor and words on and off the field: he has everything it takes to become great.
However, his age is the only factor that could be the issue here. He is only 20 years old. Many things can happen to great, young, emerging talents that derail their careers and curtail them from reaching the proper heights they were once seemingly destined for. But Haaland is currently the safe bet of any to become the best player at this position and take up one of the two mantles that Ronaldo and Messi will inevitably leave when they walk off into the sunset of a happy retirement.
The above chart from fbref shows Haaland relative to other forwards in Europe’s top five leagues on a percentile basis. The 50th percentile would be considered the average in this instance: the higher away from the 50th percentile, the more incredible the statistic becomes, and vice versa.
In summary, Haaland is putting up superhuman numbers for non-penalty goals and non-penalty expected goals. He is well above the average in almost every attacking metric except shot creating actions (which is indicative that his passes do not often lead to shots for other teammates). His weaknesses seem to be obvious too because he is near the bottom 10th percentile for passes attempted and this could show a lack of talent in link up play for other attacking teammates. However, the job of a striker is to do exactly what Haaland has become virtually the best in Europe at doing: scoring goals.
Haaland also would likely be a plug-in success at Stamford Bridge. This is because there are many similarities to Dortmund’s three at the back system and how Haaland would be used similarly in Chelsea’s three at the back system. He would probably not be tasked with many link-up play responsibilities because of his lethal and downright percentile-setting record for scoring goals. He may not touch the ball often, like Giroud, but Haaland is not a one-trick pony. He can use movement, pace, and create chances for himself in and around the 18-yard box.
He likely would be an overwhelming success at Chelsea for years to come and for the first time in a long time. Bringing a bit of that ruthlessness and desire to humiliate opponents back to Stamford Bridge that has been missing since Diego Costa.
In the Prime of his Career and Once Labeled “Mini-Drogba”: Romelu Lukaku
What a story it would be for Lukaku to return to Stamford Bridge and fulfill the destiny he was once theorized to have with Chelsea. He was prior the heir apparent to Drogba and thought to be a striker that would lead the team for years.
The arrival of Jose Mourinho ushered Lukaku out of the Bridge long ago, and he has found varied levels of success since then. He was a sensation at Everton, a bit mediocre at Manchester United, and now under Antonio Conte at Inter has become one of the best strikers in Europe.
The eye test for Lukaku still has some unconvinced, but there are suspicions that some of that comes down to the narrative that was created for him while at Manchester United. Watching Lukaku this season shows he is a strike that is highly involved with all phases of attacking play, has incredible positioning, reading of the game, distribution for others, physicality, and has used his great pace to beat many defenders on the counterattack. His touch has also seemed to have improved in Serie A. Do the stats support this?
Lukaku is in the 74th percentile for shots taken, yet he is in the 91st percentile for non-penalty goals scored. This shows that Lukaku is converting many of his shots into goals, although he is taking less shots than Haaland (see previous chart above). This could explain why Haaland has a higher percentile for non-penalty goals and nPKxG: Haaland takes more shots, which places him higher in shots by percentile, and therefore could explain why he is higher in percentile for goals.
Lukaku is also displaying good link-up play and distribution as his shot creating actions is in the 88th percentile for all strikers/forwards in Europe. Additionally, his ability to receive passes and touches inside the opponent’s 18-yard box is incredible (see touches and progressive passes received percentiles above). This highlights how his positioning has become elite.
Lukaku seems to be a striker that would be highly effective at Chelsea if he were to transfer back to the club this summer. Particularly, his efficiency, positioning, pace, and physical play would be perfect for the Premier League and for the needs Chelsea currently have at striker.
His ability to position correctly, paired with great efficiency, would fill a desperate void in Chelsea’s current attack. In less objective terms Lukaku also could have a burning desire to prove a point. He has long wanted to return to Chelsea – and would have if not for Mino Raiola, his previous agent, derailing a move to Chelsea when Conte was the manager – and that fact represents an interesting sub-plot for the Belgian striker to return to Chelsea.
Lukaku has also proven with lesser squads that he is more than capable of excelling in the Premier League. Despite the trepidations some may have about this move, it seems that it could be an expedient transfer that solves many issues for the Blues.
The Legendary Premier League Striker Entering the Twilight of His Career: Sergio Aguero
He is undoubtedly a Premier League legend. He has many iconic moments at Manchester City. He has a long tally of goals in the English top flight. Simply, he has been one of the most prolific strikers of the past decade of European football. What is not to like about this prospect?
The question itself is highly misleading. Aguero is chronically struggling for fitness and possibly even form in the later stages of his career. To back this assertion up, he has only logged 499 minutes over the last 365 days in English and European competitions. That is highly concerning and represents a massive gamble for any top club interested in employing the Argentinian legend’s services for the 2021/2022 season. How can a top club rely upon Aguero to win titles with his goals if he is hardly fit enough for selection within the squad? Asking the question answers the question.
The eye test for Aguero is hard to evaluate in the present due to the overwhelming injuries he has now sustained over the last year. However, in the past Aguero was always an elite and prolific scorer who had top-level conversion rates and positioning within the box. He was a crafty player who could also at times create his own chances. Presently, Aguero is being passed over for starting minutes by Gabriel Jesus at Man City and Pep has even opted to use a false nine system at times with Aguero not selected.
There are limited statistics to evaluate Aguero this season, but there are still some to look at his percentile chart over the last year compared to the other forwards in Europe.
The percentile chart supports what was said above that Aguero is fading away into the sunset of his career. The lack of minutes played is a large factor but look at his expected goals per 90. It is only in the 62nd percentile. The chances and efficiency are drying up at the top level for Aguero. The best aspect of Aguero’s game is his pass completion percentage which is in the 94th percentile.
However, do Chelsea need another distributor from the striker position? Would Aguero’s rumored, massive wages per week be justifiable given the last year of output, or lack thereof? Are his fitness concerns something that Chelsea should heavily invest in? These questions are important to consider and would likely lead to the suggestion that Aguero should not be the striker that Chelsea should rely upon and that he likely is not a great fit for the current system.
All respect for what he has previously achieved, but this is a decision that is not built off past production and nostalgia. The decision for who to best lead the line needs to be evaluated by the present, and that alone suggests that Aguero is not the right person to become the starting XI striker for Chelsea FC next season.
Chelsea are probably best to target either Lukaku or Haaland. Despite Aguero being a legendary player, it is too late for that to be a legitimate option to upgrade the squad next season. However, the eye test and statistics are not conjecture and that is why those were used as the methods of evaluation for who would be the better options.
Haaland is the younger striker who has true generation talent and would also have an incredibly high resale value in seven years. Lukaku would be a great talent to fill the needs as of now, but his resale value may not be as high, and the club have seemingly become risk averse to purchasing previous players for massive fees in recent times.
There is not a perfect solution from the club’s standpoint, but on the field, either of Lukaku or Haaland will be a massive success as the lone striker at Chelsea. I would personally opt for Haaland because he has the higher ceiling, however I find the personal story and experience of Lukaku to be incredibly tempting. Lukaku is also in the prime of his career and seems to be on a path to winning Serie A this season with Inter. That winning experience would be vital to the young squad that Chelsea currently have. It will be an interesting summer that hopefully delivers one of the two strikers.
Written by Travis Flock (@Crossroads_CFC)
Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)
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