Europe’s finest strikers: Kane, Suarez and more

From Robert Lewandowski’s record-breaking season with Bayern Munich to Romelu Lukaku firing Inter Milan to its first league title in more than a decade, Europe witnessed some prolific goalscoring across its leagues this season.

Robert Lewandowski was sorely missed in Bayern’s Champions League quarterfinal tie against Paris Saint-Germain as Mauricio Pochettino’s men went ahead on away goals.   -  AP

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich; games: 40; goals: 48)

Fans of Bayern Munich cried foul last season after Robert Lewandowski was robbed of a golden chance to bag his first Ballon d’Or after wreaking havoc in the Bundesliga and across Europe.

The top-scorer of the top German league and the Champions League in 2019-20, Lewandowski found the net an astonishing 55 times in 47 appearances in all competitions — a career best — and his performance played a major part in Hansi Flick guiding the German champion to six trophies, thus maintaining a 100 percent record when it came to winning titles.

Cut to the current season, and the Polish striker continued to destruct and dismantle as he scored 48 goals in 40 appearances and broke Gerd Muller’s 49-year-old record of scoring 40 league goals in a single campaign.

After suffering a knee injury during a World Cup qualification match between Poland and Andorra, there was chatter about his season ending prematurely.

However, not only did Lewandowski return stronger than ever and prove the doubters wrong, he also put speculation to rest by breaking Muller’s record.

Lewandowski’s untimely injury had repercussions nonetheless. He was sorely missed in Bayern’s Champions League quarterfinal tie against Paris Saint-Germain as Mauricio Pochettino’s men went ahead on away goals.

Lewandowski when he equalled Muller''s record earlier this month

 

Despite putting up a fight, Lewandowski’s clinical presence in front of goal was sorely missed by Flick and his men.

But the joy of winning a ninth consecutive Bundesliga title must have soothed nerves of a hard-fought exit from Europe and Lewandowski has surely played his part there.

He has scored more than once in eight league games this season, which includes two hat-tricks and a stunning four-goal haul.

As far as No. 9s are concerned, Lewandowski can be safely crowned the undisputed champion this season.

Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur; games: 49; goals: 33)

Tottenham Hotspur will not be able to brandish any silverware this season, but it can surely boast of having one of the best strikers in Europe in Harry Kane.

A natural goalscorer who has cemented his place among Europe’s elite, Kane has won two English Premier League Golden Boots in the past six years and has scored more than 20 league goals in four of them.

After a docile performance in the last couple of seasons, the English striker was back to performing at his best, with 33 goals in 49 appearances in all competitions in 2020-21.

Kane found the net 23 times in 35 appearances in the Premier League, but scoring was not the only aspect the all-rounded striker brought to the table; he possessed a natural ability to find people for goals as well.

With 166 goals, Harry Kane has surpassed Robbie Fowler’s 163 to become the seventh-highest scorer in Premier League history.   -  Getty Images

 

This season, the Premier League saw the magic of the Harry Kane-Heung Min Son duo as both constantly assisted each other for goals. Kane had 13 assists to his name and created 14 big chances, proving how well polished his football had become.

With 166 goals, Kane surpassed Robbie Fowler’s 163 to become the seventh-highest scorer in Premier League history.

 

One might argue that a striker of Kane’s calibre should have won his first major trophy by now. His career at Tottenham has earned him plaudits and he has grown as a player immensely. But silverware is something that has eluded Kane during his stay at the North London club.

Recent news from England states Kane wants to leave the Spurs this summer, but it remains to be seen whether he does so — and which club he goes to if he does go.

ALSO READ | Goal is to win team trophies, says Tottenham's Harry Kane

Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid; games: 36; goals: 21)

Despite being one of the most illustrious strikers of his generation, few would have expected to see Luis Suarez’s name in the list of top strikers after his unceremonious exit from Barcelona at the end of last season.

However, the Uruguayan veteran proved his critics wrong with 21 goals in 32 appearances for Atletico Madrid in La Liga. With important goals for his team throughout the season, including a decisive one against cross-town rival Real Madrid in the derby, Suarez led Atletico’s charge towards its first La Liga title in seven years.

But it was a disappointing season for Suarez as far as the Champions League was concerned as he could not find the net even once, but he nonetheless lit up the competition with his goalscoring prowess.

It was a disappointing season for Luis Suarez as far as the Champions League was concerned as he could not find the net even once, but he nonetheless lit up the competition with his goalscoring prowess.   -  AP

 

In his last season for Barcelona, Suarez scored 16 league goals in 28 appearances and another five in the Champions League.

In a widely debated decision, Barcelona decided to offload with his services at the end of the season in a move that left him feeling “disrespected.”

 

With Atletico winning its first La Liga title since 2013-14, it was poetic justice that Suarez, who was considered surplus to Barcelona’s requirements, led his new club to the trophy while the Catalan club dropped out of the title race as the teams headed into the last couple of rounds of matches.

It is safe to say that Suarez has put the Barcelona exit saga behind him as he lifted his fourth La Liga title.

Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan; games: 44; goals: 30)

Inter Milan finally won the Serie A after 11 years and Romelu Lukaku, with 24 league goals, was the driving force in the Nerazzurri’s campaign to end Juventus’ prolonged domination in Italy.

After rising to prominence during his time with Merseyside club Everton, Lukaku became the most expensive striker in English Premier League history when Manchester United signed him for £75 million in July 2017.

However, his career with the Red Devils never took off, and his inconsistency did not allow him to cement his name in the squad, which led to his eventual sale to Inter.

Those days are far behind him now as over two seasons with Inter, Lukaku has not only established himself as a permanent fixture in the squad, but his partnership with Argentine forward Lautaro Martinez in front of goal has also allowed the club to win its 19th league title in style.

In addition to his 24 goals in the league this season, Romelu Lukaku has shown great aptitude in assisting his teammates as well, with 11 assists to his name.   -  AP

 

Lukaku did not take time to settle down at Inter as he scored 34 goals in 51 appearances during his first season under manager Antonio Conte, whose 3-5-2 formation has allowed the Belgian striker to develop a lethal partnership with Martinez.

However, the biggest criticism of Lukaku was his inability to perform in “big games.” During his time with Manchester United, he managed just one goal and four assists in 16 starts against the other “Big Six” clubs of the Premier League — Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.

 

During his first season with Inter, Lukaku was plagued by the same problem as he performed below par in major games, most notably in Inter’s Europa League final against Sevilla.

This season, the Belgian improved majorly on that front, having scored seven goals in 12 starts against Inter’s six main rivals — AC Milan, Atalanta, Juventus, Napoli, Lazio and Roma.

In addition to his 24 goals in the league this season, Lukaku showed great aptitude in assisting his teammates as well, with 11 assists to his name.

ALSO READ | Serie A season recap: Inter ends 11-year wait, Juventus declines

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid; games: 46; goals: 30)

In a season where Real Madrid was in dire straits because of injury setbacks, Karim Benzema was on many occasions the lone warrior in front of goal, scoring 30 times in 46 appearances.

“Injury-ridden” would be an understatement to describe Real Madrid’s current season. At the peak, the squad accounted for 41 injuries, with many crucial players like Lucas Vazquez and Dani Carvajal out with long-term ones.

A major factor behind Madrid’s title win in 2019-20, Benzema continued his heroics in front of goal this season as well.

 

In the league, he scored 23 goals in 34 appearances along with providing nine assists. But as much as his ability to score, it was Benzema’s sense of occasion and timing that made him such a lethal striker.

Be it his 88th-minute equaliser against Atletico Madrid in the derby or his brace against Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League to save his team from elimination, the Frenchman stepped up to the plate when it has mattered.

A major factor behind Madrid’s title win in 2019-20, Karim Benzema continued his heroics in front of goal this season as well.   -  AP

 

Having missed four league matches to injury this season, the Frenchman was likened to former Madrid player Cristiano Ronaldo for the immense impact the Portuguese star had with the 34-time Spanish champion.

With the European Championship on the horizon (having being postponed from 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic), Benzema was called-up for the French national squad for the first time in six years.