EPL

Aubameyang hits 50 and joins elite class of Premier League forwards

By Sports Desk July 01, 2020

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's achievement of scoring 50 goals in 77 Premier League games for Arsenal makes him the sixth fastest player in the competition's history to hit the half-century milestone.

That Aubameyang arrived at 50 goals in fewer league matches than the likes of Sergio Aguero and Thierry Henry tells you just how prolific the Gabon international has been since his arrival from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018.

Aubameyang's landmark goal, which arrived for Arsenal against Norwich City on Wednesday, is made all the more remarkable by the fact that he has not been playing in a particularly successful team during his time at Emirates Stadium, with the Gunners finishing sixth in his first season, fifth in his second, and starting the day in 10th as they faced the Canaries.

The five players to have reached 50 Premier League goals in fewer matches than Aubameyang all did so in teams challenging at the top end of the table, and all with very distinct goal-scoring styles.
 

Andy Cole – 65 games

After scoring 12 goals when Newcastle United were promoted as Division One champions in 1992-93, Andy Cole plundered 34 in 40 top flight games to help Kevin Keegan's side finish third in the table the following season.

A real six-yard box striker who could also finish from distance and beat defenders for pace, he netted another nine Premier League goals for the Magpies before joining Manchester United, where he took his top-flight tally to 50 before the end of the 1994-95 season.

Alan Shearer – 66 games

Alan Shearer reached 50 Premier League goals during Blackburn Rovers' title-winning campaign in 1994-95, having netted 47 goals in 62 games in the two seasons prior.

Shearer's matchless eye for goal and thunderously powerful shot helped him to 34 goals in 42 matches as Rovers became champions, and he passed the 100 mark just a year later.

Ruud van Nistelrooy – 68 games

Ruud van Nistelrooy cost Manchester United £19million when he joined the club from PSV ahead of the 2001-02 season and he quickly set about repaying their faith in him.

The Netherlands international netted 23 Premier League goals in 32 games in his first season, followed by a further 25 in 34 games in 2002-03.

He then passed 50 in the 2003-04 season on his way to scoring 20 goals in 32 matches as United were beaten to the title by Arsenal.

Fernando Torres – 72

More similar to Aubameyang in terms of playing style than any of the players listed above, Fernando Torres scored his 50th Premier League goal during his third season as a Liverpool player.

It was a season that would end with Torres becoming a World Cup winner with Spain, but it was not a happy one for the Reds, who finished seventh in the table despite Torres' 18 goals in 22 games, and the striker left the club to join Chelsea part way through the following campaign.

Mohamed Salah – 72

Mohamed Salah scored his 50th Premier League goal during a 4-3 victory over Crystal Palace in April 2019, becoming the second-fastest player to reach the milestone in terms of minutes played.

Only Shearer, who netted a half-century in 5,337 minutes for Blackburn, reached the landmark in a shorter on-pitch timespan than free-scoring Reds forward Salah, who did so in 5,374 minutes of play following his £34m transfer from Roma.

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    Terms were agreed on Wednesday and details of the transaction were confirmed in a statement given to CONSOB, the government authority in charge of regulating the Italian securities market.

    The Serie A club published that statement on their website on Thursday, revealing the deal was expected to be completed before the end of the month.

    Roma president Jim Pallotta said: "I am pleased to confirm we have reached an agreement with the The Friedkin Group for the sale of AS Roma.

    "We have signed the contracts and, over the coming days, will now work together to complete the formal and legal process that will result in the club changing hands.

    "Over the last month, Dan and Ryan Friedkin have demonstrated their total commitment to finalising this deal and taking the club forward in a positive way. I am sure they will be great future owners for AS Roma."

    The transaction will see existing owners AS Roma SPV sell the entirety of its 86.6 per cent share capital to The Friedkin Group.

    Dan Friedkin, chairman and CEO of the incoming ownership group, said: "All of us at The Friedkin Group are so happy to have taken the steps to become a part of this iconic city and club.

    "We look forward to closing the purchase as soon as possible and immersing ourselves in the AS Roma family."

    Roma are in Europa League action at Sevilla on Thursday, having ended their top-flight campaign in fifth spot. 

  • Manchester City v Real Madrid: Hazard back in England to salvage 'worst' season Manchester City v Real Madrid: Hazard back in England to salvage 'worst' season

    He might have a winners' medal in his pocket at the end of his first LaLiga season, but Eden Hazard is in no mood to spare himself.

    Long touted as a potential marquee signing for Real Madrid, the Belgium star made the move to the Santiago Bernabeu for an initial €100million last June.

    However, by the time Zinedine Zidane had masterminded a post-lockdown overhaul of Barcelona to claim the title, the dream had long since turned into something of a nightmare.

    "We have won the title collectively this year, considering it has certainly been the worst season of my career individually," Hazard told France Info after injury woes – most notably a broken foot that required surgery – restricted him to 16 top-flight appearances.

    He scored once in 1,086 LaLiga minutes and has failed to find the net in five Champions League appearances for the 13-time winners so far.

    The peculiarity of this elongated season means a chance to salvage something arrives on Friday in familiar surroundings.

    Madrid are 2-1 in arrears ahead of their last-16 second leg against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. If a remontada is to become reality, they will probably need an individual to step up and produce something truly special – particularly considering talismanic captain Sergio Ramos is suspended.

    It was another Belgian, Kevin De Bruyne, who stole the show in the Spanish capital back in February as he majestically created Gabriel Jesus' equaliser before dispatching the winner from the penalty spot.

    Although firm friends throughout their gilded careers, it is hard to imagine the distinction of being Belgium's outstanding footballer lying elsewhere sitting too well with the lavishly gifted Hazard.

    Perhaps an outing in east Manchester can stir a return to his very best.

    In December of the 2016-17 season, City and Chelsea were neck and neck at the top of the Premier League when the Londoners travelled north.

    De Bruyne hit the crossbar from point-blank range with the hosts 1-0 up and then Hazard took over, the master conductor as Antonio Conte's Blues took apart Pep Guardiola's men on the counter-attack. He scored the game-sealing goal in a 3-1 victory as a disintegrating City finished with Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho sent off.

    In the return match at Stamford Bridge, Hazard netted a brace in 2-1 win that put Chelsea on the brink of the Premier League title.

    His efforts that year yielded 16 goals and five assists, sitting handsomely alongside the 14 goals and nine assists from 2014-15 when he first inspired the Stamford Bridge outfit to glory. City came second in that earlier campaign and Hazard walked off with the PFA and FWA end-of-season awards.

    There is no suggestion that, at 29, Hazard will not be able to scale such heights again. Whether he can this week, however, is another matter.

    Zidane seems to be as in the dark as anyone else.

    "I think Eden had little [injury] problems recently because, when he finished playing [against Villarreal], he had problems; he didn't end well," he told reporters after Hazard's final appearance of the LaLiga season in Madrid's penultimate match.

    In the final six games of the campaign, the after-effects of Hazard's injury woes restricted him to 70 minutes on the field. The outing against Villarreal accounted for 62 of those.

    "I hope that, with this break, he recovers completely," Zidane added. "Those that know about this, about looking after players, will try to get Eden well again."

    It is probably wise to look towards 2020-21 with a clean slate. But maybe all it will take is one elegant shuffle of the feet, a deft lay-off or one of those beautifully balanced dribbles for the memories to come flooding back – for both Hazard and those in sky blue trying to stop him – in the country where he forged a path to the top of the game.

  • David Silva's legacy secure as he begins 'Last Dance' for Man City against Real Madrid David Silva's legacy secure as he begins 'Last Dance' for Man City against Real Madrid

    Joleon Lescott remembers the time he tried to imitate one of David Silva's signature moves on the Manchester City training ground with a rueful chuckle.

    Having been on the receiving end as Silva subtly changed direction to engineer space and leave his team-mate behind him, an obvious thought occurred to the former England centre-back.

    It can't be that hard, surely?

    "He had the ball and I've closed him down and he's kind of dipped his shoulder to go to the right and gone back on the left," Lescott explained to Stats Perform News.

    "I've tried to mimic the movement he did and ended up injuring my knee.  

    "I've tried to dip down to the right, tried to move as fast as him but I'm obviously a bigger frame and it was just like, 'Ooh, nah. That didn’t feel good. Let me just go and stand on the sidelines for the rest of the session'."

    If feels like a handy illustration of how Silva makes the most of the things he does with a ball at his feet seem effortlessly simple, when in reality they are anything but.

    THE MISSING PRIZE

    Friday's Champions League last-16 match with Real Madrid could be his last for City. If Pep Guardiola's side are able to capitalise upon their 2-1 first-leg advantage, it will be on to Lisbon and the mini-tournament to conclude the closing stages of this season's competition.

    Over the course of 10 trophy-laden seasons in Manchester, Silva has played an integral role in each of the club's four Premier League successes. The first of those, secured in unforgettable fashion in 2011-12, was the club's first top-division title in 44 years. The previous season, Silva played a part in Yaya Toure's winning goal against Stoke City in the FA Cup final that ended a 35-year trophy drought.

    Such honours, once pipe dreams, are now the norm in east Manchester. Silva opened the scoring in last year's 6-0 final win over Watford for his second FA Cup winners' medal, completing an unprecedented domestic treble in 2018-19. This term, he lifted a fifth EFL Cup.

    Another golden era ran roughly parallel in Spain colours, with Silva a cap centurion as part of arguably the finest international team of all time. A rare header in the final of Euro 2012 against Italy set up a 4-0 win, further evidence of a handy knack on showpiece occasions.

    That victory made it three major tournament triumphs in succession for Spain, following Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. Since leaving Valencia for City in the latter year, Silva has won it all apart from the Champions League.

    The coming weeks could still amount to a beautifully scripted ending to the story. A 'Last Dance', perhaps. Just don't expect Silva to be the outspoken star of his own Netflix documentary a couple of decades from now.

    "As difficult as this time is for everyone, he's probably in the back of his head thinking he's happy he's not receiving the attention when he leaves," Lescott said, with City poised to announce farewell plans after Silva's final game.

    "He's so humble and down to earth, it's crazy. It's ridiculous to think that he lives a lifestyle that's so simple considering what he's achieved. He's a credit to everyone who was around him growing up - his parents, his family, who I've been lucky enough to meet on numerous occasions.

    "I can't speak highly enough of him. There's never a time when I've asked him something – a favour or text him or contacted him – and he's not got back to me.

    "Not that many people have been lucky enough to be in his presence outside of football and I can confirm that he speaks English very well!"

    CHANGING THE GAME

    Despite that reluctance to speak publicly too often, Silva has received plenty of warm words over recent weeks. Players and pundits alike have queued up to declare him a great of the Premier League era.

    It is a situation few envisaged 10 years ago, with Lescott initially among the doubters.

    "I remember me and Shaun Wright-Phillips having a discussion about the physical demands of the Premier League and would he be able to cope," he said. "It was due to the fact we were playing 4-4-2 then. We didn't play 4-3-3.

    "David was going to have to play as a winger. If you look back then and think of David coming up against someone like a Micah Richards at right-back, it was going to be difficult physically.

    "But with his football IQ, he was able to create a role in the team that only he was able to adopt. He'd come off the line – full-backs didn't want to be that high up the pitch and wingers didn't want to drop that deep to pick him up.

    "He was able to just be free, but not shirk his defensive responsibilities. In those areas, knowing where to pick up the ball, his intelligence for that is second to none.

    "His football IQ is as good as you'll see. If you think, there are not many times David Silva gets tackled."

    When he arrived, players of Silva's ilk were cast somewhere between a curiosity and a luxury in the English game. Glance through top-flight squads today and most feature someone trying their hand at the art he mastered.

    Elite games in England today are frequently won between the lines and in the half-spaces, as much if not more often than by a ball over the top or via a conventional winger hitting the byline. This shift and expansion in the Premier League's stylistic palate owes much to Silva and feels like his lasting gift, threaded through the division as quietly and subtly as one of his passes.

    "He definitely changed the way people view the Premier League and that role," Lescott added.

    "I spoke to Steven Gerrard about him and he said to play against David was unreal. So that's the ultimate kind of praise.

    "Robert Pires was similar but was more direct than David. In terms of that role, David made it okay for you not to always go on the outside. That's not something he was taught at City, he just understood the game well enough in order to do it.

    "He's definitely, definitely one of the all-time greats for Man City and the Premier League."

    CITY'S GREATEST?

    Having shared an era with Toure, Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne and the club's all-time leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero at City, it is Silva who is most often suggested the successor to Colin Bell – the ex-England midfielder widely viewed as the club's finest ever player for the best part of half a century.

    While those celebrated team-mates have dealt in huge moments, Silva was there for all of them, astutely pulling the strings and knitting the whole tapestry together. Gerrard is far from alone in his admiration. He is the players' player.

    Now 34, Silva's diminished capacity for the physical work he has always relished has given City an insight into a future without him. He is not a guaranteed starter against Madrid, Guardiola having carefully managed his workload in the most demanding games this season.

    De Bruyne has proved a statistical marvel this season, Phil Foden is blossoming and Guardiola can also call upon the lavish gifts of Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva in his creative department. And yet, as Silva adopted a bit-part role, a yawning gap to Liverpool has opened up quickly.

    Seeing him depart a European champion would be the perfect fuel to begin the task of bridging it. But even in that best-case scenario, City will soon have confirmation Silva is impossible to imitate – just as Lescott learnt all those years ago.

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