Why Lionel Messi and other older forwards are dominating goalscoring charts in Europe

Karan Tejwani 13:38 08/01/2020
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Barcelona captain Lionel Messi

With over half the season gone and some of Europe’s top leagues kicking into gear, a key topic of interest is the goalscorers.

While in some leagues, like the Premier League, players have already set the pace, yet elsewhere, the race to claim top scoring honours will likely go down to the wire.

Jamie Vardy, Lionel Messi, Ciro Immobile and Robert Lewandowski currently lead the scoring charts in England, Spain, Italy and Germany’s top flight, but what is most interesting is their age.

Of the top five goalscorers in each of the four divisions this season, only seven of the 20 players are below the age of 28, while nine are 30-years-old or more. This stat comes down to plenty of factors, and perhaps may just influence a club’s transfer activity in the future when they decide to sign a more reliable older name rather than an exciting, younger player.

A key factor for consideration must be made with regards to the amount of football they play.

Vardy has already retired from international football and has admitted in an interview earlier this season that having a two-week break every month benefits him immensely.

The same can be said for Karim Benzema, Real Madrid’s ever-reliable number nine who has netted 12 times this season – the second-highest in La Liga.

Vardy

Interestingly, Immobile, Serie A’s top goalscorer, does still represent the Italian national side but this season, his participation has been restricted. Despite being called up for all the international outings, he has only featured in three of Italy’s six qualifying matches which has aided his fitness.

Lewandowski is the only anomaly with regards to this aspect: his form across all competitions has been sensational.

When compared to relatively younger players, it’s worth noting the differences. Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane have been heavily involved for club and country this season – the effects of which are seen on the latter, who was recently sidelined with a hamstring injury.

It has also become rare to see players coming in from foreign leagues and having an immediate impact in terms of goalscoring.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Romelu Lukaku have done well for themselves in that respect, but the top scorers in England, Germany, Spain and Italy prove otherwise.

Vardy has been playing in England all his life and with Leicester since 2012. Lionel Messi has been with Barcelona since 2004 and Benzema with Real Madrid since 2009.

Lewandowski has been in Germany since 2010 and with Bayern Munich since 2014 while Immobile has been in Italy his whole career, barring a two-year spell at Dortmund, with his Lazio run starting in 2016.

Experience and getting the gist of their surroundings is proving to be more important than ever before, so when younger players like Tammy Abraham (who moved up from Championship level) or Chimy Avila – who joined Osasuna last summer and has nine La Liga goals (the fourth-most) – hit the ground running; their achievements should be praised further.

There were similar scenarios last season where household names were among the upper echelons of the scoring charts, except for the Bundesliga, where younger and newer players like Luka Jovic, Paco Alcacer and Kai Havertz entered the fray.

To further emphasise the importance of experience and gathering the knack of playing in a particular country, the top scorers in the top four leagues over the last five seasons have all had significant time under their belt in that particular country.

Barring Mohamed Salah’s other-worldly 2017-18 season and Paulo Dybala’s quick acclimatisation to life in Turin in 2015-16, there have rarely been years where players topping the scoring charts immediately. Inter star Lukaku has hit the ground running early this season as well, and how high he ends up will be interesting.

Consistent patterns also develop when the names are looked at. In England, Spain and Italy, top scorers lists over the last five seasons feature the usual suspects: Vardy, Kane and Aguero in England, Messi, Suarez and Benzema in Spain and Immobile, Dybala and Icardi (with Mertens coming through as well) in Italy. Ronaldo (Spain and Italy) and Lukaku (England and Italy) have done well in two countries.

Incredibly, Vardy has finished among the top five scorers in four of the last five campaigns (including this season). Messi is on course for his fourth-straight Pichichi award. Immobile has been in the top five in two of the last five years while Lewandowski is on course for a fourth top-scorer prize in five years.

Lewandowski

It is only in the Bundesliga where, with the exception of Lewandowski, new names frequently appear. From Nils Petersen in 2017-18 to Rouwen Hennings in the current season, Germany proves to be a good breaking ground for forwards.

With the top scorers itself, they have become far more efficient in front of goal. Lewandowski in Germany has scored with 29.2 percent of his shots, Messi with 35.1 percent, Vardy with 39.5 percent and Immobile with 34.5 percent. Although we’re only halfway through the season, all of these percentages are better than their respective tallies from last season and is likely to end that way come May.

The same pattern follows some of Europe’s best forwards: Aubameyang, Suarez and Lukaku are having far better seasons in front of goal than they were in the previous campaign.

How the rest of the season shapes out remains to be seen, but midway through it, there are several takeaways in terms of forwards: the more experienced ones get the goals; ‘breakthrough’ campaigns from younger players are becoming rare; contrary to popular belief that age may catch up, the good are becoming better with time and getting the gist of where players play is more crucial than ever before.

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