A Captivating Capocannoniere
Despite another title race with La Vecchia Signora coasting to the title, this season’s Serie A has provided excitement on more than just one front, with Napoli, Roma, Milan, Inter and Lazio all looking to claim European football next season. Above all, we see a Capocannoniere, or golden boot, that sees strikers from all corners of Italy compete for the trophy, a competition that is providing excitement lacked in the past few years. No less than 5 different players have a chance of claiming top scorer of the league. This should lead us to the central question: who is the best striker in Italy?
Andrea Belotti – 22 goals, 3 assists
The current front runner for the Capocannoniere is none other than Andrea Belotti. The Torino man has been in spectacular form this season and is leading the pack with 22 goals so far. He is a true fox in the box, netting all types of goals, whether it is with his left foot, right foot, or head to find the target. Playing for a mid table side that sits 10th, he has had the least amount of shots of the five players mentioned with 82, and a shot accuracy of 54%. This underlines and reiterates the hype that he has gotten, as he is one of the deadliest strikers in not only Italy but in all of Europe. The former Palermo man has risen to prominence this season, and his eye for goal has resulted in reports of a move to the Premier League. With Arsenal and Manchester United reportedly eyeing up the Italian, the hype prompted Torino president Urban Cairo to give Belotti a new contract with a reported €100M release clause. Ciro Immobile was the last player to be as prolific in one season for the Granata, with 22 goals in 33 games enough to win him the Capocannoniere award back in 2014, but he was sold the next season to Borussia Dortmund, in a highly unsuccessful spell in the Bundesliga. Nonetheless, despite being younger than Immobile was at the time, Belotti has already matched Immobile’s tally, and the Granata faithful will be hoping he can reach the world class heights Immobile has failed to achieve.
Mauro Icardi – 20 goals, 8 assists
The Inter captain has become one of Europe’s top strikers over the past few seasons for the Nerazzurri. His 20 goals have enabled Inter to climb up the table after a miserable start to the season under Frank De Boer, but under new boss Stefano Pioli, the team’s football has been more free-flowing, providing the Argentine with more opportunities on goal. Icardi is the most well-rounded striker out of this bunch, and his 8 assists truly highlights how selfless he is compared to the rest of his competitors. Icardi is no stranger to winning the Capocannoniere after he shared the award with Luca Toni in the 2014-15 season. Icardi has been under 4 different coaches during his spell for the Nerazzurri, experiencing different systems and unique roles; for him to have 15+ goals in three out of the four seasons he has been at Inter is highly impressive. Icardi is on course to finish this season with a new personal best of goals-scored in the league with 22 goals. Unfortunately, Icardi is stuck in limbo in the international scene. Four years and two managers have passed, and despite improving tremendously, Icardi hasn’t added to his one call-up for Argentina, perhaps for personal reasons. It can be argued that he has top pedigree strikers above him in the pecking order such as Gonzalo Higuaín, but when players such as Pratto and Agüero who aren’t as good as Icardi get called up more often than the Inter man does, questions have to be asked.
Edin Dzeko – 21 goals, 3 assists
Edin Dzeko is currently breathing right down Belotti’s neck as he is currently second in the standings. The Roma striker has found himself rejuvenated in Rome after falling out of favour at Manchester City. His first spell last season was a loan and he struggled to settle to life in Serie A, mustering a mere 8 goals in 31 appearances. Despite the poor numbers, Roma were happy to take the Bosnian permanently, and you can see that he has learnt from his first season here as he currently has 21 goals in 29 appearances this season. This is a huge improvement, and a catalyst for his upturn in form was the managerial change that occurred halfway through his first season at the club. Until January 2016, Dzeko was under the tutelage of Rudi Garcia, who for the most part couldn’t get Roma clicking and was sacked whilst the team was mid table. Luciano Spalletti was called to return and take the reins. Roma’s form improved upon Spalletti’s arrival and the team as whole played much better but Dzeko still didn’t finish with double digits and calls for club legend Francesco Totti to start over him were prominent. This season, Roma has continued where they have left off and despite a few inconsistent patches, they find themselves in second, with Dzeko playing out of his skin. Scoring multiple braces during the start of the season, he sent out a message that he meant business, and his 21 goals have helped Roma into second place, looking to dethrone Juventus. Out of all the players vying for Italy’s Golden Boot, Dzeko has played the most minutes and has the most shots out of everyone on the list. At 31, Dzeko is the oldest on this list, and while that may seem as a disadvantage, his experience and clinical nature this season mean that he is very much in contention. He should be encouraged by the fact that last season’s winner Luca Toni won the Capocannoniere at the age of 38.
Dries Mertens – 20 goals, 4 assists
Here is a name that I’m sure no one thought would be anywhere near the top of this list last August. Dries Mertens isn’t even a striker is he? Well, it’s amazing what an injury can do for another player’s fortune. The Belgian international didn’t even start the season in the starting line up, with Insigne preferred on the left hand side and new signing Arkadiusz Milik tasked with filling the void that Higuain left. It started very well for Napoli as well, as Milik hit the ground running with 6 goals in his first 7 games, before an injury while on international duty with Poland ruled him out for 4 months. If it wasn’t for this injury we may well have seen Milik’s name on this list instead of Mertens, but I digress. With only an out of sorts Manolo Gabbiadini to rely on, Sarri took the gamble of playing Mertens down the middle in sort of a free role where he can float around and, boy, did it pay off. Mertens shocked the world as he went on a marvellous scoring run where he scored 13 goals in 8 games and became the first player since 1974 to score back-to-back hat tricks in the league. Now joint with Icardi on 20 goals, Mertens is in red hot form with no signs of letting up. What makes this season even more magnificent for the Belgian is the fact that out of all the players on this list, he has played the least amount of minutes and games as the rest, with Mertens the only player not to reach 20 games and 2000 minutes so far this season. Coupled with the fact that his shot accuracy stats at 63% are better than the other four competitors despite playing substantially less than the rest, you can see that he is more likely to find the back of the net with his shots than anyone else in the running. Now a regular in the striker role, he’s aiming to dislodge Roma from second and dislodge Juventus at the top of the table. With the season he is having, they have as good a chance as they’ve had in recent years.
Gonzalo Higuain – 19 goals, 2 assists
He is the current holder of this prize: his name is Gonzalo Higuain. He is coming off the back of a truly sensational and historic season for Napoli where he dramatically broke a 66-year-old record set by Gunnar Nordahl for the most goals in a season. With a hat trick on the final day, the River product finished on an astronomical 36 goals. It was truly something special to witness as Pipita was a machine from start to finish under Sarri, and his scintillating form earned him a controversial move to Serie A rivals Juventus for €90M. It was considered a title-defining transfer as not only did it strengthen Juve, but it now left a massive hole at the heart of the attack for Napoli but as you can see, it hasn’t exactly panned out as many predicted. Higuain is currently the only player on this list that hasn’t reached 20 league goals thus far. A change of tactics from Allegri could be a reason for this, but changing from a back 3 to a 4-2-3-1 formation is more suited to Higuain’s ability and the latter is a formation that he is familiar, with having played the same at Napoli. The big difference between Juventus and Napoli is the fact that he doesn’t get the ball as much as he did last season, meaning he has to do more running to get into space. He still has plenty of time to catch up to Belotti as he is only 3 goals behind the leader, but for someone who was so clinical last season, who coasted to the Capocannoniere, it is peculiar to find Pipita currently chasing the pack rather than leading.
Photo Credit: Opta