Second strikers: In praise of the men who (sort of) fired their teams to the title

Every Premier League-winning team is defined by the exploits of a star striker – from Thierry Henry to Sergio Aguero, Ruud van Nistlerooy to Didier Drogba.

But they didn’t do it all by themselves. All title-winning sides depend on a strong squad, and somewhere deep within each set of players is a striker or two who stood up at just the right time.

Arsenal 2001/02

Dennis Bergkamp and Sylvain Wiltord

(Matthew Ashton/EMPICS Sport)

Thierry Henry wasn’t the only Arsenal player to outscore these two in their double-winning season of 2001/02 – Freddie Ljungberg did so as well – but Sylvain Wiltord and Dennis Bergkamp proved excellent back ups to the man who claimed his first of four golden boot awards that year.

Both played in 33 league games for the Gunners during the campaign, with Bergkamp scoring nine and Wiltord 10, while the nature of their goals were important as well: Bergkamp netted the goal of a lifetime against title contenders Newcastle, while Wiltord’s finish against Manchester United sealed the title.

Arsene Wenger’s side won the league by seven points from Liverpool – they won the FA Cup as well, where Bergkamp and Wiltord both outscored Henry, demonstrating the necessity of squad balance in the process.

Manchester City 2011/12

Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli

(Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport)

Yes, it’s easy to forget what an impact Mario Balotelli had on Manchester City’s maiden Premier League title, while Edin Dzeko proved a reliable addition to what was a stunning attack.

Sergio Aguero was the main man for Roberto Mancini, but with a mixture of starts and substitute appearances, Balotelli and Dzeko managed to provide 27 goals between them in a side which set the tone by notching 36 in their first 10 games of the season.

In the midst of that, both back-ups scored braces in the 6-1 demolition of Manchester United, while Dzeko scored the equalising goal in City’s final game against QPR, and Balotelli provided the assist for Aguero’s historic winner.

Chelsea 2009/10

Nicolas Anelka

(Dave Thompson/PA)

Under Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea side of 2009/10 managed to score the most goals of any team in Premier League history: 103. It is a record which still stands today, and Nicolas Anelka contributed with 11 league goals.

Playing as understudy to the phenomenal Didier Drogba, Anelka comfortably fitted into the Blues’ goal machine, playing a key role in a season where Chelsea won 7-0, 7-1 and 7-2, as well as notching 5-0 results both home and away.

Perhaps the finest example of Anelka’s place in Ancelotti’s goal show was his part in Chelsea’s finest goal, against Bolton – the Frenchman clipped in a weighted cross to Deco, who chested it to Frank Lampard, who flicked it to Drogba, who volleyed in sumptuously.

Blackburn 1994/95

Chris Sutton

(Ross Kinnaird/EMPICS Sport)

Now only the second most surprising Premier League title win of all time, Blackburn were spurred on to immortality by Alan Shearer, but also Chris Sutton, who had joined the club from Norwich for a British transfer record fee of £5 million.

Sutton and Shearer were dubbed the SAS, with the former scoring 15 goals to the latter’s 34. Sutton managed a hat-trick against Coventry in Rovers’ third game of the season, before going on to score seven in seven, setting Kenny Dalglish’s team on their way.

He only added four more in the league from November, but it proved enough as Blackburn sealed the title by a point on the final day, despite losing 2-1 to Liverpool.

Leicester City 2015/15

Leonardo Ulloa and Shinji Okazaki

(Mike Egerton/PA)

And now to the most amazing Premier League victory, and possibly the greatest achievement in English football history – Leicester City’s title run of 2015/16.

Of course, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez dominated the headlines, but Shinji Okazaki and Leonardo Ulloa chipped in exactly when required. Among Ulloa’s six goals, he claimed a late winner against Norwich immediately after Leicester’s Valentine’s Day defeat at Arsenal, as well as a 95th-minute equaliser against West Ham as the season neared its climax.

Meanwhile Okazaki added five goals to the cause, coming on as a substitute eight times, including a bicycle kick winner against Newcastle that kept Claudio Ranieri’s men five points clear of Tottenham. The impossible could not have been achieved without them.


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