Man City's Erling Haaland isn't best Premier League striker this season - it's this Newcastle United star
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Erling Haaland’s opening goal against Liverpool on Saturday afternoon was his 18th of the season already, and his 14th of the league campaign after just 13 games. It’s a ridiculous scoring rate and continued proof, as if it were needed, that he’s one of the finest forwards in the global game. But still, there’s a surprisingly solid argument that he hasn’t even been the best striker in the Premier League so far…
Haaland’s 14 league goals for Manchester City have come at a rate of 1.13 for every 90 minutes on the field, which is quite frankly obscene – but there’s another striker who has gone at almost exactly the same rate, from a lower xG, while putting up better numbers in virtually other part of the game, and has done so whilst getting far less fanfare. It’s not that we don’t know Alexander Isak is good, but we may be under-appreciating just how good he is.
Isak has seven goals so far this season, half as many as Haaland – but has earned them with pretty much half of the playing time. Haaland has started every single game this season, while Isak has only been in the starting line-up seven times – and he has been scoring at a rate of 1.09 goals per 90, only the slightest fraction lower than the Norwegian.
Isak has also been finishing more efficiently this season – his goals have come at an xG of 6.0, compared to Haaland’s 13.4. Both are scoring in volume and ahead of the expected rate, then, but where Isak has a claim to being the best forward in the Premier League so far this year is in his more well-rounded game.
Let’s take passing – Haaland has been completing 5.48 passes per game at a success rate of 78.2%. Perfectly respectable for a number nine. Isak, however, has been playing 7.97 completed passes into the feet of his team-mates at 87.9% accuracy. That’s a standard a midfielder wouldn’t be unhappy to set.
The Swede also creates more shooting chances for his team (2.51 compared to 1.78 every game), attempts far more dribbles with a better success rate (54.5% to 50% dead) and has carried the ball over 100 yards farther upfield than Haaland despite spending barely half as much time on the pitch. In other words, Isak has been doing a lot for his team in all sorts of scenarios, whereas Haaland has just been ruthlessly efficient in front of goal and little else.
That isn’t any criticism of Haaland, of course – he’s doing precisely the job he’s being asked to do, and doing at remarkably well. Without his unceasing stream of strikes, City would likely not have won the treble last season. Isak’s achievements are, thus far, more modest by comparison, and it’s naturally fair to point out that Haaland scored far more goals than Isak year on year since their respective careers started.
Is Isak better than Haaland? Not in the grand scheme of things, no, or at least he hasn’t proven himself to be better on a consistent basis for any length of time. But so far this season, he’s the only man keeping pace with the gigantic blonde death machine for goals, and he’s maintained that rate while doing so much more for his team, because in many ways Eddie Howe asks more of him. It’s fortunate for the Newcastle United manager that Isak is obliging him so effectively.
It's also impressive that Isak has been able to stay in the goals despite being in and out of the side through injury. Isak hadn’t played a match in a month before he started against Chelsea on Saturday, and it took him just 13 minutes to slot a composed finish past Robert Sánchez after some fine work by Lewis Miley.
Are there any areas where Haaland is clearly ahead of Isak so far this campaign? Actually, yes – and funnily enough, given the rather thin criticisms that have been levelled at Haaland since he arrived at the Etihad last summer, it’s in assists. Haaland already has three in the Premier League for City while his expected assists rate has gone up.
Isak, by comparison, has zero assists, and only had one last year as well – the Swede apparently just scores tons, runs the ball effectively, passes it well and generates shooting chances for his team, without making the effort to actually assist very often. How selfish of him.
Whether Isak can maintain his stratospheric goal-scoring standards remains to be seen, of course (not something that can be said of Haaland – we know he won’t stop). But for these last few months, Isak has been truly exceptional and deserves far more fanfare for the way he’s playing. Howe is lucky to have him.