Transfer window: Why are strikers so in demand this January?
A dependable striker - it is the desired item for Premier League clubs in any transfer window.
But perhaps the need is greater in this window than most.
A dearth of goals and the men to score them means half of the English top flight are seemingly on the lookout for a reliable central front-man this month, to either fire them into the top four or out of the bottom three.
Already, Bournemouth have beaten a host of clubs to sign England Under-21 forward Dominic Solanke - scorer of one career Premier League goal so far - for £19m, while rumours of other signings are rife, the most prominent of which links the Cherries' Callum Wilson with a £50m move to Chelsea.
But why are proven forwards such a desired asset this window? Who should clubs target? And what impact are they likely to have?
There's a goal drought at the bottom
The need for goals at the foot of the Premier League is clear to see.
The current average number of goals scored by the Premier League's bottom seven clubs (19.14) is the joint lowest after 22 games of a top-flight season this decade.
Only two teams in the bottom seven have scored more than a goal a game and both of those - Burnley and Southampton - have just 23 in 22 matches, while Newcastle and Huddersfield have a particularly woeful record of 0.71 and 0.59 goals a game respectively.
The stats make a particularly pressing case for Town - in the previous 26 seasons of Premier League football, only three sides have scored 13 or fewer goals in their first 22 games and stayed up: Everton (13 goals scored) in 1998-99, West Ham (12) in 2006-07 and Aston Villa (11) in 2014-15. Each of them had conceded fewer than Huddersfield this season.
With many of the sides conceding goals at a frequency at least twice their current scoring rate - in the case of the Terriers, who parted company with manager David Wagner on Monday, at nearly three times the rate they score - it makes earning the points needed to stay up very tough.
The average number of goals scored by teams who have narrowly avoided relegation in the Premier League this decade illustrates how much more Town and their near rivals still need to do to give themselves a fighting chance of survival:
Quality strikers thin on the ground
Of the current bottom seven, only three possess a striker who has scored five or more goals this season: Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic has eight, Southampton's Danny Ings seven and Newcastle's Salomon Rondon five.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche has switched between Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood and Sam Vokes to similar underwhelming effect, Huddersfield duo Laurent Depoitre and Steve Mounie have one goal between them, Cardiff have turned to fielding defender-turned-midfielder Callum Paterson as an emergency front-man, while a mixture of injury and inadequacy has forced Palace to do the same with wingers Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend.
Such issues are not confined to the bottom. Chelsea are clearly in the market, having scored the fewest number of goals (40) of the top six, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud contributing just six goals between them.
Wolves' return of 23 goals (the lowest of anyone above the aforementioned bottom seven) illustrates why they have been pursuing Tammy Abraham as competition for Raul Jimenez - the scorer of six goals in 21 appearances this season.
Who to buy?
A proven top-end performer
Budget and status are crucial factors.
If Chelsea are sufficiently motivated to move now for a proven talent rather than wait for the summer (which is when Christian Pulisic will arrive), their financial power can make it happen, be it the £30m fee Juventus are reportedly demanding for Gonzalo Higuain or the £50m it would apparently take to prise Bournemouth's Wilson away from the Vitality Stadium or Edinson Cavani from Paris St-Germain.
They can also dangle the carrot of big wages, impressive team-mates and potential Champions League football - attractive qualities teams closer to the bottom cannot match.
In recent seasons, such lavish spending has been the only way to guarantee a decent return from a striker recruited in January.
Arsenal spent a club-record £56m on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang last January and were rewarded with 10 goals in 13 games over the second half of 2017-18, while Gabriel Jesus scored seven in 10 appearances after joining Manchester City for £27m at the start of 2017.
A performing Championship striker
This is a more realistic market for the teams battling against the drop, but it comes with less guarantee of success.
The gulf between Championship and Premier League is large and difficult to bridge; recent history is littered with strikers who have moved from second tier to first but failed to bring goals with them.
|Strikers moving from Championship to Premier League in last three January windows - and how they performed that season|
|Player||Season||From||To||Fee||PL games||PL goals|
|Jordan Hugill||2017-18||Preston||West Ham||£10m||4||0|
|Jordan Ayew||2016-17||Aston Villa||Swansea||£5m + Neil Taylor||14||1|
|Rudy Gestede||2016-17||Aston Villa||Middlesbrough||£6m||16||1|
Strikers of the requisite age and demonstrable ability are easy to identify - with Brentford's Neal Maupay and Norwich's Teemu Pukki (both 15 goals), and Nottingham Forest's Lewis Grabban and Leeds' Kemar Roofe (14), the most prominent.
And then there's Tammy Abraham, scorer of 16 goals on loan at Aston Villa from Chelsea, who recently rejected an £18m move to Wolves.
This not only sets a bar for price, but indicates that it is not always easy to convince a player to swap a guaranteed Championship start for the possibility of a spot on a Premier League bench, especially if there is a danger the club they leave could replace the one they join in the top flight in a few months.
There are a lot of foreign clubs happy to take advantage of panicking Premier League clubs in January. The need for players to acclimatise to new surroundings and style of football poses a potential risk for the buyer, although modern scouting does make such moves less of a punt.
As mentioned earlier, you tend to get what you pay for:
|Strikers moving from foreign clubs to Premier League in last three January windows - and how they performed that season|
|Player||Season||From||To||Fee||PL games||PL goals|
|Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang||2017-18||Borussia Dortmund||Arsenal||£56m||13||10|
|Alexander Sorloth||2017-18||FC Midtjylland||Crystal Palace||£9m||4||0|
|Gabriel Jesus||2016-17||Corinthians||Man City||£27m||10||7|
|Oumar Niasse||2015-16||Lokomotiv Moscow||Everton||£13.5m||5||0|
Loan someone from a rival
The benefits of this approach are clear - clubs acquire a fresh player (potentially of a quality they wouldn't ordinarily be able to afford) at a manageable cost and no long-term commitment.
Unfortunately, the negatives are also apparent - there are reasons why said striker hasn't been getting a game and the risk they may lack the requisite motivation to give their all for a side to whom they are not contracted long term.
The record of strikers moving on loan between top-flight clubs of late is not impressive.
|Striker loan moves between Premier League clubs in last three January windows - and how they performed that season|
|Player||Season||From||To||PL games||PL goals|
|Daniel Sturridge||2017-18||Liverpool||West Brom||6||0|
Who are the likely candidates this January?
Oumar Niasse isn't playing at Everton, nor is Shinji Okazaki at Leicester. Would Liverpool be willing to let Daniel Sturridge or Divock Origi depart? And Michy Batshuayi has been recalled from Valencia by Chelsea and is reportedly set to depart again on a short-term move.
All players with talent, but as with any move in January, they represent a gamble.