Outsiders upset pecking order

With the international break over, we turn our attention back to this weekend's English Premier League. Striker Sergio Aguero returns to Manchester City from Argentina duty injured and cannot add to his six-goal haul. But can the unlikely leading scorers continue to shine?

LONDON • It took a historic feat for the established order to strike back. The English Premier League top scorers' leaderboard was populated by the outsiders.

Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Callum Wilson and Odion Ighalo had all played in the Championship in the previous 18 months. Then, they were the most prolific players.

But, in the space of 20 sensational minutes, Sergio Aguero changed that. The fastest five-goal haul ever in the division enabled the Golden Boot winner to surge past 108 other players and into second place, just behind Vardy.

  • UNLIKELY LEADING SCORERS

  • JAMIE VARDY, 28

    LEICESTER CITY

    EPL goals this season: 7

    England caps: 2

    Transfer fee: £1 million or S$2.1 million (Fleetwood Town, 2012)

    The forward was playing for £30 a week in the eighth tier of English football five years ago. In 2012, he was still playing non-league football - at Fleetwood Town. But some things have not changed for the late bloomer: He continues to harass defenders, chase lost causes and score goals.


    RIYAD MAHREZ, 24

    LEICESTER CITY

    EPL goals: 5

    Algeria caps: 18

    Transfer fee: £450,000 (Le Havre, 2014)

    What he lacks in physique, he makes up for with technique, pace and trickery. A find from France's second division last year, Mahrez has reportedly attracted the attention of Barcelona and Arsenal.


    CALLUM WILSON, 23

    BOURNEMOUTH

    Goals: 5

    England caps: 0

    Transfer fee: £3 million (Coventry City, 2014)

    Wilson started to make headlines last term, when his 20 league goals in his debut season at Bournemouth helped fire them to the top flight for the first time in their 116-year history. His bright start to this campaign was noticed by England manager Roy Hodgson, who revealed that the striker was under consideration for a call-up until a knee injury ruled him out for most of the season.


    ODION IGHALO, 26

    WATFORD

    Goals: 5

    Nigeria caps: 3

    Transfer fee: Undisclosed (turned a loan move from Udinese into a permanent one in 2014)

    He rejected a move to China League One side Hebei China Fortune in the summer. Watford were prepared to accept a £10 million offer but he wanted to show what he could do in the EPL after scoring 20 goals in the Championship last season.

In the space of 20 sensational minutes, Sergio Aguero changed that. The fastest five-goal haul ever in the division enabled the Golden Boot winner to surge past 108 other players and into second place, just behind Vardy.

Alexis Sanchez, with five goals in two games, catapulted himself into contention.

Graziano Pelle and Romelu Lukaku, target men with proven scoring records, have powered their way into the chasing pack.

Maybe the early-season pacesetters will fall behind now that the thoroughbreds have joined the race. Yet, none of that should deflect from the unlikely lads' achievements.

Leicester's Vardy has scored more goals than Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane, Diego Costa, Daniel Sturridge and Wilfried Bony have between them.

The reality is that most scorers veer between boom and bust.

Vardy, who managed five goals in 35 games last season and seven in six this term, is an extreme case.

Yet, he bears similarities with Kane, another self-made striker who suddenly improved last season. For all their technical qualities, both seemed fuelled by adrenaline. Last season, Kane's momentum made him appear unstoppable. Now, Vardy's does.

Bournemouth's Wilson, whose season may have been curtailed by a knee injury, and Watford's Ighalo are inheritors of another tradition.

They follow in the footsteps of Charlie Austin who, even as Queens Park Rangers were relegated, managed 18 Premier League goals last season. He, too, was a promoted player who carried on scoring at a higher level.

Goal-scoring can be football's most transferable skill. There are forwards who, whatever their other strengths and weaknesses, can find the net in any division.

Leicester's Mahrez forms part of a new, and increasingly important, trend: the prolific winger.

In an age of one-striker systems, there is an onus on others to chip in with goals, but also the opportunity for them to take up positions that, in bygone days, a centre-forward would have occupied.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Sanchez are among the most spectacular successes of the 21st-century breed of wide men.

They do not hug the touchline, as their predecessors did.

They do shoot from set-pieces, long range and the six-yard box.

Mahrez, who cost Leicester just £450,000 (S$960,000), is proof that canny buyers can find bargains too.

There is a further factor: the fixture list. Mahrez scored twice against a shambolic Sunderland side. Five of Vardy's goals came against the current bottom eight.

Two of Ighalo's strikes came when Newcastle were at their most hapless, and a third was courtesy of a glaring goalkeeping error from Bournemouth's Artur Boruc.

Wilson is the exception, with four of his goals coming against the top six, but that included a hat-trick on a truly remarkable day at Upton Park. The stricken Wilson will be overtaken. Mahrez might, too, but there is a chance that Ighalo and Vardy could last the distance, just as Austin did.

Aguero's capacity to be devastating makes him the favourite to retain the Golden Boot, but while comparative unknowns are unlikely to win the European Golden Shoe in the first year after promotion, as Sunderland's 30-goal finisher Kevin Phillips did in 2000, they could end up among his closest challengers.

They have advantages over their supposed superiors. Whereas bigger clubs deploy squad rotation, they can expect to start every week. Whereas other players rank down the queue to take penalties, Vardy scored one on Saturday.

Whereas some of the bigger names are still looking to kick-start their seasons, they have already sprung to prominence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015, with the headline 'Outsiders upset pecking order'. Print Edition | Subscribe