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Can anyone beat Messi and Ronaldo to the Golden Shoe?

Kane, Salah and Neymar gunning to be Europe's top marksmen

James Piercy

Whether it’s the arm’s race between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, greater focus on individuals within the game or a wider appreciation of football, the European Golden Shoe seems more relevant than ever.

The prize for the continent’s best marksman has been dominated by Messi and Ronaldo this decade with the pair winning it seven of nine times and Barcelona’s Luis Suarez the only other forward claiming the accolade, in 2014 and 2016.

Messi is the holder, having scored 34 goals during Barca’s march to the La Liga title. Benfica’s Jonas matched that figure but such is the weighting of the goals, strikers in Europe’s top five leagues are given 2.0 points, whereas for Portugal’s Primeira Liga (ranked in the 6-22 bracket by UEFA’s coefficient) it’s 1.5 points per goal.

Our friends at Football Whispers highlight the leading candidates to take home the award at the end of the season.

Lionel Messi – Barcelona

Over the last five La Liga seasons, Messi has averaged 33.6 goals per campaign at a rate of 0.97 per game; numbers that match what he achieved in 2017/18 – 34 goals at 0.94 per game.

Apart from some nice statistical symmetry the significance of that is that, even in his 30s, Messi is hitting his average. He may not be capable of the 50 and 46-goal campaigns he struck from 2011-13 but, barring injury, he’s almost certain to reach the 30-mark.

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Barca will eventually start managing his minutes more closely but, for now, he remains the Catalans’ primary attacking focus. Messi also has extra playmaking around him with Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele joined by the arrivals of Arthur and Malcom; more focus can go on his work in the penalty area.

Edinson Cavani – Paris Saint-Germain

That dream move to Madrid failed to materialise and instead PSG’s record goalscorer remains in the French capital paying second fiddle to Neymar, and potentially now third in line due to the emerging presence of Mbappe.

The France striker could theoretically take some of Cavani’s touches, opportunities and goals away but the Uruguayan has been so relentlessly consistent for Les Parisiens it’s difficult to see him not finishing as their top scorer again.

In his five years at the club he’s averaged 23.2 per campaign and his most fruitful seasons have been the last two with 35 in 36 and 28 in 32 during 2017/18.

Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich

Widespread reports throughout last season suggested Lewandowski was desperate to leave Bayern Munich but he remains a Die Roten player and – despite it being one of their fundamental weak points last term – the Bavarians haven’t signed any reinforcements around him either.

Therefore, once again, the lion’s share of the goalscoring load will fall on the shoulders of the Pole who’s shown he can do it – 26.5 Bundesliga goals a season at 0.84 per game – but 2018/9 presents its own challenges.

On one hand, Lewandowski’s body language towards the end of last season reflected his form, to then reveal his unhappiness at the Allianz Arena. That could well happen again, but if he wants to play for another of Europe’s elite, he needs to show just why he’d be worth what will be an expensive outlay on a 30-year-old.

Cristiano Ronaldo – Juventus

Just like his great adversary, Ronaldo’s staggering goal-scoring numbers are almost exceeded by the efficiency with which he puts the ball in the back of the net. Taking the same five-season sample, the Portuguese has averaged 33 a season at 1.05 per game.

However, four factors come into play that could limit his chances this season. Firstly, his move to Juventus means a period of adaptation – not so much to Serie A, rather his team-mates. At Real Madrid he knew his role and those around him would follow with everything built around getting the ball to the Portuguese. It’ll take time at the Bianconeri.

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Then there’s the fact that last term’s tally of 26 in 27 was the second consecutive season he’s been unable to break 30 league goals and appearances. At 33, his body is having to be managed.

As an extension of that, there’s the reason Juve signed him: the Champions League. That is their focus and, as a result, their star asset will be managed accordingly. He just may not play enough games to score enough.

Harry Kane – Tottenham Hotspur

Unlike Cavani plus Messi and Ronaldo to an extent, Kane stands alone at Tottenham. He is their No1, 2 and even 3 scoring option. They have Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min, yes. But none of that trio come close to the focus and attention on Kane to deliver.

The 2017/18 season was his best in the Premier League with 30 goals in 37 games, having struck 29 in 30 appearances the previous campaign. At 25 he is still improving as a frontman and finisher and there is scope for him to go beyond his personal best.

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What could hold him back is fatigue, having been run into the ground by Spurs and England for two years now. Barca, Juve and PSG all have alternatives if their main men sit out the odd game. Tottenham often can’t afford that risk with Kane and it could have a detrimental effect – particularly following his World Cup exertions.

Neymar – Paris Saint-Germain

The Brazilian has a point to prove this season. Not necessarily to the Parisian public – although they’d probably like to see some loyalty – but to the world.

A disappointing World Cup, marred by petulance and play-acting, was followed by being left off FIFA’s shortlist for the World Player of the Year, the sort of accolade he made the move to PSG to win.

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His debut campaign at the Parc des Princes yielded 19 Ligue 1 goals in 20 games and, given how much better he is than so many players in France, if he matches or exceeds it is entirely up to him.

There is also the consideration that he could be angling for a move to Madrid next summer. Out-gunning Edinson Cavani and reported Real Madrid transfer target Kylian Mbappe would certainly help convince Los Blancos to part with what could be another record fee.

Mohamed Salah – Liverpool

The immediate question following Salah’s record-breaking season for Liverpool was, “Can he do it again?” Originally a winger who was not noted for his consistency, the King of Egypt found exactly that at Roma before hitting new heights at Liverpool to score 32 in 36 games and nick the Golden Boot.

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There are plenty suggesting he simply can’t repeat his feats of last season. But there is something about Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp and how he uses the Egyptian that plays to his strengths and he is already off the mark this term.

Just like Kane, Salah is also player on an upward curve. There is nothing to say he hasn’t reached his peak and his finishing could even improve but the overall uncertainty, as exciting as it is, means he can’t be considering a sure-thing among this list.

* All odds subject to change

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