There is nothing more terrifying for a back four than a deadly strike partnership. Instead of containing one striker they have now have to contain two that can play off of one another and seem to have a telepathic connection, and this can lead them to easily pull defenders out of position, create distractions and run the entire back four ragged for 90 minutes. You will often find that the best strike partnerships are made up of different types of strikers, for example you will often see one taller player who can hold up the play, act as a target for long ball and flick on headers to his smaller partner, whilst the other striker may be small, quick and make timely runs into the box. This is not always the case however, and as this list will demonstrate there have been all kinds of fantastic strike partnerships that are special in their own right.
It is quite rare to see a strike partnership used in the modern era, and this is because many teams have moved away from the classic 4-4-2 formation. Instead they have opted for formations that see a striker/attacking midfielder used “in the hole”, where they play behind the striker leading the line. Some teams do occasionally play with two strikers, and it can be a joy to watch when they form a lethal partnership. This is most evident through the play of Suarez and Sturridge last season for Liverpool, and the Premier League had not seen a partnership as effective as that for many years and it was a joy to watch regardless of who you support.
It is mainly in the Premier League that we have seen the 4-4-2 formation used and therefore most of the notable partnerships have come from this league. This means that it is worth taking a look back through history at some of the deadliest strike partnerships to grace the Premier League over the years.
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15 Dean Saunders & Dalian Atkinson
“The Deadly D’s” enjoyed three Premier League seasons together, helping Villa to 2nd place in the very first Premier League season, as well as a League cup in 1994. Their goalscoring was key in this success, scoring 85 league goals between themselves during this spell. Aston Villa could certainly do with “The Deadly D’s” this season, as goals are hard to come by for the Birmingham side and the play of Saunders and Atkinson is now a distant memory.
14 Robbie Fowler & Stan Collymore
Robbie Fowler will always be remembered as one of the greatest goalscorers in the Premier League, but he has Stan Collymore to thank for a lot of this. The duo formed a prolific partnership with Collymore’s arrival at Anfield in 1995, combining forces to find the back of the net 42 times in their first season together (28 for Fowler and 14 for Collymore who set up many of Fowler’s).
13 Teddy Sheringham & Jurgen Klinsmann
When World Cup winner Jurgen Klinsmann was brought in to partner Teddy Sheringham it injected some life into White Hart Lane, and the two forged an immediate connection and gave Spurs fans something to cheer about. Although there was no silverware in the 1994-95 season, there was a flurry of goals and excitement anytime these two played alongside one another. Combined they scored an impressive 52 goals in all competitions, with Klinsmann contributing 29 whilst former Golden Boot winner Sheringham added 23. The German striker would win that year’s Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award, but he couldn’t have done it without his English partner in crime playing alongside him.
12 Michael Owen & Emile Heskey
Many people forget what a talent Emile Heskey was, who certainly helped Michael Owen to develop into one of the finest strikers of his generation. The duo formed an excellent English strike partnership, having an immediate understanding of one another from the get go. In the 2000-01 season, Owen found the back of the net 23 times whilst Heskey scored 24 and set up many of Owen’s. That year they won the League Cup, F.A Cup and UEFA Cup, largely thanks to the duos goals and brilliant connection. Heskey and Owen were also strike partners for England, with a memorable thrashing of Germany being a great game for them, with Owen grabbing a hat-trick, Heskey scoring and Liverpool teammate Gerrard also getting on the scoresheet.
11 Didier Drogba & Nicolas Anelka
Nicolas Anelka may not be the most popular name around the Premier League these days, but during his time at Stamford Bridge he formed one of the most formidable partnerships the league has seen. In their first full season together Chelsea would lift the Premier League trophy with Drogba winning the Golden Boot, with many of his goals largely thanks to the play of Anelka alongside him. During their partnership they would often not play together with just one striker being used, but when the two combined they would obliterate defensive lines and find the back of the net more often than not.
10 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer & Ruud Van Nistelrooy
When Van Nistelrooy joined United from PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2001, he was already joining a very talented and successful squad that had just won three consecutive league titles. He would hit the ground running, forming a fantastic strike partnership with Gunnar Solskjaer, forcing another deadly strike partnership on the bench (more on them later). The duo scored 40 league goals between them and 61 in total, with Solskjaer scoring 25 in all competitions which was the most he had scored for United since joining in ’96. Van Nistelrooy scored a staggering 36 goals in his debut campaign, earning him the PFA Player of the Year but United could not win their 4th straight title behind their play.
9 Eidur Gudjohnsen & Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
Sometimes it is opposites which work well together, and this was certainly the case for this strike partnership for Chelsea. Aptly named “Fire and Ice”, Hasselbaink was fiery and full of emotion, whilst Icelandic Gudjohnsen was famous for his cool and collected demeanor. This could also be used to describe their style of play, with the perfect mix of power and athleticism to go along with a highly intelligent player that could carve apart defences with a deft pass or clinically find the back of the net himself. “Fire and Ice” worked brilliantly together, combining for 50 goals in the 2001-02 campaign.
8 Wayne Rooney & Cristiano Ronaldo
These two combined to create a sensational partnership back during Ronaldo’s time at Old Trafford, and it one of the more talented partnerships we have seen in recent times. Trying to contain Ronaldo is challenging enough for a back 4, but when you have a player with Rooney’s intelligence, strength and guile playing alongside him it means that the back 4 are in for a long afternoon. The pair helped United to a league and Champions League double, with Ronaldo breaking the goalscoring record with 31 to his name in the 2007-08 campaign, but many of these were thanks to the intelligent play of Rooney alongside him. Rooney has formed half of many deadly strike partnerships at United, but it was his with Ronaldo that was the deadliest.
7 Alan Shearer & Les Ferdinand
It should come as no surprise that when these two were on the same team it resulted in goals. Individually they are two of the greatest goalscorers the Premier League has ever seen, and playing together they formed a partnership that left defenders shaking in their boots. It only lasted one season, but it was certainly a memorable one with 49 goals between them which helped Newcastle to an impressive 2nd place finish behind Manchester United. Although a short lived partnership, it was an unforgettable one with both players cementing themselves as Premier League legends, with this chapter in their careers playing an essential role in their legacies.
6 Luis Suarez & Daniel Sturridge
It had been a number of years since we had seen a prolific strike partnership with two players that played so well off of each other, mainly due to most teams moving away from the 4-4-2 formation. The partnership between these two was too good to play any other formation, as the speed and intelligence these two players possess gave defenders very little time to react when S.A.S had a full head of steam. Suarez was in the form of his life last season, with Sturridge also coming into his own and being able to keep up with Suarez. Suarez scored a remarkable 31 league goals in 33 games, with Sturridge chipping in 21 himself and a number of assists.
Their telepathic connection and incredible individual talent helped Liverpool storm the league, but fall agonizingly short at the end of the season before Suarez moved to Barcelona. The goals have now dried up for Liverpool with Sturridge out and Balotelli bringing very little to the table.
5 Peter Beardsley & Andy Cole
Despite an age gap of 11 years, these two players came together to create a formidable partnership and one of the most prolific the world has ever seen. Their goals helped Newcastle to an incredible 3rd place finish after gaining promotion in 1993, with their combination of experience with youthful speed and sharpness being key to Newcastle’s success. Cole found the back of the net an incredible 34 times, with Beardsley playing a key role in many of these as well as tallying 21 for himself that season. Unfortunately for Newcastle, Cole’s stellar play attracted a lot of attention and he was soon sold to Manchester United.
4 Niall Quinn & Kevin Phillips
One of the more classic strike partnerships the Premier League has ever seen, Quinn and Phillips formed a deadly ‘little and large’ partnership which helped transform Sunderland from a newly promoted team to vying for a top-5 spot. Phillips took the Premier League by storm and found the back of the net 30 times in the 1999-00 season, whilst Quinn (who filled the role of target man), chipped in 14 himself. Phillips’s 30 goals were enough to win him the European Golden Boot, becoming the 1st Englishman to win the award. He would not have been able to do this without the unselfish, smart play of Niall Quinn alongside him.
3 Thierry Henry & Dennis Bergkamp
To go an entire season undefeated is an astonishing feat, and as well as having a well organized back 4 you will also need to be able to find the back of the net. Arsenal had this in their strike partnership of Henry and Bergkamp, who had an incredible understanding of one another and would tear teams to shreds. Not your typical partnership, their strength was Henry’s explosive speed and goalscoring ability and Bergkamp’s extraordinary vision and passing ability; when this was combined with a great connection they shared it made them one of the most deadly and entertaining partnerships the Premier League has seen. In addition to their undefeated season, this partnership was key in helping Arsenal to a league and cup double.
2 Alan Shearer & Chris Sutton
The arrival of Chris Sutton to Blackburn in the summer of 1994 is one of the most important signings in Premier League history, as it turned out to be the final piece of the puzzle for Blackburn who went on to win the league that year and end United’s reign at the top. Shearer was a force to be reckoned with, but it was the arrival of Sutton that made this Blackburn team so difficult to contain. Shearer was prolific with 34 league goals that season, whilst Sutton importantly added 15 himself and set up many of Shearer’s. Unfortunately for Blackburn, the original ‘S.A.S’ partnership was not as deadly the following year as Sutton only made 13 appearances due to injury.
1 Andy Cole & Dwight Yorke
The most deadly striker partnership the Premier League has ever seen, Cole and Yorke came together and obliterated every back 4 in the country and even the best defensive lines around Europe (including a very memorable goal against Barcelona). Their telepathic connection and goalscoring ability was key in helping the Red Devils to their legendary treble-winning campaign in the 1998-99 season. The pair racked up 53 goals between them that season, and would follow that up with 37 league goals in the next campaign. There have been more talented strikers in the league, but no partnership has forged quite the telepathic connection that these two did and won as much in a single season, and this made them breathtaking to watch at times.
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