More to come from Burnley striker Wood as he joins elite Premier League group
It’s an elite list - some of the most feared frontmen in world football.
And Chris Wood joined them on Wednesday night at Old Trafford.
Mo Salah, Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero, Jamie Vardy, Raheem Sterling, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sadio Mane, Marcus Rashford, Roberto Firmino, Alexandre Lacazette, Son Heung-Min, and now Wood.
What do they have in common? They are the only strikers to score 30 or more Premier League goals in the last three seasons.
Every one of that group has played Champions League football, all, bar Vardy - who has a Premier League winners’ medal - at an established Big Six club.
While he will be grateful for the service provided by the likes of Ashley Westwood and Dwight McNeil, Burnley’s assist kings, but his record is all the more impressive, given the other 11 players on the list are at clubs who largely create more goal scoring opportunities.
He is on target for his best haul at this level, having scored exactly 10 Premier League goals in each year he’s been at Turf Moor, from 24 appearances in his first season, 38 last, and 22 this, to date.
And boss Sean Dyche feels there is more to come from the New Zealander: “I think he’s going about his business well, he continues to learn and improve, I think he’s got a good self belief, he can still adapt his game accordingly to the challenges of the Premier League, but he anticipates well for his goal the other night, and I’ve spoken about his general play, doing that more, seeing the picture quicker, and I think that will add to his goals tally.
“He’s a good player and continues to improve.
“I personally think goalscoring is the hardest job in the game, so it’s not easy, I admire them, it’s a tricky skill to have, borderline uncoachable.
“The top strikers just see pictures quickly, you can coach runs and manoeuvres, but the ability to see a picture quickly, and react on it, is almost an inbuilt mechanism.
“But you can sharpen the thinking.”
Dyche made Wood the club’s record signing at £15m from Leeds in 2017, a fee matched only by Ben Gibson since, and he feels the striker has been something of a snip: “It’s funny, the market makes no sense, pay a lot, pay little, there’s no sense to it, just get the deal done or don’t.
“With that one, it was deemed at the time..a lot of people were questioning me, and, don’t get me wrong, that’s standard when you’re signing players - but I believed he was the right player to sign, and that’s been proved pretty obviously.
“It’s a strange one with Woody, I knew what he’s about from the Championship, I’d known about him for a long time going around different clubs, and he pretty much scored goals everywhere.
“I went on a bit of common sense as much as a feeling about a player, and he’s adapted and matured here and continues to do so - I think there’s more to come as well.”
Fourteen of Wood’s 30 goals have been headers - the most in the Premier League over the last three seasons - but the striker scores all manner of goals, as Burnley found to their cost in 2014 when his stunning volley sealed a 2-0 win for Leicester at Turf Moor, which effectively confirmed the Foxes as Championship winners, leaving the Clarets to take runners-up spot.
Dyche said: “I think he’s always had that, he can score all different types of goals, he can smash one - he did against us many moons ago at Turf Moor for Leicester - he got a really good finish the other night, we know he can head it.
“It’s a great weapon to have when you can score all types of goals, and we are pretty strong with that here, Barnesy can, Jay Rod can, Vyds can, but we’ve not seen it as much, and Nahki can as well.
“I think that’s a change in the game, in the old days you had poachers, but modern strikers have to score different goals now, I think that’s an important factor of how the game has changed.
“Managers want more out of strikers, they want them to defend more, to link, and it’s become more of an all round job, so strikers need all those abilities to score different goals, the game demands it.”
Given Wood has scored in his last two games, and with Jay Rodriguez also in a rich vein of form, how tempting is it to pair them again tomorrow in the FA Cup at home to Norwich, rather than rest one or the other?: “I’ll be putting out a side I believe is strong enough to win the game, simple as that.
“We’ve got a more competitive squad, so therefore you believe in every player, most have played a part in the Premier League so far, so if there’s change, they will link into a good team, strong enough to take a game on.
“The main thing is the mentality, the cup is weird, a different crowd in terms of numbers, a different viewpoint from the outside world from the Premier League - don’t get me wrong, when it gets to the right end of it, they’re really big games, but these games don’t feel the same as the Premier League games.
“I think there’s got to be a single mindedness - ‘we’ve got to be right on this to win’, and if you get that right, you’ve got a stronger chance.”
Should they start tomorrow, the pair will get more game time to develop a growing understanding, highlighted in them swapping passes before Rodriguez smashed in a brilliant second goal against Manchester United: “That’s what I like about playing two strikers, it’s not easy to get them to link and play together, but when you do, it’s really difficult to play against.
“If you get that right, it’s a real problem for defenders, even in the Premier League, and they showed that the other night, especially second half, and for the goal.”