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Van Persie leads 2012 goal chase

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The Golden Boot, or Pichichi as it is known in Spain, is the ultimate individual accolade for any striker.

And while Robin van Persie secured last season's offering in the Premier League, and Lionel Messi did likewise in Spain, it's equally as interesting and instructive to note the spread of goals across a calendar year.

Because 2012 has been a bumper year for goalscorers. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been engaging in a tit-for-tat goals race, pushing one another to ever more incredible heights.

So far, since January 1st 2012, Leo Messi has scored a remarkable 58 goals - Ronaldo a similarly sensational 42.

The Argentinian's strike rate is considerably better than the Portuguese - Messi averaging 1.35 goals every game compared to 0.91 for Ronaldo. But Messi is not the only footballer to have broken the heralded goal-a-game mark.

Polycarp Obinna Obiefule, playing in the Maltese first division for Mosta FC, has matched Messi's 1.35 average, scoring 27 goals in just 20 games.

The opposition may not be La Liga quality, but it's an impressive achievement nonetheless.

In the Premier League, Robin van Persie leads the charge. His magnificent second half of the season last year ensured he pipped Wayne Rooney to the Golden Boot award, and the Dutchman has continued his rich vein of form this season.

Four goals in your first two league starts is an impressive way to begin a Manchester United career, taking the former-Arsenal captain's total 2012 tally to 24.

His Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney is second with 20 goals this calendar year, but that haul is only the 22nd best in Europe.

In comparison, La Liga have five representatives to the Premier League's two, while the Bundesliga and Serie A each have three players in the top 20.

For all the talk of the Premier League as the world's best, it seems the game's most fearsome forwards ply their trade elsewhere.

Surprisingly, the Premier League's third best striker of 2012 is a new arrival. Aston Villa's Christian Benteke, signed from Genk, hit 18 goals in 31 games from January onward, alerting English scouts and facilitating his move to the Midlands.

Another new signing is the Premier League's fourth highest scorer - Spurs latest forward Clint Dempsey hit 17 goals during last season's run-in, making him Europe's 50th most prolific frontman this year.

The Premier League's other representatives in the top 100 strikers of 2012 include the now departed Didier Drogba, Everton striker Nikica Jelavic, Manchester City striker Sergio Ageruo and Chelsea star Eden Hazard, each of whom have so far managed 16 goals.

But, at the sharp end of the table, there's a real absence of Premier League talent. In the past nine months, the English top flight has suffered something of a dearth of goals - from strikers anyway.

In contrast, La Liga boasts Falcao, Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema and Fernando Llorente in the top 20 - not to mention Europe's top two in Ronaldo and Messi.

The mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had a great year, bagging 28 goals in 35 games, and earning yet another lucrative move, this time to Paris St Germain.

And Edinson Cavani, like Falcao linked with a move for Chelsea for much of the summer, has led the line for Serie A - at least following the departure of Ibra.

Napoli's frontman has hit 23 goals this year, while the evergreen Diego Milito has chipped with 22 for Inter Milan. The Argentinian was the inspiration behind Inter's Champions League winning campaign in 2010, and the 33-year-old is still one of the continent's most in-form strikers.

But it's interesting to note that Europe's two best are not orthodox strikers, at least in the traditional number nine sense. Neither Messi nor Ronaldo operates likes Van Persie, Ibrahimovic, Falcao, Mario Gomez or Milito.

Their success, head and shoulders above their contemporaries, comes from a different way of playing to conventional Golden Boot winners.

Perhaps that's where the Premier League is going wrong, a lack of tactical innovation forcing clubs to rely on orthodox strikers for their goals.

But then, a shortage of Premier League frontmen in the top 50 betrays that theory, suggesting a greater spread of goals around a team in the English top flight.

Whatever the reason, it's clear that the Premier League is not the place to watch the world's best strikers - at least for the time being.

The remergence of Fernando Torres and Carlos Tevez may help to reverse this trend, but for now at least, Robin van Persie leads the charge alone. On current form, RVP is the Premier League's only world-class striker.

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Robin Van Persie
Didier Drogba
Premier League
Manchester United
Cristiano Ronaldo
Wayne Rooney
Clint Dempsey

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