Goals galore: Likes of Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Costa hitting the net at a rate not seen since Greaves, Puskas and Di Stefano

 

Mark Hughes may be hoping to upset expectations against Liverpool today, but there is one inevitability he is resigned to.

"With a player like Luis Suarez," the Stoke City manager said, "you have to accept that, with the talent he has, he will have an opportunity at some point in the game to test the keeper."

You also have to accept that, with the supreme form he is in, the Uruguayan will likely take that opportunity. Should Suarez hit his 21st League strike of the campaign this evening, it would continue the trend of the season – but not just his own. Maintaining a ridiculous strike rate of 1.33 goals a game in the League at present, the 26-year-old is one of a series of super-forwards hitting the net at a rate of about once a game in Europe's top competitions.

Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Costa are well above that level; Sergio Aguero, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Leo Messi are just under it.

This rate of scoring represents a significant break with history. The kind of records that Eusebio used to monopolise in the lower quality of the Portuguese League are now much more common. As the stats here indicate, the game is currently seeing an unusually high number of strikers scoring relentlessly in the elite divisions.

That may not seem so relevant when you remove Ronaldo and Messi from the list, but a deeper look reveals the effect of the duo's dominance. It is not just the number of goals, but the number of forwards who are scoring them.

There have never been so many hitting the net quite so freely since the 1960-61 campaign. Then, just before a common move to four at the back made football more minimalist, Jimmy Greaves, Ferenc Puskas, Ray Crawford, Omar Sivori and Alfredo Di Stefano were decimating defences.

Now it as if Ronaldo and Messi have rewritten the rules again. For most of the last few decades, a scoring rate of one goal every two games seemed thoroughly respectable for a player. At present, it seems somewhat paltry.

Mario Kempes famously won a Golden Boot with Argentina in the more austere era of the 1978 World Cup and points to a rare batch of "great forwards". Exceptional talent alone, however, does not fully explain why the likes of Suarez are scoring so much more than previous greats such as Kempes and the Brazilian Ronaldo.

Ian Rush, who preceded Suarez in striking close to such levels for Liverpool even in the 1980s, thinks "it's easier now to score goals".

"Obviously the game has changed," Rush says. "It's a lot quicker. You're not going to get kicked from behind anymore. You feel more comfortable when you have your back to goal."

There's also the increased openness of the game. Just as the move to four at the back in the mid-1960s closed up football and drastically reduced scoring rates, the influence of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona ripped it open again in the last few years. Everton manager Roberto Martinez has argued that a number of teams have been conditioned into adapting individual elements of the ultra-attacking Catalan approach, not least building moves from the back. This is something Rush agrees with "100 per cent", and believes it plays into the feet of forwards.

"I think most defenders now, they're there to play football, not try to be like defenders," Rush explains. "In the 70s and 80s, defenders were proper defenders and used to kick you and everything. The likes of John Terry and Jamie Carragher seem to be a dying breed. They're brought up to play football and, one thing is for certain, a striker will always think quicker than a defender. That's one of the differences as well.

"There's not many big, solid defenders now and sometimes you need them. When you put defenders who like to play at the back against world-class strikers, the world-class strikers will always come out on top because they think quicker."

It is not just the circumstances that are loaded in favour of the forwards. It is also the talent.

"I believe now you have better forwards and weaker defenders," Kempes says. While the game is currently dominated by a host of historically good attackers, it's actually difficult to pick out too many defenders at that level, or even decide the best centre-half in the world. Truly cast-iron defenders like Franco Baresi, Fabio Cannavaro or even Nemanja Vidic do not seem to have many modern successors.

Worse, those who do exist tend already to be playing with the finest forwards. That is the other aspect. While Rush and Kempes played in egalitarian eras where ability was more spread out, modern economics ensure there has never been such a concentration of talent at so many big clubs.

"For each competition in Europe," Kempes argues, "there are three or four good teams and the rest are very weak. The top forwards play in the good teams and this plays to their advantage."

The likes of Suarez, meanwhile, are more than ready to take advantage – repeatedly and relentlessly.

Stoke City v Liverpool is on Sky Sports 1, kick-off 4.10pm

News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
people
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices