With Valentine’s Day around the corner, we’ve turned our attention to football’s most successful goalscoring partnerships.
For each of the big five leagues, plus the EFL, we’ve looked at which pairs of players have created the most goals for each other from the start of last season up to the end of January.
We’ve also used the data to answer what type of attacking duo is the most successful and also shone some light at the other end of the pitch to calculate the best defensive pairings in Premier League history.
The English top flight is dominated by new goalscoring partnerships, with Manchester United duo Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial leading the way. They have combined to rack up goals at a rate equivalent to almost 16 per season (if they were to play every minute of a 38-game campaign together), so Jose Mourinho will have to ensure that January signing Alexis Sanchez doesn’t disrupt their chemistry.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are not far behind, having created the same number of goals for each other in slightly more playing minutes. Star arrival Salah has also clicked immediately with Roberto Firmino, with the pair having scored more goals together but over more Premier League minutes.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane is the only other player with two entries in the top 10: his partnerships with Kieran Trippier and Heung-Min Son are also among the top flight’s most productive.
Over in Spain we have an increasingly rare commodity in the modern game: a successful two-striker combination. Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro are international team-mates too and their chemistry is there for all to see; their 12 goals created for each other since the start of last season is equivalent to almost 20 over a full league campaign.
Real Madrid and Barcelona appear twice in our top 10, with Isco and Lionel Messi each involved in both of their team’s entries, suggesting that they’re happy to share their love around.
Although Bayern Munich provide four goalscoring partnerships to the German top 10, top spot belongs to a less fashionable pairing. Werder Bremen’s Max Kruse and Fin Bartels have shared 12 goals – just like the Bayern pair of Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski – but have required 500 fewer minutes on the pitch together to rack them up.
The German champions’ other combinations all involve their veterans – Lewandowski, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery in various combinations – which raises the question of whether they need to allow their younger players more licence to explore the dating pool.
In Italy they don’t seem to worry about the age gap; Sampdoria veteran Fabio Quagliarella has just turned 35 but occupies the top two spots in the Serie A list with Gaston Ramirez and Duvan Zapata respectively.
The formidable Juventus pairing of Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala sits only fourth, with Leonardo Pavoletti and Paolo Farago – one of two Cagliari combinations in the top 10 – edging them out.
There are far fewer surprises in the French list, where four of the top 10 comprise PSG players, although given their tempestuous relationship so far it’s a surprise to see Edinson Cavani and Neymar at the summit. While Cavani has combined for more goals with Angel Di Maria, that partnership is far more established and they’ve spent enough minutes on the pitch together to drop them to fifth overall.
Lyon’s Memphis Depay isn’t all about the wonder strikes – since joining from Manchester United he’s also struck up an understanding with Maxwel Cornet that looks set to average almost 17 goals per season.
We’ve also turned our eye to the lower reaches of England where transfer deadline-day drama was just as intense as in the top flight. When Fleetwood let Devante Cole – free-scoring son of Premier League legend Andrew – leave for Wigan, they broke up the EFL’s most dangerous attacking partnership. Over a 38-game season, his partnership with Ashley Hunter would have been worth more than 17 goals, so over a 46-match League One campaign that could well be the difference between a play-off place and mid-table obscurity.
Elsewhere in the list, it is no surprise to see Premier League-bound Wolves as the only club with multiple entries, both including summer arrival Diogo Jota, on loan from Atletico Madrid and clearly destined for big things.
What type of goalscoring partnerships work best?
While we were looking through the 89 partnerships across the ‘big five’ European leagues to have combined for at least five goals since the start of last season, we thought we’d try and settle a debate: what type of attacking partnership is the best? While Griezmann and Gameiro – and more recently Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus at Manchester City – have proved that ‘two up top’ isn’t a thing of the past, it’s some distance behind the most successful type of pairing.
Over a third of those 89 pairings (31 to be exact) were a centre forward and a wide forward – think Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez – while no other combination had more than nine representatives in our list. Another 31 involved a centre forward with another position, including nine with other strikers, and another 24 saw a wide player combine with a non-striker.
When two centre forwards do click they’re the most devastating of all though: in fact combinations of a centre forward and an attacking midfielder or a full-back are also more potent than with a wide forward in our list, so it’s still worthwhile for managers to explore less orthodox options in their pursuit of an attacking edge.
What about defensive partnerships?
It is not just up front where chemistry can lead to success on the pitch: a solid defensive partnership can also be crucial. We’ve looked back over the full history of the Premier League era to identify the top 10 central defensive duos of all time. To reward consistency, we’ve set a bar of a minimum 5,000 minutes on the pitch together, which is still less than two full seasons.
At the top of the list is Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger, who in their 8,171 minutes together conceded at a rate of just 24.3 goals per season; a record that Jurgen Klopp is surely envying as he tries to patch up a frustratingly leaky defence.
United legends Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic narrowly miss out in second place while John Terry and William Gallas of Chelsea take third. There are a couple of active partnerships in the lower reaches of the list; the Blues also have David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta in the list while Tottenham’s Belgian duo of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld make the cut just beneath them.
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