With only a few weeks left of the season, we look at the leading contenders in the Premier League Golden Boot race and what might give each of them the edge.

Erling Haaland ran away with the Premier League Golden Boot in 2022-23 at the end of a record-breaking debut season in England, netting 36 times en route to Manchester City’s title triumph as part of an incredible treble.

Some will have predicted him to do even better this season, extending his own record for the most goals in a single Premier League campaign, though it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

Nevertheless, he’s still very much in the conversation for the Golden Boot heading into the final weeks of 2023-24. Here, we analyse Haaland and the other contenders vying to pip him to the post.

Erling Haaland – 21 Goals
Manchester City

Sure, by the standards he set last season, perhaps 2023-24 has been a little less extraordinary for Haaland until this point. But his 21 Premier League goals isn’t matched by anyone else and to most strikers his campaign would be considered an unequivocal success.

He could yet plunder a few more goals as well after shaking off the muscle issue that troubled him before returning for City – and scoring – against Nottingham Forest at the weekend.

Make no mistake, Haaland’s output has absolutely been that of an incredibly dangerous striker this season, with his 4.2 shots per 90 only bettered by Rodrigo Muniz (4.4) and Darwin Núñez (4.7).

Those efforts have helped him accumulate 0.82 non-penalty expected goals on a per-90-minute basis, which is comfortably the best among Premier League players to feature for at least 900 minutes this season.

While he hasn’t quite scored at a rate in line with his xG, Haaland’s 0.69 goals per game (excluding penalties) is still only bettered by two players, both of whom have played at least 600 fewer minutes than him.

Arguably the key thing is he plays in a team that creates chances, and City’s 65.8 non-penalty xG this season is second only to Liverpool; Pep Guardiola’s men are bound to get some joy against their opponents in the final weeks of the season, and in Haaland they have a man obsessed with sniffing out chances.

As such, he has easily the highest proportion of his touches inside the box (28.1%) of all players (minimum 900 minutes played); say what you want about his form this season, but Haaland is a goalscoring machine and is the man to beat in the Golden Boot race.

xG vs Goals per 90 minutes in Premier League 2023-24
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

Cole Palmer – 20 Goals

What a season Palmer is having at Chelsea. While his talent wasn’t in question at City, it’s fair to say he’s surprised most people with just how much of an impact he’s had at Stamford Bridge, where he’s probably been the biggest positive all campaign for the inconsistent Blues.

Heading into the last few games, he’s almost managing to keep pace with his former teammate Haaland, which you have to concede is a pretty remarkable accomplishment considering this is Palmer’s first season as a regular starter at this level.

It’s not lost on us that Palmer’s output has been significantly boosted by his penalties, and as was noted earlier in the season, spot-kicks are as close as ever to being ‘free goals’. As such, his 0.45 non-penalty goals per 90 is bettered by as many as 20 players (min. 900 mins), perhaps taking some of the gloss off his total for some.

Regardless, penalties are a key part of the game and, when it comes to final totals and winning the Golden Boot, all goals carry equal weight. Furthermore, the fact Palmer has scored so many penalties (9/9, meaning he’s in line to record the best 100% spot-kick record in a single Premier League season) reflects the fact he is especially reliable in such situations and that Chelsea have won quite a few – 12 to be exact, three more than any other team.

Most penalties in a Premier League season

If trying to predict who’ll score the most goals in a season, clinical penalty takers have to be considered at an advantage, particularly when they do also carry a threat in general – and Palmer definitely does.

He’s averaging 3.64 shots per 90 this season, which puts him ninth (min. 900 mins) in the Premier League; only two of those above him can better Palmer’s proportion of shots on target, though (46.4%).

Palmer averages a goal every 109 minutes, the third-best rate of all players to rack up at least 900 minutes. If he maintains that until the end of the season, he stands a very good chance of at least sharing the Golden Boot, particularly given Chelsea still have five games to play, providing him with ample opportunities to increase his tally.

Alexander Isak – 19 Goals
Newcastle United

Still only 24, if Alexander Isak continues to develop the way he has since joining Newcastle United, he could become a superstar; he’s already pretty handy.

He does still have two goals to make up on Haaland, but Isak has really found a groove in the past couple of months with nine goals in his last eight Premier League games, thrusting himself into Golden Boot contention as a result.

A key aspect of this form is how clinical and reliable he is in front of goal. Granted, you could potentially make that case to varying degrees for anyone in this list, but no one else in the Golden Boot race has a shot conversion record this season that matches Isak’s.

His 19 goals, including another two at the weekend, account for 28.8% of his 66 shots; only Chris Wood (32.4% of 37) and Elijah Adebayo (32.1% of 28) have scored a greater proportion of their shots among players with at least 25 attempts, though both have obviously not registered anywhere near as many efforts.

Shots per 90 x Shot conversion in Premier League 2023-24
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

Furthermore, Isak’s 19 goals have come from just 26 matches, meaning he’s scoring at a rate of 0.88 per 90 minutes or one every 103 minutes, both of which are leading figures in the Premier League this term (min. 900 mins played).

Newcastle’s form this season has been erratic but they are very often a threat going forward, especially in recent weeks, scoring four or more goals in three of their last six matches. They’re a team who create opportunities, with Isak’s 1.48 ‘big chances’ every 90 minutes second only to Haaland (1.91), and they still have to face a few teams who tend to give up plenty of shooting opportunities, such as Burnley, Brighton and Manchester United.

Excluding penalties, just four players (min. 900 mins played) are averaging more goals per 90 than Isak’s 0.62, and of those, only Haaland (0.69) could be considered in Golden Boot contention.

Isak’s form has reached a new level at just the right time, and when you consider how lethal he is in relation to his shot conversion record, he arguably has the edge over his rivals.

Ollie Watkins – 19 Goals
Aston Villa

Could Watkins take home the Golden Boot and the Player of the Season award? Phil Foden might have something to say about the latter, especially if City win the title, but Watkins is clearly in contention for both prizes.

The England forward has taken his game to a new level under Unai Emery and has unquestionably been one of the league’s standout players in 2023-24 – and arguably the most improved.

With 31 goal involvements, he’s the first English player not called Harry Kane to record 30+ in a single Premier League season since Jamie Vardy led Leicester City to the title in 2015-16 (30 – 24 goals, 6 assists). Nineteen of the 31 have been goals, meaning he’s on the verge of becoming the first Villa player to net 20 times in a Premier League season.

No player in the top flight this term can better his 31 goal involvements, which highlights just how active and dangerous he is in the final third, forming strong relationships with Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby in Villa’s devastatingly fluid attack.

What makes Watkins’ output even more impressive is the fact none of his 19 goals have been from the spot; perhaps it’s worth him having a word in the ear of designated taker Douglas Luiz over the next few days?

Only time will tell on the front, but generally speaking, Watkins’ teammates clearly trust him and value him as a threat to opponents, as 43.9% of his off-ball runs into the box are targeted by passes from colleagues, which is the fourth-highest proportion of all strikers (min. 900 mins and 10+ targeted runs into box).

His 16.0 np-xG over the season is only behind Haaland (20.2) and Dominic Solanke (16.2), but Watkins is scoring at a considerably higher rate with his xG differential at 3.0. Lucky or clinical? It could be a bit of both, but every little helps in a Golden Boot race, which Watkins will likely be quietly confident he can win.

Dominic Solanke – 18 Goals

With 18 scored this season, Solanke has already set a new record for the most goals netted by a Bournemouth player in a top-flight season, surpassing Joshua King’s total of 16.

Bournemouth may not be the most fashionable side to some and as such, Solanke might be perceived to be at a disadvantage compared to some of his rivals, but they are quietly having a very good season under Andoni Iraola and climbed just inside the top half of the table thanks to their impressive 3-0 win over Brighton at the weekend.

That took them to 42 points in the Premier League since their 6-1 thrashing by Manchester City at the start of November; only the champions, Arsenal, Liverpool and Villa have accumulated more points than the Cherries in the intervening months.

Unfortunately for Solanke, there was no goal for him in that defeat of Brighton, though there will surely be more opportunities to come.

After all, his 16 non-penalty goals is bettered only by Watkins (19) and Haaland (17), and his availability has also been vital to Bournemouth. That might not sound especially enlightening, but he’s played 3,120 minutes in the Premier League this term, the fifth most of all outfielders.

That’s obviously worthy of mentioning because it highlights how important he is but also reflects his fitness levels – you can’t score if you don’t play, and Solanke plays a lot.

He also has the added motivation of trying to play his way into Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Euro 2024, though admittedly a lack of chances to this point would suggest such a situation may be out of reach now.

The Opta supercomputer also suggests Bournemouth have the one of the trickier ends to the 2023-24 campaign when analysing the average ratings of their opponents in the Opta Power Rankings.

Premier League fixture difficulty
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

But whatever happens between now and the end of the season, 2023-24 has been tremendous for Solanke, arguably proving he does have what it takes to play at the very top. A big move may beckon.

Mohamed Salah – 17 Goals

There’s a perception Mohamed Salah isn’t having a great season; at least, it’s certainly been suggested he’s not been at his best since returning from the injury he sustained on Africa Cup of Nations duty.

That may be fair, though he’s arguably just about still in the Golden Boot race having scored 17 times this term and being Liverpool’s designated penalty taker.

Additionally, he’s the key man in a team that create plenty of chances. Liverpool have had 715 shots this season; Manchester City (621) are the only other side to have managed more than 600, and yet the Reds have still comfortably out-shot them.

That’s not just down to Agent of Chaos, Darwin Núñez, either. In terms of open-play shots (excluding headers), Salah ranks only behind Alejandro Garnacho (3.0) and his Uruguayan teammate (2.97) on a per-90-minute basis, and his 1.15 big chances each game is the fifth best in the league. On top of that, Salah’s average of 9.1 touches in the opposition’s box every game is considerably more than any of his rivals in this list (Haaland is next with 6.8), evidence of the threatening positions he gets into.

Mohamed Salah xG map

When penalties are taken into consideration, only Haaland (0.98), Isak (0.8) and Callum Wilson (0.78) rank higher than Salah (0.75) for xG per 90; the issue here is his goals per 90 (0.68) doesn’t quite marry up with his xG, and so he’s working at a disadvantage in that respect.

Nevertheless, we all know what Salah is capable of. He’s one of the best players in Premier League history and able to cause any team plenty of problems. But can he score at least four goals more than Haaland between now and the end of the season? Maybe don’t hold your breath.

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