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You all know who the best of the best forwards in Europe are: Erling Haaland, Mohamed Salah, Kylian Mbappe. But who belongs in the tier below them and who simply deserves more flowers or patience for the season they've had so far? Let's take a look at five intriguing players from across the continent:

1. Gabriel Jesus, Arsenal

It has been a month where much of the media and Arsenal fanbase have been asking a string of very similar questions to Mikel Arteta. The entire world around the Emirates Stadium has been most vocal about the matter of the star striker. "Where's the striker?" "When are you going to get the striker?" "Why aren't you getting the striker now?" And so on.

To which one might reasonably respond, didn't Arsenal just sign that guy 18 months ago? Isn't Gabriel Jesus the man who, in the words of his manager, "changed our world" when he left Manchester City to forge a new title contender in north London? That he may well be, it has just been hard to really know for certain given the travails of his knee since the World Cup. In that time he has missed games on four separate occasions due to knee issues and though Arteta hopes the latest issue will be resolved in a matter of days, it is an unwelcome headache even after Kai Havertz's impressive display against Liverpool.

Such have been Jesus' knee issues since he left the Brazil camp early 14 months ago, it is fair to question whether Arsenal have seen the best of their No.9 outside a handful of Champions League games. He has started just 37 of his club's 61 Premier League games since arriving and has fewer starter minutes than Ivan Toney. To see him in action, he does not yet look the force who swept through the club on his arrival. Maybe he won't again this season but even in his diminished state, he is a player averaging 0.44 non-penalty expected goals (npxG) per 90 as well as 0.16 expected assists (xA). Those numbers are about eight percent down on the output of his early games in Arsenal but he's still delivering a top 15 Premier League mark playing at perhaps 80 percent.

The familiar old argument against Jesus is that he is always going to underperform those xG numbers. In all bar one of his last seven Premier League seasons, the 26-year-old has fewer actual goals than expected. It is on the verge of becoming a bit. Then again, what exactly is there about Jesus that means he is predestined to forever underperform in front of goal? What evidence that he lacks the technique or temperament required to convert the chances that come his way? He blitzes his xG in the Champions League, unless there is something about the pre-match playlists that triggers a psychosomatic over the subsequent 90 minutes.

Do Arsenal need that new forward that was the subject of such debate in a moribund January? Certainly but that is more because Eddie Nketiah simply does not look like a player ready to lead the line if Jesus' injury issues flare up. Rushing to dispense with the Brazilian, however, would not be the wisest of gambles.

2. Robert Lewandowski, Barcelona

On the subject of big-name forwards laid low by injuries this season, enter Lewandowski. In his prime the Polish star had something of the iron man quality to him but the 35-year-old's ankle flared up late last year as Barcelona battled to build momentum in a difficult season for the Blaugrana. Robert Lewandowski has echoed the struggles of the Catalan, the man who was once a lock for 40 goals a season at a rate approaching one a game now moored on 14 from 31. Reports in Spain last month suggested that the veteran forward had drawn the ire of the now-outgoing Xavi and even that they will push to rid themselves of him before the final two years of his contract, for which he negotiated a sizeable pay rise on his departure from Bayern Munich.

As is natural for almost any footballer in their mid-30s, Lewandowski looks to be in decline. Reports as to the extent of it, however, might be rather exaggerated. He might have dropped from a player who averaged nearly a non-penalty goal a game in 2021-22 to now scarcely more than one in every three but he is still getting in the right spots. In La Liga, he averages 0.6 npxG per 90, a top 12 mark in Europe's top five leagues. The shots he gets are good ones, it's just that so far this season a few of them have been met by awkward miscues or brilliant defending.

Shots taken by Lewandowski in the 2023-24 Champions League and La Liga, sized by xG value TruMedia

In a vacuum, a club of Barcelona's stature might reasonably feel that this is the summer to take a long hard look at Lewandowski before hitting the upgrade button. Unfortunately for them, all their money has been sucked up in years of atrocious balance sheet mismanagement. None of the players who rank above Lewandowski for npxG this season are going to be available for less than the cost of paying their current No.9 two years on inflated wages. Well unless they go for Brighton flop Deniz Undav. And Barcelona aren't mad enough to do that? Wait, they aren't, are they?

3. Victor Boniface, Bayer Leverkusen

Now look, we're playing a bit fast and loose with underrated here, aren't we? No one will be unaware of Bayer Leverkusen's rise to the top of the Bundesliga table, certainly not since their manager got linked with the Liverpool job. Many will then know Victor Boniface as one of the breakout stars and top scorer of the league leaders. But has it truly broken through yet just how impressive the 23-year-old is?

Even as injuries and Africa Cup of Nations involvement have limited his playing time he ranks in the top 20 scorers across Europe's top five leagues and the top 11 assist providers. Only Undav manages more shots per 90 than Boniface --yes, he even somehow sneaks ahead of Liverpool's remorseless Darwin Nunez. As the table below will indicate, there are some funny things going on with strikers in the Bundesliga this season, but where there looks to be a bit of air in the numbers of some players, a cursory glance at Boniface in action will tell you this player has all the attributes required for an elite center forward.

Europe's leading npxG+xA per 90

Per 90 stats, Europe's top four leagues, minimum 900 minutes

PlayerClubAssistsxAGoals (incl. pens)npxGnpxG+xA

Harry Kane

Bayern Munich






Deniz Undav

VfB Stuttgart






Serhou Guirassy

VfB Stuttgart






Victor Boniface

Bayer Leverkusen






Leroy Sane

Bayern Munich






Erling Haaland

Manchester City






Darwin Nunez







Mohamed Salah







Lois Openda

RB Leipzig






Boniface has the lot. He can play with his back to goal or stretch play in behind, linking with others or getting shots for himself. The only question hanging over him is how much a weird Bundesliga is swelling his numbers. Even if they are, he deserves to be in the conversation for Europe's top forwards.

4. Ademola Lookman, Atalanta

In a Nigeria squad packed with attacking talent, Ademola Lookman might just be the one that makes all the difference in the biggest games. To do that once at a major tournament is impressive, twice speaks to a rare talent indeed. That is what the 26-year-old might just achieve however, the best player at England's Under-17 World Cup win in 2017 now guiding the Super Eagles to what would be an altogether more prestigious crown.

That form on the international stage as a fledging youngster encouraged a string of teams in England and abroad to take a chance on Lookman but the Charlton academy graduate never seemed to flourish as one of the supporting cast. As he is proving at AFCON, he is leading man material. That much has been apparent at Atalanta too, where he and another prospect who struggled to fulfil great expectations (Charles De Ketelaere) have been handed the keys to Gianpiero Gasperini's offense. Either would merit a spot in this list, both are putting up impressive underlying numbers but Lookman's is just clear. A return of 0.46 npxG per 90 puts him fifth among Serie A players, his xA of 0.21 12th.

Almost since the day Lookman arrived in Bergamo, he has looked the sort of quality forward who would raise the level of any top side, even in the Premier League that so dispensed with him. Nine assists, 20 goals, all in the space of just 49 Serie A games: what were Everton thinking letting him go?

5. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Everton

Then again, the technical but occasionally prone to giving up possession Lookman does not exactly scream Sean Dyche player. One that did from the very first moment the former Burnley boss swept into Goodison Park was Dominic Calvert-Lewin, one of England's most devastating target men. Dyche's challenge was never going to be getting the Sheffield-born academy graduate to fit into his style but getting him fit enough to make him useful. In this sense the Everton manager has been triumphant, his willingness not to rush his No.9 back at the first opportunity resulting in Calvert-Lewin playing more minutes already this season than in either of the last two.

On the surface level, what he has done with those moments is really not a lot. His 17-game goal drought runs back to late October, a run cruelly extended when the Premier League concluded Jack Harrison had got the slightest nick on his header against Tottenham last weekend.

A tally of four goals from 25 appearances across all competitions says a lot. So does this shot against Newcastle.

Calvert-Lewin volleys over from close range against Newcastle Wyscout/Premier League

Or this effort against Aston Villa, one which highlights a common theme of Calvert-Lewin's shots this season. Far too many of them go down the middle of the goal.

Calvert-Lewin fires straight at Emiliano Martinez when played in behind the Aston Villa defense Wyscout/Premier League

Headed chances are invariably more difficult than you'd think but a player of Calvert-Lewin's aerial prowess might at least test the goalkeeper with this one.

Calvert-Lewin flicks a cross over in Everton's defeat to Manchester United Wyscout/Premier League

Among players who have had more than 10 shots Opta classify as big chances, Calvert-Lewin has the second worse conversion rate behind only Rasmus Hojlund. Then again, this simply is not something to worry about. Darwin Nunez is fourth on that list, Erling Haaland is in the top 10. As Dyche himself notes: "The key for me is getting in the right areas to score, the other night he certainly was. You have to keep doing that to believe that you will score. That belief is still there and I think that is important." 

He is getting in those positions and is doing so at an elite level with 0.6 npxG per 90. The goals will surely come for him just as the points will surely come for Everton. Both are simply too good for that not to be the case.