Man City striker Erling Haaland is chasing the goal record in a single Premier League season, but which top scorers will he have to beat?
Twenty league goals in a season is a solid target for any professional footballer, and one that many top players – Michael Owen for instance – never reach in their career. But only the most clinical, deadly goal scorers can reach the blessed mark of 30 goals, something that has only happened 11 times in Premier League history and by only nine men. It’s now four years since any player hit 30 in the English top-flight, and we may have to wait at least as long again to see it once more. In the meantime, here is the complete run-down of the best seasonal goalscoring records the Premier League has ever witnessed.
Alan Shearer scored 31 goals in 1993-94 but it wasn’t enough to seal the Premier League’s Golden Boot. That went to Andrew Cole (see below) but both men represented up-and-coming clubs looking to damage Manchester United’s gleaming new hegemony at the top of English football. Shearer would not only score more goals than Cole in 1994-95 but he would also fire his Blackburn Rovers team to their first league championship since 1914.
Shearer scored 34 times in 42 appearances, and while the goal total is impressive, the fact he started all 42 league games (and was subbed off only twice) is perhaps even more so, given the injury problems he endured throughout his career. It would be the only campaign in Shearer’s Premier League life in which he started all possible games in a single season and his reward was the only major honour of his career.
Shearer was famously reluctant to use his left foot, something that can be seen by the fact only one of the 34 goals this season – an early strike in a 3-1 win at Manchester City on Boxing Day – came with that appendage. Nine of his 34 came in the opening 15 minutes of games, as Shearer and Blackburn started on the front foot in their attempt to stop Manchester United winning three titles in a row. This was something they ultimately achieved, Shearer scoring on the final day of the season at a restless Anfield, more bothered about United not winning the league than the day’s result. As it happened, Liverpool won 2-1 but Alex Ferguson’s team failed to beat West Ham so Rovers finished top.
Shearer’s imperial goal period had what it deserved: a major honour.
If there was a ball and a goal, nothing could stop Alan Shearer
The ultimate centre-forward, @alanshearer scored with pace, power and incredible technique, netting a record 260 Premier League goals in his playing career
He is the first 2021 Inductee to the #PLHallOfFame pic.twitter.com/ZcQIvINXa6
One of Manchester United’s schemes to derail Blackburn’s ultimately-successful title bid in 1994-95 was to purchase the 34-goal reigning Golden Boot holder Andy Cole from Newcastle United in January 1995, and while no-one argued with the move from a purchasing point of view, there was widespread astonishment that Newcastle would let their star man go. Cole had fired the Magpies back into the top-flight in 1992-93 and his totals of 34 goals and 13 assists in 1993-94 were outright leading figures in both categories, a feat that wouldn’t be repeated by a single player until Harry Kane did so in 2020-21. Even more impressively, none of Cole’s 34 goals that season were penalties, and by the time he ended his Premier League career in 2008, only one of his 187 goals was sourced from the penalty spot.
Cole would end his career with five Premier League titles, a UEFA Champions League, two FA Cups and a League Cup but they all arrived after 1993-94, the season in which he looked like, and indeed was, the most exciting striker in the country.
Enjoy one of the best of Andy Cole's 187 #PL goals 👏#GoalOfTheDay // @NUFC pic.twitter.com/UBvGH6Q0UI
Cole and Shearer’s 34-goal seasons came in the last two Premier League campaigns to feature 22 teams, and hence 42 games. From 1995-96, teams (and fit players) would play 38 games, and for a long time it seemed like 31 goals was the glass ceiling for player goals in this structure. That was until Liverpool chose to bring Mohamed Salah, formerly of Chelsea, back to the Premier League from Roma in summer 2017 to complete the formation of the famous front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Salah.
The Egyptian scored on his club debut at Watford, albeit in a disappointing 3-3 draw, and he would go on to score four more against them in the reverse fixture at Anfield. Salah scored against Arsenal, Chelsea and from distance in Liverpool’s 4-3 thriller against Manchester City in January. He scored three goals against Tottenham but most importantly he scored against Brighton on the final day, because that took him to that landmark figure of 32 goals in a 38-game season. Anguish would follow in the form of that shoulder injury he picked up challenging with Sergio Ramos in the Champions League final, but Salah’s 2017-18 league campaign is one of the greatest ever seen in the English top-flight. His haul of seven (7) LFC player of the month awards that season only goes to prove the point.
It's already been a year? 🤯#OnThisDay in 2017, @MoSalah signed for Liverpool 🇪🇬👑 pic.twitter.com/IXWQZtdZ4u
Salah overtook three 31-goal players with his 2017-18 season and one of them was an Anfield predecessor, Luis Suarez. The Uruguyan had to wait until late September before opening his account, not because of a slow start or injury but because he was completing a bumper 10-game ban, handed out for biting Branislav Ivanovic in his club’s home game with Chelsea in April 2013. It meant that Suarez could only feature in 33 Premier League games in 2013-14 but he certainly made up for lost time.
He scored hat-tricks against West Brom in October, Cardiff in March and got his customary glut against Norwich City with a magnificent four in a pre-Christmas rout of the Canaries. In fact, he scored 10 goals in December, which remains a Premier League record for a single month, but if there’s one criticism, on-field at least, it’s that he scored only two goals in April in May as Liverpool’s title bid gloriously neared and then vanished in dramatic circumstances. His last Premier League goal of the season, and indeed the last of his career in England, came in the 3-3 capitulation against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in Liverpool’s penultimate game. Suarez left the pitch in tears and left Liverpool soon after. Incredibly he would be caught out biting an opponent again at the 2014 World Cup to bookend a madcap campaign, but what a season it had been.
⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️🅰️#OnThisDay 8️⃣ years ago, we saw yet another Luis Suarez masterclass against Norwich 🇺🇾 pic.twitter.com/lYUBU2hR4N
This season was the one real glimpse Cristiano Ronaldo gave of the industrial quantities of goals he would plunder once he moved to Real Madrid in 2009. 2007-08 saw Manchester United win the Premier League title for the second season in a row and add the Champions League to boot. Ronaldo’s combination with Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez was awe-inspiring at times and the latter two players were invariably happy to put in untold grunt work for Ronaldo to profit from, and boy, did he profit.
The season started badly with a red card at Fratton Park in his second appearance, and the first goal didn’t come until United played Birmingham City in late September, via Rio Ferdinand’s penultimate Premier League assist. Like an orthodontist’s workload, Ronaldo’s season of plenty was built on braces, rather than hat-tricks of which there was only one (his second and third Premier League trebles would have to wait until the 2021-22 season in the distant future). He scored a pair of goals against Wigan at Old Trafford in October, Blackburn in November, Fulham and Everton in December, Portsmouth in January, Newcastle in February, Bolton in March and West Ham in May. His 31st goal of the season came in the final league game of the season at Wigan, a 2-0 win that gave Man Utd the title ahead of Chelsea, the same team they would soon overcome on penalties in the Champions League final in Moscow.
Man Utd 2️⃣ – 1️⃣ Arsenal
Cristiano Ronaldo & Owen Hargreaves struck as @ManUtd came from behind to end Arsenal’s title challenge, #OnThisDay in 2008 pic.twitter.com/RaoiduSzLz
In August 1995 Alan Shearer was coming off a 34-goal season (see above) and played for the champions of England. But manager Kenny Dalglish had moved to a mysterious director of football role, leaving Ray Harford as manager and Rovers with little chance, it turned out, of retaining their league title. So the fact that Shearer scored a then-record 31 goals in a 38-game season as Blackburn finished only seventh and fought each other in the Champions League was impressive. And it was a goalscoring season built around hat-tricks, with Shearer scoring a Premier League record five in one season. He ended the season with a brace against Wimbledon on a Wednesday in Lancashire and that was the last time the Ewood Park faithful saw Shearer score in blue and white. He top-scored at Euro ’96 and then moved to Newcastle United for a world record fee of £15m. He’d score more Premier League goals for Newcastle United than Blackburn, but never at the same sheer rate.
Yet more Shearer. This 31-goal haul came in a 42-game season so is perhaps less impressive than the 31 in 1995-96 but Shearer did score 12 away goals in 1993-94, a Premier League high for him, and he also answered any doubts that remained after the knee injury that had impacted 1992-93. This campaign is also notable for a total of nine braces, a seasonal Premier League record for a single player who caused double trouble on a relentless basis.
Four players have scored exactly 30 goals in a Premier League season and the most recent is Harry Kane for Tottenham Hotspur in 2017-18. In a lot of campaigns that would have brought a Golden Boot with it, but this was Mohamed Salah’s first season at Liverpool and we know exactly how that went.
Kane, as was the style in those days, did not begin his Premier League goalscoring until August had ended, with braces against Everton and West Ham in September getting him up and running. As it stands, here in summer 2022, Kane has not scored a Premier League hat-trick since 2017, when he scored two in four days in December, against Burnley and Southampton respectively. A brace on the final day against Leicester took Kane to 30, and it should also be noted that “home” for him this season was Wembley Stadium, as Spurs waited for their new home to be built. Kane followed up this season by winning the Golden Boot at the World Cup in Russia, so overall it was a more than satisfactory campaign.
Spurs 4️⃣-1️⃣ Liverpool
Harry Kane was the hero as @SpursOfficial cruised past the Reds #OnThisDay in 2017… pic.twitter.com/cSUtwyMBCn
There was never any doubt about Robin van Persie’s ability with the ball, just his ability to stay fit. Up until the 2011-12 season, van Persie had never managed to play more than 28 league games in any of his seven previous campaigns with Arsenal. In 2011-12 he played all 38 for the Gunners and in 2012-13 he played all 38 for Manchester United, scoring a total of 56 goals in those 76 games. 30 of them came in his final season with Arsene Wenger, with 10% of those coming in a memorable 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge, making van Persie one of only three visiting players to score a Premier League hat-trick away at Chelsea, along with Kanu and Sergio Aguero.
For a long time the Premier League’s top-scoring player with his weaker foot, van Persie scored 12 with his “chocolate” right leg in 2011-12. His final goals in an Arsenal shirt came as a pair against Norwich in May. A year later he was a Premier League champion with Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, something that has not happened again for any of them.
14' Lampard ⚽️
36' Van Persie ⚽️
45' Terry ⚽️
49' Andre Santos ⚽️
55' Walcott ⚽️
80' Mata ⚽️
85' Van Persie ⚽️
90+2' Van Persie ⚽️@Arsenal overcame Chelsea in one of the most entertaining #PL matches 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫 #OnThisDay in 2011 🤯 pic.twitter.com/cPDB9Om8pR
This was the only time Thierry Henry reached 30+ Premier League goals but it did come in a run of five successive seasons of 24+ goals so it’s the apotheosis of a period of footballing grace from arguably the competition’s greatest ever player. Add that to the fact that 2003-04 was the season that Arsenal won the title without losing a single game and Henry’s legacy is only enhanced further. The coup de grace was a pair of hat-tricks in the space of a week against Liverpool and Leeds United. The first rescued Arsenal’s unbeaten record and the second made it seem inevitable. Yes, 12 of the final 13 goals of Henry’s 2003-04 came at Highbury but it was a lovely pitch so what exactly do you expect?
👑 Just King things… not everybody understands ✌️😎
🗓 #OnThisDay in 2004, @ThierryHenry scored a hat-trick to lead us to a 4-2 victory over Liverpool at Highbury pic.twitter.com/ckG4xitKWs
The 11th player in this top 10 is Kevin Phillips, whose 1999-2000 season remains the best challenger to Andy Cole’s 1993-94 for goalscoring impact by a promoted player. Cole did it for Newcastle, Phillips did it for Sunderland and in the process scored 16 of his 30 goals away from home. In the 30-year history of the Premier League no other player has ever scored as often past the opposition goalkeeper away from home in a single season. His only hat-trick came on the road, away at Derby and his overall performance earned him not only the Golden Boot – no Englishman would win it again until Harry Kane in 2016 – but also a place in Kevin Keegan’s doomed England squad for Euro 2000.
Kevin Phillips catching it sweetly from long-range 💥#GoalOfTheDay // @SunderlandAFC pic.twitter.com/1Y4eZx0fcQ