Two young forwards born eighteen days and fifty miles apart have cut a swathe through academy defences this season. Dominic Solanke and Tammy Abraham have combined for 82 goals against England and Europe’s finest, split perfectly equally at 41 apiece.
That no Chelsea player had managed such a feat in more than two decades shows the scale of the achievement by a pair of boys who joined the club together as eight year-olds and can rightfully look forward to promising careers. Yet, whilst Solanke has been afforded a senior debut this season after two years of eye-catching performances for club and country, many keen observers have been equally as taken by Abraham’s sudden explosion onto the scene and project him to perhaps be the ‘better’ prospect.
It’s an interesting discussion to have, not least because two forty-goal scorers in the same team simply isn’t commonplace at any notable standard of football and the fact they have done so almost demands an analysis of their respective games. Solanke’s advantage of having had a full season of youth team football (and England Under-17 representation) prior to signing his scholarship last summer gave him a fair head start on Abraham, who followed a slower curve before picking up speed this term and galloping right into contention alongside his prolific teammate.
[table class=”table table-striped”]
Name,U21 Goals, U19 Goals, U18 Goals, Total Goals, Minutes Played, Average Mins Per Goal
At heart, they are both ruthlessly clinical goalscorers who do their work almost exclusively inside the penalty area. Just one of their combined total was scored from outside the box and that owed much to a goalkeeping error; Abraham guiding the ball into an open net from a yard outside the eighteen yard line. They’re impressive physical specimens and use that to their fullest, and they’ve been raised and developed in a Chelsea system that will always attack with fluidity and provide plentiful opportunities to score.
They are as different as they are similar though. Solanke’s more nuanced approach owes much to his early exposure to higher standards of football whilst Abraham brings a raw passion and work ethic underpinning his every action. He is the consummate team player, putting in the graft and the effort focused on scoring and on winning. Nothing else matters.
It shows in the goals they score and the way they go about their games. Solanke positions himself in the right place more often than not, on hand to turn home a half-chance or to latch onto a through ball courtesy of his intelligent movement. Abraham bustles around with his long loping stride eating up ground, energetically harassing defenders and beating them to the punch when the ball finds its way into the box. A particular favourite of his is the dart across his man to the near post for a simple finish, his desire to score combined with anticipation and movement just too good for opponents to handle. His movement into space belies his age and he has clearly demonstrated himself to be a deadly finisher, emphatically finding his mark week after week.
Cynics will doubtless point out that both have a considerable upper hand on opponents when it comes to their size, but putting aside the fact that it’s not a problem for a prototypical centre forward to be big, it’s also doing them a disservice to begin suggesting that they’re flat track physical bullies. They don’t rely on one aspect of their games to provide success, instead combining a rainbow of attributes into one highly effective package. They’re versatile too, with Solanke often seen dropping off into the number ten role and Abraham often utilised in a wider role, particularly to the right of the forward line.
Why has Solanke been given the bigger push, then, going from his early ascent to youth team football all the way to his senior bow against Maribor? The short answer is that his technical and physical progress has been just a tick ahead of Abraham’s at each respective age group, doubtless aided by being pushed onto more testing age groups, and in turn having the opportunity to work on his game more often against top quality teammates and opponents. He’s also stayed relatively injury-free for the last few years, whilst Abraham has had two or three spells out which may otherwise have seen him push on at an accelerated rate.
Solanke made his Under-21 debut last season and began this term under Adi Viveash’s tutelage, whereas Abraham only made that step up in February of 2015. Already accomplished against younger foes, his combination of size, two-footedness and unerring finishing allowed him to take on defenders bigger and older than he is, and with each appearance at the next level he’s looked increasingly at home, most notably in his hold-up play as a lone forward.
Would Abraham have done the same if the tables were turned? Quite possibly. After all, his 32 Under-18 goals this season have eclipsed Solanke’s 20 from this time a year ago, and he’s taken to Under-21 football just as quickly despite regularly playing out of position. He marked his first appearance at that level against Southampton with a brace in a sterling all-round showing and, with another two against Everton since then, has more goals in his maiden campaign at that level than Solanke did, albeit as a 17 year-old and not the youthful 16 of the guy we’re comparing him to. With the same chance to test his mettle against players of a superior class he could conceivably be further ahead; he recently gave Brendan Galloway (who made his Premier League debut this past weekend) a real going-over and makes life hard for every defender he faces by his sheer will. Given a full season at the next level, he’ll be able to work on his already impressive link-up play (ten assists this season) and smooth off some of those rough edges around his overall game.
To some extent though, it’s a needless exercise as at the end of the day Chelsea are blessed to have two hugely proficient strikers in their ranks, breaking records all over the place, and each spurring the other on to attain higher standards in the hope of impacting Jose Mourinho’s first team. It’s paid dividends this season with Solanke debuting and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think a strong start to 2015-16 could see Abraham follow suit? Two entirely home-grown youngsters firing the Blues to glory for a generation to come? Roman Abramovich would probably like that.