Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo tended to steal the headlines and demolish yet more records and defences this year, but both will finish behind another gluttonous goalscorer at the top of the club and country total on the final day of 2019.
As Spurs discovered to their cost on the stroke of half-time in what would become a humiliating 7-2 defeat at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the Champions League in October, Robert Lewandowski needs only the slightest sight of goal to inflict precise pain.
Spurs had been ahead and level before Lewandowski turned and struck with the most lethal of finishes on a grim night for Mauricio Pochettino that hastened the manager’s departure and underlined the striker’s capacity for brilliance.
No one has scored more than Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski in the last 12 months
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have both enjoyed a prolific 12 months for club and country
With 54 goals in 58 games for Bayern and Poland, Lewandowski has comfortably the most goals this calendar year.
He has been helped by Lionel Messi’s injury travails this season, but his more talked-about rival missed the chance to overtake him during December, ending on 50 goals from the same number of games as Lewy.
Messi has not done badly himself. The Argentina magician’s receipt of a record sixth Ballon d’Or reflected the aesthetically dazzling nature of his craft and his ability to change a game breathtakingly quickly, as Liverpool learned in cruel fashion when they were beaten 3-0 at Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals in April.
Two goals in seven minutes seemed to have put paid to Liverpool’s hopes of reaching the final, although Messi would undoubtedly trade those goals for the horror show Barca put on in the return leg, when they were vanquished 4-0 at Anfield on arguably the most memorable night of last season’s Champions League.
The bar has been raised from last year, when Messi finished top with 51 goals from 54 matches. He would have done so again had he repeated his feats of 2016, when he scored 59 goals, and 2010, when he netted 60 times.
Harry Kane and Sadio Mane have hit the same number of goals for club and country this year
Of the four occasions in the last decade when Messi has finished top, 2012 stands out. He finished on an incredible 91 goals that year – no other player has scored more than 70 in the last ten years.
TOP SCORERS IN 2019
Robert Lewandowski 54 goals in 58 apps
Lionel Messi 50 goals in 58 apps
Kylian Mbappe 44 goals in 49 apps
Raheem Sterling 41 goals in 61 apps
Cristiano Ronaldo 39 goals in 50 apps
Alfredo Morelos 38 goals in 53 apps
Andraz Sporar 36 goals in 46 apps
Erik Sorga 35 goals in 45 apps
Sergio Aguero 35 goals in 49 apps
Karim Benzema 35 goals in 50 apps
Harry Kane 34 goals in 45 appS
Sadio Mane 34 goals in 61 apps
Dusan Tadic 32 goals in 62 apps
Kamil Wilczek 31 goals in 44 apps
Timo Werner 31 goals in 47 apps
The youngest player on the list could justifiably be expected to dominate the ranks for the next ten years.
Kylian Mbappe turned 21 on December 20 and celebrated by scoring twice for Paris Saint Germain the following day to end on 31 goals in 29 Ligue 1 matches in 2019.
Mbappe is the only player on the list to have won the World Cup, scoring France’s final goal in a 4-2 win against Croatia in Russia last year, when his shots on target percentage of nearly 90 per cent was by far and away the highest of any player to score more than two during the tournament.
There is a chance Mbappe will be overtaken by Raheem Sterling should the Manchester City striker find the festive fixtures fruitful. Sterling’s 41 goals from 61 games put him three behind Mbappe going into City’s final matches of the year, when they visit Wolves on December 27 and host Sheffield United on December 29.
Even if he does, Mbappe might claim bragging rights given that he has taken notably fewer games – 49 – to reach 44 goals.
Still, Sterling’s story is stellar this year. Aside from winning the PFA Young Player of the Year Award, the Football Writers’ Award and an honour for his advocacy against racism, the 25-year-old’s surpassing of 40 goals means he will finish two ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo even if he fails to score between now and the end of 2019.
Raheem Sterling is the fourth highest scorer of the year, bagging more than Cristiano Ronaldo
Sterling has been synonymous with hat-tricks this year, scoring four of his five career trebles since January.
In March, he scored three against Watford and for England against the Czech Republic in a Euro 2020 qualifier at Wembley, and on the opening day of the Premier League season his second-half blitz ensured City’s title defence had a striking start with a 5-0 win at West Ham.
The most remarkable of his hat-tricks, though, came against Atalanta at the Etihad Stadium on October 22. In just 11 second-half minutes, Sterling scored the third-fastest Champions League treble in history, eclipsing Ronaldo’s feat for Real Madrid in 2015.
Five weeks later, Lewandowski completed his own hat-trick a minute slower but went one better than Sterling.
Lewandowski scored the fastest ever Champions League quadruple as Bayern hammered Red Star 6-0 in Belgrade to continue the spectacular form that saw the Bundesliga champions win all six of their group stage tests.
That took his tally to ten goals in five games in the competition and cemented Lewandowski as comfortably the top scorer in the group stage for a second season running.
Salzburg sensation Erling Haaland was the nearest player to Lewandowski in the group stage, scoring eight times, while a more familiar name came third, registering six goals.
Harry Kane has had an injury-halted year in a sometimes-troubled Tottenham side, but has still bettered Sterling and Mbappe’s individual totals in the Champions League so far this season.
Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos has often been in the goals for Steven Gerrard’s side this year
Dusan Tadic was one of Europe’s deadliest, taking part in a remarkable Champions League run
Unsurprisingly, the England captain has played the joint-fewest games for club and country of the names on the top scorer list, but his record of 34 goals from 44 matches shows how clinical he is.
By comparison, Liverpool’s Sadio Mane has taken 17 more games to score the same number of goals as Kane, although Mane was by far the happier of the adversaries after the pair met in the Champions League final.
The pair are a goal behind Sergio Aguero, who was helped by a February purple patch that would have inspired Sterling at Man City.
Aguero scored Premier League hat-tricks in successive weeks at the Etihad, helping his side to a 3-1 win over Arsenal on February 3 and a 6-0 trouncing of Chelsea on February 10.
The Argentina striker’s run of 35 goals in 49 games leaves him a hat-trick short of a fiery character known to forge fear into any defence attempting to resist Rangers.
As the sixth-highest scorer of the year, Colombia star Alfredo Morelos is a goal behind Ronaldo, with a formidable strike rate of 38 goals from 53 games.
In a tough Europa League group, Rangers progressed ahead of Young Boys, who only missed out on Champions League qualification on away goals in the play-offs, with the help of six goals from Morelos.
That makes the striker, who sent Rangers on their way to the group stage with a hat-trick in qualifying, the top scorer in the competition so far.
Manager Steven Gerrard will now hope Morelos can avoid any more of the disciplinary issues that saw the Scottish Premiership’s current leading marksman sent off for goading Motherwell fans after scoring against them on December 15.
Gerrard feels the best is yet to come from the 23-year-old, who only debuted for his country towards the end of 2018 and signed a new contract at Rangers in March.
Arch-rivals and fellow Europa League knockout stage qualifiers Celtic could be about to sign the striker behind Morelos in this year’s hall of fame for forwards.
Ronaldo hit a hat-trick in the semi-final as Portugal won the inaugural Nations League in June
Andraz Sporar secures seventh with a potent display of 36 goals in 46 appearances for Slovenia and Slovan Bratislava, although he was unable to help Slovan secure more than a solitary win in the Europa League proper as they finished well short of second-placed Wolves in their group.
That is likely to put Celtic, who finished top of their group, in a strong position to sign Sporar. Hoops coach Neil Lennon has confirmed that negotiations have begun.
Between Morelos and Sterling on the list, Ronaldo has hit 39 goals in 49 matches and has the distinction of being the only leading scorer to have picked up international silverware this year.
The Juventus goal machine captained Portugal to glory in the inaugural Nations League, sending them on their way on home soil with a hat-trick in the semi-final against Switzerland on June 5, including two goals in the final three minutes of normal time.
Ominously for Portugal’s foes at Euro 2020, Ronaldo has had his most prolific year at international level, scoring 14 times and closing in on the record for a player of 109 national goals, set by Iran’s Ali Daei.
He scored four in Lithuania in a Euro Qualifier in September, including a 15-minute second-half hat-trick.
Ronaldo reached 99 goals for his country without being fully fit and can become the second male player ever to reach 100 international goals when Portugal begin their preparations for the tournament in March.
His response to the suggestion that he could beat Daei’s mighty total was steely: ‘All records must be broken and I will beat that record,’ Ronaldo promised, adding: ‘When it comes to sacrificing myself for my club and my national team, I do it with pride.’
Injuries inevitably have their say on defining the leading scorers but, at 34, Ronaldo does not seem unduly hampered by fitness concerns, while Lewandowski played through a groin problem that he has now had an operation on.
Bayern are not back in action until January 19, so that should mean Lewandowski does not miss any early chances to start his 2020 collection. ‘We don’t want to waste any time’, his manager, Hansi Flick, understandably urged, predicting that his exceptional striker would recover within two weeks.
Kylian Mbappe scored 44 goals for France and Paris Saint-Germain over the course of the year
Messi could well have scored the five goals required to overhaul Lewandowski had he not missed five matches of the Liga season already, including more than a month out with a foot problem at the start of the campaign.
Kane would likely be in the top ten without injuries, as he would only have needed three more goals to surpass the likes of Slovan Bratislava and Slovenia’s Andraz Sporar, Flora and Estonia’s Erik Sorga and Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, who has scored 35 times despite not being part of the France squad.
Benzema has scored 155 times and set up 75 goals since 2010 – giving him the most goals and assists of the decade of anyone except Messi and Ronaldo.
A name further down the list may provide the most immediate threat to Lewandowski’s supremacy and Tottenham’s chances of qualifying for this season’s Champions League quarter-finals.
Timo Werner has attracted interest from leading clubs across Europe on his way to firing Leipzig to the top of their Champions League group and a round of 32 meeting with Spurs – and he is only one goal behind Lewandowski at the top of the Bundesliga’s most prolific.
Used sparingly by Germany so far, the 23-year-old is a matter of seconds behind Lewandowski’s goals-per-minute count of 79 minutes per strike, with both players in contention to break legendary poacher Gerd Muller’s record of 40 domestic goals in a season in Germany, which has stood for 48 years.
As the third-youngest player to reach 75 Bundesliga goals, it’s safe to suggest that Werner will be higher up the chart this time next year, looming ever larger on the radar of Premier League managers.