EPL Golden Boot contenders: Kane the favourite ahead of Salah, Lukaku new threat.

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Harry Kane elevated his game to a new level last season, claiming both the Golden Boot and Playmaker awards with a stunning 23 goals and 14 assists, despite a disappointing Tottenham finishing only seventh.

The England captain continued his prolific run at this summer’s European Championships, where his four goals in seven games were pivotal in guiding his side all the way to the final.

And despite the uncertainty surrounding his future, with Manchester City still convinced they will sign the 28-year-old, Kane remains the favourite to claim the Golden Boot once more.

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However, Kane is set to face fierce competition, with Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah – who will be boosted by the return of Virgil van Dijk – looking to reclaim his crown, after falling marginally short in pursuit of a third award last season.

Meanwhile, Chelsea are set to complete the big-money signing of Romelu Lukaku, who will return with a point to prove after being let go by the Blues back in 2014.

With the new campaign swiftly approaching, as Arsenal get the ball rolling on Friday with a trip to Premier League newcomers Brentford, Sportsmail takes you through the Golden Boot contenders below.

Harry Kane

A seemingly emotional Kane took a lonely lap of the enormous Tottenham Hotspur Stadium after the club fell to a 12th loss of the season in a 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa back in May, in what was their final home game of the campaign.

Many pondered whether Kane’s gesture was a last goodbye to the Tottenham faithful, a thought that was provided credence just days later as the striker opened up about his desires to leave the club in a bombshell interview with Gary Neville.

Nevertheless, the England captain put that to the back of his mind as he netted in Tottenham’s 4-2 final-day win over Leicester to notch his 23rd league goal of the season and thus a third Golden Boot award, becoming only the third player in Premier League history to do so after Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer.

But though a European Championships and a swift holiday to the Bahamas and Florida sandwich his latest triumph and the present day, Kane’s future is still just as precarious.

The 28-year-old remains desperate to join Manchester City who, according to the Evening Standard, remain ‘convinced’ they will sign the striker this summer. New boss Nuno Espirito Santo, however, insists Kane will be available against City in their Premier League opener on Sunday.

But regardless, whether it’s Tottenham or City Kane is playing his football for this season, he is certainly a contender for yet another Golden Boot.

The forward has scored 166 goals in 245 Premier League appearances and is just 21 shy of Andy Cole, who sits third the all-time standings. Kane has every chance of breaking into the top three next season, and could well pick up another Golden Boot in doing so.

Romelu Lukaku

After completing a stunning £98million return to Stamford Bridge, where he will earn £200,000-a-week, Romelu Lukaku simply can’t be overlooked in the race for the Golden Boot.

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In what was one of the surprise singings of the window, Chelsea finally announced the big-money deal on Thursday evening, with Thomas Tuchel improving on his already impressive squad.

With the future of Kane up in the air, and the likes of Jamie Vardy and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang somewhat faltering last season, Lukaku will be a real threat.

Already with significant Premier League experience, having scored 113 goals in 252 appearances across his spells with Chelsea, West Brom, Everton and most recently Manchester United, there’s no reason Lukaku won’t immediately hit the ground running at Stamford Bridge.

Lukaku was named in the Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament ahead of Kane, following his impressive tally of four goals in just five games.

His performances came as no surprise, having previously notched 24 league goals to guide Inter to a first Serie A title in 11 years, now set to leave the Italians with 64 goals and 16 assists in 95 appearances.

And in joining the European champions, Lukaku will certainly get his fair share of chances in front of goal – just look at Timo Werner last season.

Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah has been one of the most prolific and consistent scorers since signing for Liverpool in 2017.

The Egyptian has scored 97 goals in only 158 appearances in the Premier League, despite only scoring twice in 13 appearances in his brief stint with Chelsea.

Salah has notched a total of 95 goals in his last four seasons combined, two of which saw him claim the Golden Boot awards.

These were in the 2017/18 campaign, where his 32 goals in 36 appearances put him ahead of Kane on 30, and in 2018/19, when he tied with team-mate Sadio Mane and Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with 22 goals.

The 29-year-old will be desperate to claim the award once more, having lost out to Kane by only one goal last season. Liverpool fans will be hoping that Salah will get increased opportunity this season, after the Reds were decimated by injuries – both to the defence and the midfield – last season.

One concern for Liverpool will be the African Cup of nations, which is set to take place between January 9 and February 6 and will see Salah and his team-mates Naby Keita and Mane leave for international duty.

However, even if any of Guinea, Egypt or Senegal make it to the final, the Liverpool stars could potentially only miss two Premier League games, being at home to Brentford and away at Crystal Palace. That’s providing they are around to play Chelsea on January 1, and return instantly for Leicester on January 9.

While not ideal, it’s not quite as bad as when Mane missed seven games back in 2017 – and Salah will still fancy his chances of another Golden Boot.

Timo Werner

Now, Timo Werner’s inclusion in this list may surprise a few, after the German struggled immensely in his first campaign at Stamford Bridge.

The forward mustered just six goals in 35 Premier League appearances last season, having arrived for £53m from RB Leipzig, where he was utterly prolific, scoring 93 goals in 157 games.

Quite remarkably, it was midfielder Jorginho who finished as Chelsea’s top league scorer with seven goals.

But Werner did show undeniable improvement under Thomas Tuchel, who bettered the squad as a whole as they went on to beat City in the Champions League final.

And with Lukaku coming in, alongside the vast improvements shown by Kai Havertz towards the back-end of last season, Werner may feel less pressure in front of goal.

The 25-year-old admitted he was suffering with a lack of confidence after his poor start with Chelsea, but we could see an entirely different Werner if he can knock in a few early goals this season.

The one issue for Werner, however, is a potential lack of game time with Lukaku arriving, with the likes of Havertz, Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech all competing for a starting role.

Raheem Sterling

Raheem Sterling is perhaps another surprise on the list of contenders, but like Werner, he’s among the bookies’ favourites ahead of the new campaign.

Much of that will be due to his phenomenal performances at Euro 2020, where Sterling scored three goals in seven games and was named in the Team of the Tournament.

It was only in the 2019/20 campaign that Sterling looked to have taken his game to a new level, scoring 20 goals as City fell short in the title race against Liverpool.

However, it was a more challenging season for the forward last season, scoring only 10 goals as he was reduced to just 28 starts, with Phil Foden often preferred on the left wing.

There had been significant talk of an exit this summer after falling down the pecking order, but the 26-year-old is set to resume contract talks with City, according to The Sun, with two years remaining on his existing deal.

And according to the report, Sterling remains in Pep Guardiola’s plans, despite City’s recent £100m acquisition of Jack Grealish from Aston Villa.

Since joining from Liverpool in 2015, Sterling has played 292 times for City and has scored 114 goals. And if he shows the same form for club as he did for country over the summer, the Englishman could be right up there among the top scorers this season.

He’s currently on 96 Premier League goals as things stand, and he’ll no doubt join the 100 club next season.

Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes was simply sensational for Manchester United last season, finishing third in the top scorer charts with 18 goals, behind only Salah and Kane.

The Portuguese midfielder has been a revelation since his big-money move in January 2020, scoring an impressive 26 goals and providing 19 assists in just 51 games.

And though struggling in front of goal for Portugal at the European Championships, where he failed to register a single goal or assist in any of their four games, it would be less than surprising to see the midfield maestro have another stellar campaign.

While Fernandes was head and shoulders above the majority of his United team-mates at times last season, the Manchester club are looking a stronger outfit heading into the new campaign, on the back of finishing second to rivals City.

They have already announced the £73m signing of Jadon Sancho, who will add significant threat down the right-hand side and afford Fernandes more space in the middle.

And they are also on on the verge of completing the £42m signing of Rapahel Varane, who will undoubtedly make United a stronger unit as a whole, while Paul Pogba will hope to continue his phenomenal form for France under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Fernandes has already bagged an exquisite free-kick goal in United’s pre-season romp against Everton, and will come into the new campaign full of confidence.

Diogo Jota

Diogo Jota was exceptionally unfortunate with injuries with Liverpool last season, after making his £41m switch from Wolves in September.

The forward managed just 19 Premier League appearances, seven of which came as a sub, and only 30 in all competitions.

But when the Portuguese was on the pitch, he looked phenomenal. Jota scored an impressive 13 goals overall, including nine in the Premier League and four in the Champions League.

Jota is now enjoying his first pre-season with Liverpool, having arrived after the start of the Premier League campaign last season.

He’s already been impressive during pre-season, scoring with a tidy finish against Athletic Bilbao in a 1-1 draw.

And though Roberto Firmino notched two himself in the following 3-1 win over Osasuna, Jota will most likely be Liverpool’s starting No9 as the new season begins.

Should the 24-year-old stay fit for the full campaign, and should Liverpool come even close to their terrific best this season, Jota is certainly in contention for the Golden Boot.

Son Heung-min

Son Heung-min is a player that often gets overlooked, despite his highly impressive form in front of goal in recent campaigns.

The South Korean scored 17 goals and provided 10 assists last season, with his record-breaking partnership alongside Kane a major talking point right throughout the campaign.

Son, who has scored 107 goals in 280 appearances for Tottenham, signed a new four-year deal ahead of the new campaign, and at 29-years-old is now heading into the prime of his career.

Now, much of Son’s success last season did revolve around his partnership with Kane, who, as stated, might be off to City in the coming weeks.

However, Son has shone in Kane’s absence on multiple occasions throughout his Tottenham career. Additionally, with Kane yet to join up with his team-mates, Son has been playing up front throughout pre-season and has scored in three of four matches, including the winner in Tottenham’s 1-0 victory over Arsenal on Sunday.

Whether Kane stays or goes, Son looks in devastating form once more under Nuno Espirito Santo. He’ll certainly be up there come the end of the season.

Jamie Vardy

For his standards, Jamie Vardy didn’t have the best of seasons for Leicester in the 2020/21 campaign, scoring just the 15 goals.

It came after he scored 23 in the 2019/20 campaign to win the Golden Boot award for the first time, having notched 18 and 20 goals respectively in the two seasons prior.

Vardy has 118 Premier League goals in 245 games and is without doubt one of the best finishers in the division’s history.

But, now aged 34, there were definitely signs he may be slowing down somewhat last season. Though scoring 13 goals by Christmas last year, seven of Vardy’s strikes came from the penalty spot. After Christmas, Vardy contributed only two goals from open play.

And as Leicester beat City over the weekend to claim the Community Shield, it was Kelechi Iheanacho who scored the late penalty, after Vardy had already left the field.

Vardy will also face increased competition this season following the £23m signing of Patson Daka. But as he’s proved time and time again in his career, you simply can’t write him off.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Finally, we have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who endured a significantly below-par season with Arsenal in the 2020/21 campaign.

Having won the Golden Boot alongside Salah and Mane in the 2018/19 season, scoring 22 goals, Aubameyang managed just 10 last season, as Arsenal finished a point behind Tottenham and in eighth place.

And in what is a worry for Arsenal fans, Aubameyang has also struggled throughout pre-season, failing to score in any of their six friendlies.

It’s an issue for Mikel Arteta to solve, who must decide who plays as his primary striker, with Aubameyang often utilised on the wing – a position he’s openly admitted is not his best.

And if Arsenal are to break into the European positions once more, they’ll need their most prolific forward – who has 64 Premier League goals in 114 appearances to date – to shine.

But at the age of 32, it would perhaps be surprising to see the striker claim a second Golden Boot.

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