Norwich City's Premier League trip to Swansea City this weekend brings into sharp focus the contrasting fortunes of Dutch-bred strikers Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Wilfried Bony.
Ivory Coast international Bony notched his 20th goal of a prolific debut campaign in England to help the Swans earn a battling 2-2 draw at Arsenal to instill renewed belief they can avoid a prolonged relegation skirmish ahead of the Canaries' visit to the Liberty Stadium.
Norwich City eased themselves seven points clear of the bottom three with a timely win over Sunderland on Saturday, but victory over the Black Cats once again highlighted the enduring struggles of their own club-record signing, van Wolfswinkel. The Dutch international looks bereft of confidence after failing to add to his solitary Premier League goal, which came on the opening day of the season against Everton. The intelligent movement inside the opposition penalty box survives intact, but the lack of conviction is painfully evident in the way he snatched at a side-footed chance barely 6 yards out, followed by a mistimed close-range header. He bears little semblance to the predator who plundered so regularly at FC Utrecht and Sporting Lisbon.
The 25-year-old was purchased as a statement of intent from the Canaries' hierarchy -- the poster boy for their planned evolution ahead of a third top-flight campaign. But the mastery of his headed finish against Everton feels so remote. Bony notched a debut goal on the very same weekend in a 4-1 Premier League defeat to Manchester United, but the sporting story since of two strikers born barely a month apart has diverged markedly. Bony's 20 goals have come in all competitions and against the very best sides. The powerful frontman's direct, abrasive style seems perfectly suited to English conditions -- even incorporated within the refined philosophy of a club with a passionate commitment to possession and passing accuracy, two indices that Swansea top at this advanced stage of the Premier League season. Bony has 11 Premier League goals in 27 appearances, a haul built on an average of 3.2 shots per game and a shooting accuracy of 42 percent. Van Wolfswinkel has failed to adapt to a more circumspect, defensively oriented, counterattacking game plan under manager Chris Hughton. The striker has one goal in 21 league outings and averages 1.4 shots per match, with a shooting accuracy of 38 percent.
Bony's best work is always in the opposition penalty box, where his physical power and aerial ability have proved to be residually effective. That thumping goal against the Gunners was a perfect illustration -- the way he dominated Thomas Vermaelen before directing an unstoppable header past Wojciech Szczesny. The Ivorian wins 48 percent of duels with his opponents to van Wolfswinkel's 23 percent -- a valuable trait that has seen him flourish in the unique surroundings of the Premier League for all its high-class continental imports.
Van Wolfswinkel built his reputation as a cunning operator who preyed on high defensive lines and profited from the space in behind. Now he has to drop deeper and play with his back to goal in search of meaningful work in a side that routinely look to concede territory and possession.
The Canaries' record transfer outlay last summer to attract the likes of van Wolfswinkel, Leroy Fer and Nathan Redmond was admirably ambitious, but a maturing style of play has so far proved elusive -- particularly in the top part of the pitch, where the club's upward trajectory in recent years was constructed on the uncomplicated urgings of men like Grant Holt and Steve Morison. Bony is hewn from the same mould, and stopping him will be key to Norwich's chances this weekend.
* Statistics from squawka.com and whoscored.com