All over the Premier League table, many teams’ positions looks strange and out of place, as if they might be randomly written down before the season’s opening weekend. Aston Villa, so promising just a few years ago, are all but mathematically certain of relegation; Chelsea are only now trying to pick up the shattered fragments of a disastrous first half of fixtures; Watford are comfortably sitting in mid-table, and most surprising of all Leicester City ride high challenging for the title in second place.
The Foxes are rejuvenated under Claudio Ranieri. Their squad still mostly resembles the one which looked nailed to the foot of the table a year ago, they have become an exciting and formidable unit. A combination of swift attack, organised defending and fearlessness against supposed superior opposition has propelled Leicester’s season from many a bookmaker’s tip for the drop, to potential serious contenders for the Premier League title.
This month’s transfer window is a tricky time for City to negotiate, however. Sir Alex Ferguson last month called on the club’s Thai owners to open their wallets for Ranieri to strengthen his squad and continue a title challenge, but that’s often easier said than done. The big names are generally unavailable during this window, while the manager’s main focus this month will be overseeing matches rather than assessing scout reports. It’s one of the big reasons why less business is done in January compared to the summer – attentions of managers, staff and players are mostly fixed elsewhere. That said, Leicester did well to move in quickly and sign hot prospect Demarai Gray from Birmingham City.
Leicester City’s biggest challenge this month is keeping the current squad relatively intact at the King Power Stadium. With their stand-out form, it is only natural that the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, have been earmarked by media and betting markets with potential moves. Chelsea and Manchester City are reportedly interested in record-setting goalscorer Vardy, Arsenal have been linked with a £25 million bid for Mahrez, and Manchester United have predictably been associated with both players (along with about five hundred other targets).
It is only natural that teams like Chelsea and Manchester United, struggling for goals, should chase two of the league’s top marksmen. For Arsenal and Manchester City, it is as much a case of ridding surprise top four rivals of key players as it is a question of bolstering their own squad.
While Leicester’s star duo make obvious transfer targets at first glance, there are arguments to be made against rushing to buy Jamie Vardy. While Mahrez almost certainly has a long future at the top of the game, his partner in crime might find it a little more difficult despite impressing so much with his scoring form.
Vardy has been on phenomenal scoring form, netting in eleven consecutive Premier League matches – the most of any player since records supposedly began in 1992. Proudly atop the goal chart alongside Romelu Lukaku, Vardy has fifteen goals from his first twenty appearances this season so far, a ratio that could see him net at least 28 times by the end of the season if form and fitness were to continue. Neither of those hinging factors look likely to last however, based on recent events. The goals that flowed for weeks on end have plugged up – Vardy has failed to find the net in his last four matches as the Foxes’ form has stalled. What’s more, the intensity of Leicester’s first half of the season may already be taking its toll – the striker will likely miss the next couple of fixtures at least after minor groin surgery.
This certainly could be nothing but a routine operation, but it is worth noting as the player has certainly been playing to a level he has never quite reached before in his career. For having played like a young and exciting up-and-comer, and with his rather boyish facial features, it is important to keep in mind that Vardy is already turning 29 years old. For the typical modern player he is at his peak, so a long term investment option is not to be found in the Englishman. Of course, that is not to say that others haven’t flourished late in their careers, but it also poses a large risk; if Vardy’s form turns out to be of the flash-in-the-pan variety, he is probably past an age that there is a chance to redevelop it.
Basically, Vardy’s worth relies on his goals, and with their drying up in recent matches, he has unfortunately failed to offer much else. Of every player to score six or more goals thus far this season (of which there are 17), Vardy’s pass completion percentage* is higher only than Southampton’s Graziano Pelle and Watford’s Troy Deeney. A disappointing conversion of 64.8% of passes puts Vardy behind the likes of criticised strikers Christian Benteke, Olivier Giroud and Diego Costa. And with his amount of passes per game sitting at the lower end of average (17.5), Vardy is overall contributing little to build up play in Leicester’s attacks. On top of this, the Foxes’ number 9 does not pose as an aerial threat, having won less than a third of such duels on average per game, while his dribbling success is less than 50%. The lack of overall contribution was especially evident in the recent defeat to Liverpool at Anfield – Vardy was unable to provide the vital technique and physicality to act as a lone striker, and as a result Leicester had no effective out-ball to aim for.
Criticism aside, Vardy has grown into lethal form as a penalty box striker, almost exclusively aiming to get on the end of attacking plays rather than helping to create them. It is an old-fashioned and commendable style, though one it is difficult to envision fitting in with Manchester City or Chelsea, both teams relying on everyone to adapt, create and finish chances where necessary. Players like Wilfried Bony and Loic Remy may have struggled at these respective clubs for similar reasons that they are rather one-dimensional. There is the added risk that, based on his last few years playing at a high level, Vardy may just be enjoying a rich vein of form that will deteriorate by the season’s end.
Jamie Vardy has spearheaded Leicester City’s challenge for the title so far this campaign, but it is important to be cautious of his overall contribution. If you support one of the big clubs being linked with his name, bear in mind his role is as a goal-poacher rather than all-rounder, and his form is unlike anything he has shown since playing at Conference level. I hope Vardy continues his exceptional form throughout the season, and guides Leicester to unprecedented heights; and that one of the ‘bigger’ clubs doesn’t overpay for his services this month and set him unfair expectations.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Alex Hannam
* – Statistics sourced from WhoScored.com