Why have Jamie Vardy and Islam Slimani struggled to form a clinical partnership?
Leicester were never going to match season’s performances levels, but it is not unreasonable to suggest we expected a little better from the defending champions. Claudio Ranieri’s side have excelled in their Champions League group, reaching the typically adequate total of 10 points with two games to spare. However, the Foxes sit 14th in the Premier League just two points above the relegation zone. Jamie Vardy’s lack of goals has been a key reason for their series of disappointing results, but when a striker struggles for goals there is always a ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum to pull apart. Has Vardy struggled for goals because of the drop off in team performance, or have Leicester struggled because he has not scored so many goals? By Ranieri’s admission, one difficulty Leicester have faced is how to combine Vardy with their big summer signing Islam Slimani.
The direction in which Leicester took their recruitment was always going to be intriguing. Their most feted signings of recent times have been plucked from obscurity; Jamie Vardy came from Fleetwood while N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez were found in the lower divisions of French football. When it comes to bringing in big names for sizeable fees however, their record is rather patchy. Esteban Cambiasso was an astute free signing, who was instrumental under Nigel Pearson as Leicester escaped relegation in 2014-15. Andrej Kramaric was signed that January for a then club record of £9.5 million, but flopped. Gokhan Inler was not much more than a squad layer last season as Danny Drinkwater and Kante made their midfield spots their own.
Under Thai owners, Leicester have been relatively wealthy for some time and had one of the biggest budgets in the Championship. However, their title win combined with new TV money has given them further riches and new-found status within the game. The east midlands club can now sign players like Slimani; a £29 million striker from Sporting Lisbon. The 28-year-old Algeria international is very much a signing for the here a now, and has bagged three league goals in five starts.
In stylistic terms, Slimani has superseded Leonardo Ulloa as the target man Ranieri can use should he wish to play aerial, direct balls forward, or as the striker he can use from the bench as a Plan B. However, you don’t pay £29 million for an alternative option, so Leicester will have to adapt to Slimani a tad rather than the other way around. Vardy and Slimani scored 51 league goals between them last year, but have only started three league games together.
In recent weeks, Ranieri has reinstated Shinji Okazaki in Leicester’s version of the ‘number 10’ role. He was a vital component in the Foxes’ system last season, because his work rate and positioning meant Leicester could play 4-4-2 on paper without looking outnumbered in midfield. Though Vardy’s main supply line came from Mahrez, Okazaki was also an important link player between Leicester’s midfield and the former Halifax striker.
Neither Vardy nor Slimani is inclined to do this; both are strikers who want to lead the line. However, they are very different in style, and necessitate that those around them adapt their game to suit them. A majority of Slimani’s goals for Sporting came from crosses and picking up scraps inside the penalty area. Vary scores his share of these too, but his signature move is using his abundant pace to burst behind defences into open space. Put simply, Slimani thrives of crowd scenes whereas Vardy prefers for the stage to be left clear. It is a frustration for Leicester that two players who enjoyed such fruitful seasons last term don’t seem compatible, but Vardy and Slimani are radically opposed. Ranieri might have to pick one or the other on a ‘horses for courses’ basis.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Alex Hannam
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