When 29-year-old Jamie Vardy became the Premier League Player of the Year after he registered 24 goals during Leicester’s unforeseen 2016 Premier League triumph, many would have been forgiven for assuming he’d reached the peak of his footballing ability. Whilst his subsequent goalscoring record has been commendable yet not spectacular, his ratio in the opening third of this season has seen him match the form he had reached in the season he became a legend in the West Midlands. Vardy remains a key cog in what is now a very different Leicester side than the one four years ago, defying critics and age as he leads the goalscoring chart with 11 goals in just 12 matches.
This tactical analysis scout report will analyse Vardy’s prolific start to the 2019/20 season and his role within a Leicester side which sit second in the league, having recently equalled a 24-year-old record for the Premier League’s biggest ever victory.
Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester evolution, not revolution
Vardy’s least prolific form of his Premier League career came under the reign of Claude Puel, whose possession-based approach differed significantly to the signature counter-attacks of the title-winning team of 2015/16. At the time, Vardy vocalised the unsuitability of his favoured playing style to that of the new regime under Puel but pledged his commitment to fitting into the new system. Whilst Rodgers’ tactics still acknowledge a possession-based method, it is a system which caters for Vardy in a renewed role as he is not expected to particularly involve himself in build-up play or winning the ball back.
Instead, he is given the freedom to remain in high and central positions, tasked with finishing the team’s build-up play with minimal touches and rarely from outside the penalty area. The picture below against Crystal Palace shows Vardy in his favoured position, awaiting a final through ball from midfield following a fluid passing movement from Leicester.
Fox in the box
With Vardy’s role now more focused on converting chances, he is seldom expected to take more than a couple of touches before shooting at goal. The fact that all but two of his 11 league goals this season have been first-time shots illustrates how within the context of team play, his impact manifests itself at the very end of a team move. His effectiveness in this position is in large parts down to his finishing prowess as well as the intelligence in his positioning whilst waiting for the ball to played into him.
These instincts have been acquired through years of battling it out against varied defensive styles, learning how to effectively locate himself in space and how best to shape his body before the ball has reached him. An analysis of the image below against Tottenham shows Vardy to be centrally poised and situated in between the two centre-backs, angling for a through ball to run onto behind the defenders before unleashing a shot on goal from inside the area.
Again, Vardy uses his pace to effectively hold his line with the opposition defenders before bursting into the box with a well-timed charge before unleashing a strike at goal.
Even his solitary goal from outside the area this season, a first-half volley against Bournemouth in August, was still consistent with several of Vardy’s trademark striking instincts. In this case, he beat the linesman and two defenders with a burst of pace to run into the path of a ball from over the top by Ben Chillwell.
He then exquisitely finished with a lob from distance with only the goalkeeper in front of him. This instance highlights his threat from counter-attacking positions, adding a new option to Leicester’s typically possession-based playing strategy.
Focal point for an array of creative midfielders
Based on tactical analysis of his attacking output, what has proven crucial is the fruitful service he receives from his teammates. Playing in front of the creative James Maddison, Youri Tielemans and Harvey Barnes, Vardy often finds himself on the end of inviting passes. His preference to receive balls in front of him rather than having to come short reinforces the importance of a well-drilled understanding between himself and Leicester’s attacking midfielders.
Away at Brammall Lane earlier this season, Maddison’s perfectly weighted pass through the Sheffield United defence provided Vardy with space and time to run onto the ball and take the lead with a first time shot. In this piece of play, the home side are punished for leaving large gaps between defenders, enabling Vardy to exploit the space and outpace the backtracking John Egan.
As a striker who is less than two months shy of his 33rd birthday and who’s game is heavily dependent on sudden bursts of pace to get in behind the opposition centre-back, one would assume his best years were behind him. In fact, when compared to other strikers who play in similar roles such as Darren Bent and Michael Owen, the former Halifax Town striker should be well past his peak. However, typical player development timelines do not apply to the man who was playing non-league football well into his mid-twenties.
The lack of mileage in his legs at elite level as well as his 2018 decision to retire from international duty has enabled him to maintain his playing style as his acceleration and speed is yet to dwindle. The added recovery time during in-season breaks which so many of his fellow Premier League professionals are starved of will enable him to focus his physical exertion on maintaining the intensity of his instinctive bursts into goalscoring positions. Vardy seems unfazed by recent media pressure on him to reconsider his international future in light of his prolific run of form. This may be driven by the effectiveness of his current workload balance which enables him maintain his prolific form and not compromise his youthful playing style.
Jamie Vardy is in the form of his life. And for a striker who once broke the record for scoring in the most Premier League consecutive matches, this is a remarkable achievement. A focal point in a possession-based team strategy which he undeniably benefits from, despite not completely taking part in, he is now allowed to focus solely on doing what he does best – finishing.
Reaping the benefits of having “slipped through the system” in his younger years, he leads the Leicester line with the mind of a seasoned professional and the legs of a player in his physical prime. His attacking instincts in the final third and ability to finish first time make him a danger to Premier League defences, forcing centre-halves into the insecurity of whether or not to drop off in fear of being outpaced by a trademark run in behind.