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Jamie Vardy

Premier League Player of the Month, October 2019

Jamie Vardy was named October’s player of the month, having scored four goals in three appearances to help maintain Leicester’s unlikely pursuit of qualification for the Champions League. In addition to his finish against Burnley, the rejuvenated striker, whose retirement from international football denies England manager Gareth Southgate at the very least a further valuable option, scored a hat-trick in their record-equalling 9-0 victory at Southampton.

The focal point of Brendan Rodgers’ improving team that, through the talented James Maddison, Ben Chilwell, Ricardo Pereira and more, largely plays to his strengths, he is was nominated for the award alongside teammate Youri Tielemans, Ilkay Gündogan, Jack Grealish, Dean Henderson and Willian of Chelsea, whose manager Frank Lampard won the managerial equivalent. That he won for the fourth time – the previous occasions came in October and November 2015, and in April 2019 – means that only Premier League greats Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Harry Kane, Steven Gerrard and Sergio Agüero have more.

“We know his quality,” Southgate recently said. “I have always left that opportunity open. I don’t see the point at this moment in time because the conversation I had with Jamie was around looking at younger players in that position. It isn’t one for now but we keep monitoring that because you have a ready-made experienced player who could come in if we felt that was the right thing.”

Tactical analysis
Vardy’s movement is unquestionably one of his greatest strengths. He is a predatory number nine, who prioritises bursting into spaces in behind defences (below), or moving blindside of an opposing central defender. When possession progresses into the final third, he will latch on to the furthest central defender, and move to between him and the relevant full-back; if the ball-carrier has the space needed to penetrate into and the angle of their delivery complements the direction of Vardy’s run, he will have a positional advantage over those defending against him.

If defenders are square – through both shoulders facing the opposition’s goal – they will struggle to turn and sprint against an attacker already pursuing the territory behind them; Vardy’s pace, particularly over the first 10-15 yards, makes him a highly challenging opponent in that context. The threat he poses forces them to read the ball-carrier’s body language, and potentially to move into a side-on position just as possession is released, similar to the one Vardy takes when he begins to accelerate. Even if they succeed in doing so and competing with him over a short distance, they will often lose sight of him when he moves to their blindside; whichever body shape the defender adopts, they potentially risk presenting him with an advantage.

If an opposing manager encourages a low block to restrict his opportunities in behind, the versatility of his finishing provides Vardy with an alternative route to goal. The variety he demonstrates may even make him one of the finest finishers in Europe; he can shoot accurately and powerfully with both feet.

If he poses a threat in the air it is far from traditional, but one that owes to the explosive qualities and timing that mean he can leap high enough to compete with far more rugged central defenders, (below) and one that is enhanced by opponents often prioritising his teammates if a cross is being delivered. By latching on to full-backs or drifting into spaces between opponents, and by using his accurate finishing while adapting his body shape to provide that finish, he is continuing to excel.

Role at Leicester
It was that same versatility that contributed to the four goals Vardy scored during October. Two were headers, and his movements into the final third regularly created opportunities to attack. The increasing influence of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology, however, may force him to adapt, because of the need to bend his run, and to change his body shape, to remain onside while instinctively moving into attacking positions. Changes made to Leicester’s approach have also helped.

Maddison started 2019/20 playing largely as an attacking, left-sided midfielder, one encouraged to drift inside and therefore to invite left-back Chilwell to overlap. More recently he has played more centrally as a number eight, alongside Tielemans and inside the more natural winger instead selected on the left, so Vardy’s movements have therefore continued to change. He is also starting to drift towards the ball – particularly when Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Pérez are used out wide.

When he does so, his ability to set possession with one-touch (above) often leads to combinations with a third individual, and with Barnes and Pérez – operating similarly to a central forward, in contrast to Maddison – making diagonal runs to inside the penalty area, they often move ahead of Vardy as he withdraws to connect. Maddison and Tielemans are also capable of accurately delivering through-balls between opposing full-backs and central defenders, inviting Vardy to make a delayed attack and to offer a threat from the second phase of an attack within an enhanced space.

The shooting threat posed by Maddison and Tielemans, who between them are increasingly penetrating to inside the penalty area, similarly complements Vardy because opposing defenders are attracted to that shooting threat. If Leicester’s wingers advance around an opposing block while two teammates progress into the penalty area, Vardy’s positive movements take him into pockets of space from which he can shoot (below).

A harsh criticism of Leicester’s 2016 title-winning team was that they remained one-dimensional, and it was that same school of thought that suggested it was their perceived lack of variety that contributed to their disappointing 2016/17. Challenging Liverpool and Manchester City may prove beyond them over the coming months but, with Vardy again central to their attack, they have a variety that may yet take them into the top four.

Jamie Vardy

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