Since Leicester City were promoted to the Premier League for the 2014 – 2015 season, the Foxes have scored 207 league goals. Jamie Vardy has been directly involved in 37% of them (56 goals, 20 assists).
The only player who has contributed to a greater percentage of his club’s goals over that same timeframe is Harry Kane (42%; 99 goals, 14 assists).
Riyad Mahrez may get more attention, not only because of his skill on the ball but also the constant rumors linking him with other clubs, but Vardy is the driving force behind Leicester’s potent attack. Without his 14 goals this season (tied for 5th in the league), the Foxes would not be challenging for a spot in the Europa League. Without Vardy’s 24 goals over the course of the 2015 – 2016 campaign, including a goal scored in a league-record 11 consecutive matches, Leicester City arguably would not have won the league title. On offense, Vardy is the undisputed first option when the Foxes need a goal. As Vardy goes, so go Leicester City.
And this is why Jamie Vardy needs help.
Leicester fans aren’t the only ones who realize that Vardy is the Foxes go-to player. Because he is the focal point in the final third of the pitch, the opposition’s defense, in particular the back line, can focus the majority of their attention on him. If the opponents play a back four, they can double him on either side of the pitch. If they play a back three, like Chelsea did in their FA Cup win over Leicester, the lone center back can simply follow Vardy from side to side. One way to counter this defensive double team is to play another forward.
Two strikers are double trouble for the defense. A back four can not afford to double team two forwards (especially when they make overlapping runs) because of all the openings this will create on the pitch for the remaining offensive players. Now imagine the problems two all-out attackers could create for a back three. On offense, especially on the quick counterattacks Leicester is known for, a Foxes front two could have applied consistent pressure to Chelsea’s back line. On paper, this was the Foxes strategy with Kelechi Iheanacho starting as Vardy’s counterpart up front. But would the formation on paper match what actually played out on the pitch?
Often the best way to tell a team’s formation is to watch it on defense. When in a true two-forward attack, the front two will split the full backs and the center back(s) on defense.
With so many teams using full backs on offense, players at this position have to be adept at handling the ball. A side effect of the forward-playing full backs is that center backs are usually not involved in a team’s attack (outside of corners) and, therefore, do not handle the ball much. When two strikers split the back line on goal kicks, if the keeper plays short, the defenders are trying to force him to play to the center backs. If players who aren’t comfortable on the ball are the ones handling it, they are more likely to turn it over. At times, this defense is exactly what Leicester deployed.
But more often than not, Iheanacho was not up front with Vardy, but instead dropped into the center of the second line. This defensive alignment is a sign a team isn’t truly playing two forwards.
On offense, two forwards ideally will split the defense near the 18-yard box. If the attackers stay somewhat close together, the defense will not be able to focus their attention on one over the other. This close proximity also allows the strikers to make overlapping runs, the strategy of which is the same as a stack on set-pieces: force defenders to attempt to occupy the same space, hopefully freeing up an offensive player for a shot on goal.
But Leicester’s attack often had Iheanacho distributing to Vardy . . .
Vardy making solo runs into the box . . .
Or Vardy looking for someone to cross to, only to see the penalty area empty.
Kelechi Iheanacho is only in his first year of hopefully many at Leicester City. The more time he gets on the pitch, in particular the more time he gets to play up front alongside Vardy, the better his interplay with Vardy will be. But even when Iheanacho appears to be given the chance to be Vardy’s striking partner, the positions he occupies on the pitch suggest manager Claude Puel has other tactical ideas.
The sooner Puel embraces a two-striker system, the better for not only Vardy but for the club as a whole. In the short term, the duel runs made by Vardy and Iheanacho will synchronize, resulting in less runs that hint at a lack of familiarity between players as was often the case versus Chelsea. In the long term, Leicester will see if they already have Vardy’s eventual replacement on their roster. (Hopefully Vardy will remain with the club for quite some time, but he is already 31 years old, semi-old for a #9. The sooner the striker succession plan is in place, the better.)
When it comes to being the primary offense for his team, there are few in the league that are as important to their club as Jamie Vardy is to Leicester City. It’s evident that opposing coaches know this, too, as the tactics they deploy suggest Vardy is the target of their defensive game plan. This was definitely the case against Chelsea in the FA Cup.
And Vardy still scored.
1-1!! Who else but Jamie M.F. Vardy??— Fosse Posse (@TheFossePosse) March 18, 2018
Just imagine what he could do with some help.