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Jamie Vardy’s Goal-Scoring: What Can We Expect?

An Investigation into the Finishing Skill of the Leicester City Striker

Arsenal FC v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Jamie Vardy has zero goals this season. Jamie Vardy, in fact, has zero shots this season. Before this changes (and it soon will), I wanted to take a look at a question that has always interested me: What kind of finisher is Jamie Vardy?

There’s no easy answer to that for a player who’s scored 164 goals for Leicester. He’s a scorer of great goals (that belter against Liverpool will be remembered at least as long as I’m alive). But he’s also undeniably a great scorer of goals (the oldest player to win the Premier League Golden Boot with 23 at 32).

Regardless, he’s provided immense amounts of joy to Leicester fans for a decade now. I picture him curling a one-on-one around a goalkeeper and then the next minute dropping off from defenders to finish a cut back. But memories are fallible. So let’s change the question a bit - based on what we and the data have seen from Vardy in recent seasons, what can the rest of the league expect from him once he does start taking shots? I’m not trying to start any arguments here - just provide a bit of descriptive color.

First, let me start by admitting that he was a bit of a flat track bully last year. While we’re used to his reputation of preying on the big six, only 1 of his 15 goals last season came against them. Part of that is because he only played 7 matches against them due to injury troubles. And some might argue that he’s slowing down a bit at 35 and unable to take advantage of top defenders. But as with most things, it seems more likely there’s just a bit of chance involved. Looking at the table below, some years it happens for him and some years it just doesn’t.

Jamie Vardy Goals Against Big Six

Season 2021-22 2020-21 2019-20 2018-19 2017-18 2016-17 2015-16
Season 2021-22 2020-21 2019-20 2018-19 2017-18 2016-17 2015-16
Goals 15 15 23 18 20 13 24
Against Big 6 1 8 3 5 11 6 7

Efficient, not Prolific

Why might Vardy be more susceptible to chance? My best guess is that it’s due to his being more of an efficiency striker than a volume shooter. I don’t think of him as always being on the ball and hammering a bunch of shots at a defense. It’s about working his way to get those high quality moments and making the most of them. And it bears out:

  • He doesn’t touch the ball a lot (around 20 times per 90, in the lowest percentile among PL strikers)
  • He takes an average number of shots (around 2.5 per 90)
  • He takes very high quality shots (generally around the 90th percentile of non-penalty xG per shot, 0.18 or so)
  • He puts close to 50% of his shots on target

But most importantly, he’s twice as likely to score his Shots on Target than the average striker (60% compared to 30%). If you’re a defender and you’ve given this man enough time and space to take a good shot, you’ve likely made a large mistake.

Where and How Does He Do His Damage

In general, Vardy’s reputation as a finisher is well-deserved. Over the past five PL seasons, he’s at 91 goals over 85 xG (2021’s hiccups aside). Not a Son Heung-Min level over performer, but still quite respectable.

As one could have guessed, only two of those goals came from outside the box. His average shot distance is right around the penalty spot, and almost all of his xG overperformance comes from that mid-penalty box area. Just think of that classic Vardy finish around the keeper from twelve yards out. On the other hand, he’s a relatively average finisher in the 6 yard box or outside the penalty area. I definitely won’t ever confuse him with Madders, but he’s also not the type to get a bunch of scruffy goals off a rebound or scramble right around the goal line. For all his scrappy reputation, he likes a clean shot with a bit of space.

Looking at how he scores, it’s a similar enough story - he prefers his right foot and it’s certainly better than most. And while he can use his left (23 of his 91), it’s a bit below par and serves as a makeshift when necessary. Unexpectedly, his cleverness especially shines with his noggin. While he’s only used it for 13 of those goals, he rates as an above average header of the ball as well, even at 5’10”.

Let’s Watch Some Tape

Disclaimer that I am not a professional analyst. BUT I did watch this video of all of his goals from last season three times and took some notes. Some things that stood out:

  • 10 of the 15 were first-time finishes (plus 2/2 against Liverpool in the EFL cup). There are no wasted or unnecessary movements and he loves a good half-volley
  • 14 of the 15 were from open play (he does play for Leicester after all)
  • He’s got every finish in the book, from a chip to a side-netting curler to a looping header, but especially loves a little precision strike into the bottom left corner that beats a keeper going to ground by a millimeter.

Overall, watching the tape reflects a combination of my memories and the data above. He’s instinctual, gets himself into the best positions to score, and takes his chances well. But all of the work he puts in is also evident. He’s economical with his footwork, meticulous with his timing, knows just how to shape his body, and has the experience to identify more often than not what the defenders and keeper are trying to do.

Vardy has lasted long enough in the Prem to see the top teams move away from pure strikers to false 9s and now back again. But he’s still here, Leicester are blessed to have him, and defenders will rejoice when he rides off into the sunset. Or Rochester. But hopefully just the sunset.

(Credit To FbRef, Understat, and FotMob for the statistics used in this article)