Stats Zone Premier League Striker of the Year 2015/16: Jamie Vardy

Apparently he used to play in non-league, you know – not that you'd have guessed judging by his top-flight displays this term, writes Michael Cox... 

Jamie Vardy's incredible rise from non-league to the Premier League has been (very) well-documented, but it's also worth remembering that he's made an incredible improvement simply from 2014/15 to 2015/16. He managed just five goals in his first Premier League campaign, then hit 24 in his second – an incredible rise.

Vardy was most devastating in the first half of the season, during the period before opposition sides realised that Leicester were the real deal. They were continuing to push high up the pitch and treating Claudio Ranieri's side like minnows, allowing them space to break into. Vardy proved the perfect counter-attacking centre-forward.

Vardy's pace is unquestionably his main asset, but no one can grab 24 goals through speed alone. The England striker has become much more intelligent in terms of his movement, often positioning himself in the channel on the opposite side to the ball, which has allowed Leicester – and particularly Danny Drinkwater – to locate him quickly with some excellent diagonals. His performance against Arsenal in a 5-2 defeat early in the campaign, where the 29-year-old scored twice, demonstrated his favoured gameplan perfectly.

The right service

It's about long passes, rather than long balls. Only one of Vardy's strikes has been hit from outside the box – his memorable dipping winner against Liverpool in February – but that was another demonstration of his favoured type of service: a long, lofted pass from Riyad Mahrez.

Vardy's first touch, too, is exceptional. He's not really a dribbler, and not someone who collects possession and beats opposition defenders with trickery – instead he concentrates on getting the ball out of his feet, and in a position where he can run onto it. So many of Vardy's goals are scored with two touches – one to control, the other to finish.

His accuracy in front of goal has been particularly impressive, having taken 43 fewer shots than Harry Kane and four fewer than Sergio Aguero, the other Premier League strikers to have broken the 20-goal mark this season. He's also proven excellent at drawing fouls from defenders inside the box.

It's significant, too, that half of Vardy's goals have been openers, putting Leicester in charge of matches and forcing the opposition to move forward, playing into the hands of Ranieri's counter-attackers.

His scoring slowed in the second half of the campaign, partly as defenders were playing deeper against Leicester and refusing to concede space. But when handed the opportunity to counter-attack, like against Sunderland, he was ruthless.

Another step up

Next season Vardy will be up against opponents who know about his strengths, which will make it tricky for him to match his goalscoring return. But then, his continual improvement over the past four seasons has been quite remarkable, and there's nothing to suggest he won't be capable of evolving his game. It will be fascinating to discover how he fares agains Champions League opponents.

Back in the autumn, it seemed breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy's record for scoring in consecutive games – Vardy made it to 11 – would be the highlight of his season. Instead, he's won PFA Player of the Year, lifted the Premier League title and looks likely to head to Euro 2016.

English football loves rags-to-riches tales, and stories don't come more remarkable than Vardy's evolution into the country's most feared centre-forward.

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