Alan Shearer has worked hard to up his game in the punditry stakes, but it was hard not to be puzzled by his recent comments about Jamie Vardy.
“Jamie is going through a goal drought and is not going to get out of it by sulking, because that is what he looks like he is doing at the minute,” chuffed the former Newcastle striker in his Sun column.
“He is not doing what he did last season and causing defenders enough problems. He is making it easy for them. There is a lack of effort there.”
Ironically, you could probably say the same about Wor Alan’s suggestions. If there’s one thing Vardy guarantees Leicester it’s a healthy work ethic, as he’s shown at every club from Stocksbridge Park Steels in English football’s doldrums through to Fleetwood Town and beyond. Similarly, suggestions of sulking feel speculative at best.
There’s no doubt that Vardy hasn’t been the razor-sharp terror of last season – arguably he struggled again in Tuesday night’s 1-0 win over Copenhagen – but how many Leicester players can say they’ve been up to those heady standards of last term? This isn’t 2015/16 anymore, no matter how much Leicester fans wish it was. Their side is now very different; so too are their rivals’.
Vardy’s role has changed – not least thanks to the arrival of Islam Slimani, who again stole his thunder in the Champions League.
The bullish Algerian didn’t score but set up compatriot Riyad Mahrez with a towering header from Vardy’s cross, proving himself once again as the focal point that Leicester are building their attack around this season.
Most of the Foxes’ play against Copenhagen was focused around direct balls to their new frontman, but little of it was good and Vardy was an demi-victim of that. Leicester looked most threatening in the first half not when they lumped it long to Slimani, but when they targeted the space between full-backs for Vardy to run into. That’s 2015/16.
Vardy now has competition up front in that sense – certainly, he’s not the sole provider of goals as a striker like he was alongside workhorse Shinji Okazaki last year, and nor is he the sole target for destruction. In reality, he’s being pushed wider.
The point was reinforced via Football365’s Daniel Storey, who pointed out on Monday: “During last season, Vardy managed a shot every 27.3 minutes, shot on target every 59.2 minutes and created a chance every 65.4 minutes. In Leicester’s first eight league games, the shots have come every 50.1 minutes, shots on target every 162.8 minutes (close to one every other game) and chances created every 108.5 minutes.”
Against Copenhagen he mustered three efforts, all from outside the box, two of them blocked. He created two chances directly (actually the joint-best total of a poor game), but it was his cross from which Leicester scored their only goal (another demonstration of the Vardy-Slimani-Mahrez love triangle in motion).
Shearer’s comments came after Leicester’s weak 3-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, in which Vardy was hardly involved and the Foxes didn’t even manage a shot on target.
At 1-0 down he became their lone striker as Claudio Ranieri nudged Ahmed Musa wide to negate the Blues’ damaging 3-4-3 formation. Left to plough a lone furrow with little to no support (Vardy often received the ball deep, and usually long), the 29-year-old struggled and his link-up with Musa all but disintegrated.
After that game, Ranieri came to his striker’s aid. “I told Jamie to stay with David Luiz,” said the Italian. “I wanted to give a point of reference to my players, to counter-attack and leave him one-on-one with Luiz. It’s not Jamie’s fault, it’s mine maybe.”
Ranieri’s deflective tactics may have gone some way to relieving Vardy of flak, but in reality Leicester were pretty dreadful in west London and last season’s top goalscorer stood little chance of making his mark on the game.
Gunner regret it?
It’s already led to the probing questions about whether he’d have been better off joining Arsenal in the summer, having turned down a high-profile move to the Emirates Stadium.
“I’ll bet Vardy has wondered, if only once or twice, about what might have been had he taken the plunge with the Gunners,” wrote former Foxes striker Stan Collymore in his Daily Mirror column. “What if he’d ‘risked’ moving to Arsenal, one of England’s biggest clubs, on a seriously fat salary and out of what is a relative comfort zone in the East Midlands? I'm adamant that had he done so, he’d be ahead of Danny Sturridge, Wayne Rooney and even Harry Kane in the England pecking order.”
Do we dare cry lazy again? OK, fine. Vardy didn’t join Arsenal because – like with England – he didn’t think he would have suited their system. He couldn’t, the man himself has conceded, even guarantee playing time. Gareth Southgate didn’t bring Vardy off the bench in England’s recent games against Malta and Slovenia, instead calling upon Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford. But in reality he probably picked Daniel Sturridge in both games not because Vardy is off-colour, but because of the former’s (supposed) ability to play in the tight spaces England encounter on a match-by-match basis.
There’s no defending some of Vardy’s finishing so far this term, but it’s hard to imagine that aspect of his game won’t improve in the coming weeks with a kinder set of Premier League fixtures on the horizon for Leicester.
For him this is, as is the case with the Foxes’ entire team, a testing period of adjustment that they haven’t yet come to terms with. But the simple point is this: Ranieri’s side are a much better team with Vardy in it. For now it’s worth preaching patience, not speculative absurdity. Sorry Alan.
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