Finding the next Jamie Vardy – Tactical Analysis

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Jamie Vardy. The man who came from non-league to reaching the incredible heights of lifting the Premier League title at the King Power Stadium. Providing unforgettable moments like Martin Tyler’s “It’s eleven, it’s heaven for Jamie Vardy“, emphasizing the greatness of his 11th consecutive game with a goal in the Premier League (a record that still stands today). A truly iconic forward, not to mention incredibly unique in his career path, personality and play style, Jamie Vardy has been instrumental to Leicester’s years of success. We all remember their stunning Premier League title win, but Leicester’s exploits have only continued since 2016, winning the FA Cup in 2021, finishing fifth in back to back seasons in the Premier League in 2019-20 and 2020-21, and now fighting for the Europa Conference League against Mourinho’s Roma.

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Despite being beloved by coaches and fans alike and also maintaining his constant threat in front of goal for Leicester (amounting to 128 Premier League goals in less than 10 years), it may be time for the Foxes to recruit a new livewire to partner Kelechi Iheanacho, or even to take on the arduous task of leading Leicester’s front line all on their own. It would be nearly impossible for Rodgers and his men to find another hidden gem in the depths of the National League. However, now that Leicester have the finances to spend more than the notorious £1m steal spent on Vardy, there are a vast array of options within the transfer market for the Foxes to make their best attempt at recreating his legacy in the Premier League. So with that, we make strides toward helping Leicester in that complicated cause.

Criteria

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Being the successor to Jamie Vardy will not be a simple task. Widely considered one of the greatest players in Leicester City’s history, Vardy has been at the club for ten years now. During that time, he’s won a Football Writers Association Player of the Year award, the league’s Golden Boot, and scored more goals after the age of 30 years old than any other player since the league’s inauguration. Not only has Vardy been a great player for the Foxes, he’s also been a loyal servant. Even in the summer of 2016 when Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal initiated his meek £22m release clause, Vardy turned town the offer, opting to carry on what he started at Leicester City Football Club.

Any potential Vardy replacement will need some degree of loyalty to the club, but more importantly, longevity. Many of Vardy’s best days have been in his late twenties to early thirties, with the footballer only getting better with age in some respects. The physical requirements therefore don’t just require a player to be remarkably quick and intelligent with their movement out wide and into the half-spaces, but also durable. Vardy thrives on passes over the top where he can use his electric pace to evade defenders, and he often uses these situations to create chances to an equal effect as scoring goals.

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A master of off the ball movement, Vardy knows exactly how and when to position himself to score goals. He’s excellent at pulling off the shoulder of the defender and creating space for himself, where he can use his unbelievable speed to beat even the quickest of defenders. We would identify Vardy as a ‘Channel Runner‘, due to his natural desire to drift over to the left half-space and exploit space beyond the defensive line in the wide areas. His direct goal-scoring makes him a useful ‘Fox in the Box‘, but even at the tender age of 35, he’s able to provide so much more for his team. His movement and raw running power are obvious physical traits, but his defensive work often goes unnoticed and underreported.

When defending, the ‘number nine’ becomes a hound. His defensive numbers have skyrocketed down in 2021-22, but throughout his career he has always been a tireless, aggressive presser of the ball and someone that wants to contribute to every part of the game. As a result, any candidate with a predisposed gegenpressing mentality would be of a huge advantage for the Foxes. The ability to create chances for others and rack up the assists is another underrated quality that Vardy possesses, and one that would be of use to getting Leicester’s current strikers to continue firing. But despite all that Vardy can provide in and out of possession, his main two qualities will always be his direct running power, and his direct goal-scoring ability. He’s the type of striker that doesn’t even need to be having a good game. All he needs is one chance at goal, and without fail, he will find the back of the net.

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Scoring 128 Premier League goals takes some doing, and demonstrates Vardy to be a man not only capable of finishing off chances, but creating moments for himself to find the back of the net. Having started his career for the Stocksbridge Park Steels, Vardy’s case study is all the more unique, and we will be lucky to ever encounter a player like him again – rising from non-league football at 25 years old, to the very top of the Premier League at 27. The composure of Vardy’s finishing throughout his career has been unbelievable, and makes him an unstoppable menace when challenged with a 1v1 against the keeper. Equally, Vardy has the uncanny ability to score any type of goal from any type of situation. Exceptional at the one-time finish, Vardy scores volleys, headers, left-foot, right-foot goals, and even the cheekiest of penalty kicks. Even at 35 years old now, his goals per 90 (0.63) rank him 5th in the Premier League. So with that, even if a player would make for the perfect Vardy replica in a robotic lab, if they can’t score goals for fun, they can’t be included in our list of potential Vardy replacements. Some early candidates were knocked off as a result, and in their search, Leicester need to consider this factor over any other.

In our search, we’ve also set the age limit at 29, ensuring the Foxes can secure a long-term replacement for the 35-year-old. Simultaneously, we’re looking for players within Leicester’s budget, and considering only those that would make for realistic targets for the Foxes and not have their sights set on much higher aspirations at this point in their career.

So with that, here are the top five candidates to be the next Foxes’ fan favourite – the next Jamie Vardy.

The candidates

1. Ben Brereton Diaz

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In seeking a replacement for Jamie Vardy, why not delve into the Championship – where Vardy first made his rise to Leicester fame. The Championship has a host of stellar strikers at the minute, one of which being Blackburn’s Chilean superstar Ben Brereton Diaz. Having scored just 7 goals in 40 appearances last season, Ben Brereton Diaz’s growth over the past 12 months has been unimaginable. He’s netted 4 goals in his 12 appearances for Chile since the start of 21, quickly becoming a fan-favourite for his national team, and even having a street named after him in Santiago, Chile. But his most impressive run of form has come this season in the EFL Championship, where he’s bagged 21 goals in 36 appearances.

The Chilean ranks a modest fifth out of all players in the league for goals per 90, at 0.65, behind three other former Premier League strikers (Mitrovic, Gray and Solanke). Given that he only scored 17 goals in the Championship prior to this season, recruitment analysts may be skeptical of his form this season as a one-off occurrence. However, when you consider his tireless playing style, any middling Premier League side would be foolish not to enact a transfer fee for the Rovers man.

He’s not quite as explosive as Vardy, but significantly more skillful – capable of beating several players at once and pulling off flicks, tricks and nutmegs for fun. Despite the fact that Brereton’s dribble success rate is only 46%, his total dribbles attempted per 90 figure (3.7) shows how brave he is at trying to create magic for his team. With his South American heritage bursting through his veins, this is unsurprising. Completely different in running style and slightly more creative, where Diaz compares extraordinarily well to Vardy is in immaculate finishing ability – with a perfect mix of composure and precision. Also capable of playing off the left, Diaz provides a nice balance to the Blackburn attack that would be able to replicate Vardy’s natural inclination to drift over to the left and burst away. In fact, it’s his scoring form from the left that has been most impressive this season – scoring 9 goals from 9 appearances as a left winger, compared to 10 from 20 up front.

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Encouragingly for Leicester, a relatively low price would be required, as Blackburn seem destined to remain in the Championship next season. A 12-month extension clause exists within Diaz’s current contract, but with his poise on the ball matched with that exceptional finishing ability, the 23 year-old seems destined for a Premier League move. While he’s not an exact replica of the Leicester City striker, Ben Brereton Diaz would make for an excellent addition to the Leicester City squad, and we have every reason to believe that he’d be capable of filling the Vardy void.

2. Taiwo Awoniyi

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If looking for a pacey striker who can bang in the goals, you have to look no further than Bundesliga superstar Taiwo Awoniyi – another striker who has come to life in 2021-22. Like Vardy, Awoniyi takes most of his shots from inside the box and often inside the six-yard box. This carries over to the stat sheet, as both strikers’ average distance from goal when shooting is between twelve and thirteen meters. Without context, this seems irrelevant. But what this means is that Awoniyi would likely be capable of adopting the exact same positions as Vardy, with the exact same level of precision in front of goal.

Importantly for a player of Awoniyi’s quality, within Urs Fischer’s relentless Union Berlin side, the Nigerian forward has immensely developed his defensive work rate. His pressure success rate sits at 32.1% this season, better than any other candidate on our list, and higher than Vardy’s achieved at any point in his Leicester career. This is one of the most influential assets to the Nigerian forward’s performances, as it creates much of the chances Union Berlin utilize to score, even if it isn’t always Taiwo propping them into the back of the net.

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On the counter, where Union Berlin thrive, Awoniyi makes sensational use of his speed and strength. He has the firepower and touch to take defenders on 1v1, or hold up the play and wait for teammates like Sheraldo Becker to offer him support. When dribbling this season in the Bundesliga, Awoniyi has found himself getting past his opponent 52.6% of the time which is only 4.1% lower than Jamie Vardy in his Premier League Golden Boot season. Having scored 16% of his goals from outside the box this season, the Nigerian offers a sense of unpredictability that most goal poachers don’t provide. Meanwhile, he’s also capable of performing in a front two, having played alongside a partner in the past few seasons at Union Berlin. While few can match Vardy’s insane goal record, Awoniyi has the potential to continue his scoring form and rise to the occasion in the Premier League.

3. Arnaut Danjuma

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Having burst onto the scene at AFC Bournemouth, Arnaut Danjuma has been tearing it up in La Liga this season for Villarreal, and is now a Champions League semi-finalist. The Villarreal man is the only player on this list who can say that, including Jamie Vardy. And you’d think, even though Leicester are a great side, a player in his position would be aiming a little higher. Being 25 years old now, it may be the perfect time for Danjuma to make a return to England, and become a cult hero for a club like Leicester City, rather than riding the bench and playing every other week at a bigger club.

With his electric pace and outstanding skill, the Villarreal talisman has proven worthy of a place amongst the best forwards in world football. Danjuma has also shown a good record from the penalty spot, slotting away 3 of 3 he’s taken this season, complimenting Vardy’s record of 26 from 31 since 2015. Positively, the former Brugge man seems more competent passing the ball than Vardy, as shown by his 77% pass completion against Vardy’s 68.0%, and more than double Vardy’s numbers in progressive passes per 90.

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Encouragingly for a club like Leicester, Danjuma has been spectacular on the counter for Unai Emery’s team – one of the standout performers in their stunning Champions League run with counter attacking at the forefront. His non-penalty xG per 90 speaks for itself – within the top 6% of all forwards in Europe’s top five leagues this season at 0.54. This showcases his natural knack for finding space in the box to finish off chances. However, his actual goal tally reaches lower heights (0.45 per 90), suggesting he has been unable to put on a Jamie Vardy-esque clinic in front of goal. On the other hand, this figure is still remarkably high for a player playing his first season of frequent football in a top five league. Sadly, if Leicester want to make this deal happen, they’ll need to snap him up before Europe’s elite swoop in for the 25-year-old.

4. Emmanuel Dennis

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Emmanuel Dennis has been a revelation since arriving at Vicarage Road, and although the Hornets are doomed for relegation, Dennis has been one of the shining lights in a difficult Premier League season. Also tipped to be a potential Sadio Mane replacement in our Finding the next Sadio Mane – Tactical Analysis, Dennis has that perfect mix of pace, power and direct goal-scoring threat. 10 goals with 6 assists this season may not be seem overly impressive, but Dennis absolutely flourished this season at Watford’s highest point – under Xisco Munoz. His goal tally has tailed off toward the end of the season, but his goals per shot ratio at 0.16 is commendably high, and he’s contributed to 50% of Watford’s goals this season. This means that Leicester would have the ability to use Dennis’s exceptional pace and power in behind an opposition back-line, but create higher quality chances for a man clearly capable of scoring.

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Measuring at only 5’8 doesn’t bother the Watford man, still making himself an intimidating preposition for opposition keepers. One of the main facets that links Watford’s talisman to this new role at the King Power is his preference to move wide and create space for himself, which has led to many of the Hornets’ goals this season. The difference between the 24 year-old and Leicester’s icon is that Dennis is much more influential in the interplay to build the attack, whilst Vardy is there to make runs up the line. This could benefit Rodgers more as he likes his teams to control possession and play the game at their tempo. The more men moving into deeper positions or coming wide to hold the ball will encourage that. Dennis’ 2.04 progressive passes per 90 will also help the Foxes’ control the tempo as his performances often see him dropping deeper to keep the pace of the game at a high level. Simultaneously, Leicester could position Dennis higher up the pitch, allowing him to be more influential closer to goal, rather than Watford’s approach of requiring the Nigerian to be their key force in both scoring and creating chances.

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The final extremely valuable characteristic of Emmanuel Dennis’ game is his anticipation whilst defending, (shown by his 2.42 tackles + interceptions per 90). Far clear of Vardy, even in his best years for the Foxes. With the ex-Club Brugge man being a useful asset in and out of possession, he could be a great choice and at an affordable price once Watford inevitably end up in the Championship next season.

5. Patson daka

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The final option on the list is a young striker who has already arrived at King Power Stadium, and is slowly learning the Vardy role in his debut season. Patson Daka has shown glimpses of promise this season and when diving deep into the numbers, his performances in a blue shirt could be enough to lead the line alone for Rodgers in the future. £30 million has already been splashed out on the young Zambian, and Leicester might stick with what the player they know best, and develop Daka’s overall game. A pacey, exquisite finisher with an energetic defensive presence to compliment his game, Daka has the tools needed to be a potential Vardy replacement in the future.

Having only ever played in the Austrian Bundesliga before his move to Leicester, Daka’s needed time to become accustomed to the high tempo, physical, ‘every game matters’ vibe of the Premier League. He could easily be in for a second season surge. Once his game-time increases, his performances are bound to follow suit. He has all the necessary abilities to make it as a top striker in the Premier League, it is just about being able to adjust to the demands, and realize that he may never be able to truly fill the boots of one of the Premier League’s all-time greats. In order to become a Leicester legend, he needs to become his own player, not a replica of Vardy.

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Due to his limited minutes, it’s easy to question Daka’s potential to fill the void. But as they sometimes do, the stats tell their own story of success. Per 90, his goals are at a very impressive 0.36, which puts him unsurprisingly ahead of a £100m man, Romelu Lukaku. While it seems obvious now, this is a feat no one would have imagined prior to the start of the season. The former Salzburg star’s xG per 90 reaches similarly positive heights (0.31) and his shot on target % is remarkably high at 57.1 – only trailing Emile Smith-Rowe and Man United’s Fred. When looking for a potent striker in front of goal, Leicester will be encouraged to see that the man already within their ranks features inside the top twenty in the Premier League for goals per shot (0.19) – which is reasonably comparable to Vardy’s outrageous 0.26. If given more minutes, Daka could easily retain the high standards of his Salzburg days, and fulfill the potential he brought with him upon joining the club. Perhaps Leicester City’s new Jamie Vardy has already arrived.

honourable mentions

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In case you are screaming for other talents to be given deserved recognition, here are some top level strikers that just missed the cut:

Jonathan Burkardt
Potent finisher, direct runner, and young striker still learning his trade at Mainz 05.

Inaki Williams
One of the most durable forwards on the planet, and similar to Vardy in immaculate pace and power to evade defenders.

Martin Terrier
Excellent interplay and intelligent off the ball movement, helping raise Stade Rennes’ game this year to third place.

Lois Openda
Incredibly nimble and agile, and a major factor for Vitesse’s European progress this year.

All of these players would provide stellar goal-scoring ability and direct running power, but were discounted for other reasons in place of our five candidates.

Verdict

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Jamie Vardy is an almost irreplaceable player. It’s not just his general play on the pitch but also the record breaking experiences and kooky persona that have led to his legendary status. Given the arduous task of replacing such an iconic figure, we think Leicester would be right in sticking with what they know, rather than splashing the cash for the second summer in a row. Patson Daka could be the perfect man to pursue the number 9 for the Foxes, with both similar stylistic traits, and standout goal-scoring capabilities. Arnaut Danjuma may be the most talented and efficient player on the list. However, the Foxes could invest the money they may receive this summer in other more pressing areas, and give Daka his chance to enter the limelight. Replacing Jamie Vardy may never be possible, but the young, lightning-quick striker could certainly give it a right good go.


So there it is! Finding the next Jamie Vardy with Charlie Ellis. Be sure to check out more from this series below, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

-> Finding the next Fabinho – Tactical Analysis
-> Finding the next Sadio Mane – Tactical Analysis
-> Finding the next Mohamed Salah – Tactical Analysis
-> Finding the next Roberto Firmino – Tactical Analysis

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