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Jamie Vardy’s Leicester form analysed with Brendan Rodgers
Ahead of Friday Night Football, Brendan Rodgers speaks exclusively to Sky Sports about Jamie Vardy's stunning form for Leicester City
Last Updated: 25/10/19 10:38pm
He is a club legend. A Leicester City icon. A folk hero. And he might just be getting better.
Jamie Vardy has outscored every other player in the Premier League since Brendan Rodgers took over. In fact, he has scored as many goals in his last 20 appearances as he had on the day that he broke the competition record by scoring in 11 consecutive games.
At 32, he is leading the line for a Leicester team that can move above Manchester City into second spot with a win over Southampton on Friday Night Football. How is he doing it?
Rodgers is the man to ask. The answer, as he explained during our conversation at the King Power Stadium, is one that encompasses reasons mental, physical, technical and tactical.
Firstly though, it is about desire.
"Jamie has been on this great journey and won the title but he never felt like that was his lot," Rodgers tells Sky Sports. "He could have sat on it. But he is very hungry and very determined to keep improving and be the best that he can be. He wants to develop his game. That's refreshing."
Appetite is one thing. The physical capacity to do it is another. Pace remains a huge part of his game - and it is a young man's game. When Michael Owen was 25, he was at Newcastle, bereft at those faltering fast-twitch muscle fibres. When Vardy was 25, he was still playing non-league football. All these years on and he is still showing no signs of slowing down.
"He is as quick as any player that I have worked with over 15 metres," says Rodgers. "If we get the space to play him in then we know he is away because that explosion of speed is incredible. He has obviously been blessed genetically but he also looks after his body really well. He is more mature now. He comes in and he trains hard every day."
Quicker than ever? As unthinkable as that might seem, it is actually true.
"All the measures and tests that were done in pre-season showed that he is quicker now than he was in 2015," Rodgers reveals.
The match data tells a similar story.
On the opening weekend against Wolves, Vardy had the highest top speed of any Leicester player. Next time out against Chelsea, he was the fastest man on the pitch - clocked at a top speed of 34.64 kilometres per hour. At Sheffield United, he made more high-intensity sprints than anyone else. In beating Bournemouth and Tottenham, he topped both metrics.
Although Rodgers insists that his Leicester side "like to play a fast, aggressive game and that suits him" there was still a suspicion that the optimum setup for a player with Vardy's prodigious pace was - quite logically - the counter-attacking one that was utilised in that title-winning campaign. The switch to a possession game places different demands.
"Back then it was obviously more about counter-attack, playing from deep and then in the transition he was away," says Rodgers. "We like to think of it now as dangerous possession. If a team drops off against us we have to be able to circulate the ball. And if you are going to have 60 per cent of the ball you need players who are happy in that possession."
Leicester do need those players. But Vardy does not necessarily need to be one of them. He has made the adjustment to playing in a possession-based team in an unusual way. He has stayed away from the ball. No player with four or more goals this season has had fewer touches. This is not a flaw in his game. It is by design. This is how his manager wants it to be.
"He is not one of those strikers like Bobby Firmino who drops underneath and links the game but he is a top player and he is clear on the role that we are asking him to play," explains Rodgers. "We have asked him to stay a bit more central. You don't have to be involved in the build-up as long as the other players appreciate what you are trying to do.
"It is up to the others to serve him. He can come away. Play offside. Play behind the line. He knows that we are working it in to give him the opportunities. For a striker that is important because they sometimes feel like they have to get involved just to have a touch of the ball. He knows he doesn't have to worry about that now. He will be judged on the goals."
This approach has seen a big improvement in Vardy's record when playing against deeper defences. Much of the talk throughout the striker's career has been of his ability to score against the bigger clubs but while he did score two late goals against Arsenal in April, it is Vardy's scoring return against the rest of the Premier League that's been transformed.
Under Rodgers, he is currently averaging more than a goal per game against teams outside the established top six. The big-game player has become a flat-track bully and Leicester are harvesting points they were previously missing out on as a result. It is all because Vardy has worked out his game when playing against those deeper defences.
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"If you are playing against Jamie then the temptation is always going to be to drop deep. To break that down you need players out wide and positions filled inside. Then it is about working the ball into him. What he has added is that element where if teams deny him the space he is still able to manage the game within that. He has done that very well.
"He scored a great goal against West Ham where he stood offside and by the time that the ball came in he was able to be onside and nick it in at the front post. Sometimes you see the two defenders pushing up and the striker is running to get onside. Modern rules mean you don't have to. It is a different concept for him but because he is football-bright he gets it."
Vardy's game intelligence is easy to underestimate. People only see the pace and aggression, someone who rarely finds himself with his foot on the ball in the middle of the pitch. He is not the stereotypical football genius but Rodgers soon realised that Vardy knows this game better than most. "That was the big surprise for me when I came in," he admits.
"You maybe think of him as just a goalscorer but Jamie knows football inside out. His positioning and his reading of the game. He just understands football. He genuinely loves it. He watches it. How many young players actually do that now? But he will be watching games, talking football. I have really enjoyed seeing the level of understanding he has."
So how long can this run of form continue? Some analysts are not encouraged by the underlying numbers. Vardy's conversion rate, in particular, appears unsustainable. It is currently higher than any other Premier League player with four or more goals this season.
But this ignores the fact that an extraordinarily high proportion of the shots that Vardy is having for this Leicester team are excellent chances to score. Since Rodgers arrived, he has had more clear-cut scoring chances than his fellow centre-forwards at the big six teams. He has scored more of them than any other player in the Premier League in that time too.
Rodgers is confident that this team is improving. He knows that the defence has been a strength so far and that the attacking cohesion will come with time. He also knows that his striker will be there to take advantage when the chances do begin to flow more regularly.
Vardy has a manager who trusts him and a body that has not yet failed him. International retirement should help his longevity too. "It was his own decision and clearly designed to prolong his career," adds Rodgers. "We give him extra days off too. We try to manage his time so he stays fresh. It's about knowing what's good for him. We just want him to keep going."
Improbably. Incredibly. It could mean Jamie Vardy is still getting better.
Watch Southampton v Leicester live on Sky Sports Premier League from 7pm on Friday; kick-off is 8pm.