Leeds defeat suggests Leicester must sign Jamie Vardy’s successor this summer
Leicester City had one of their best performances of the season in November, beating Leeds United 4-1 at Elland Road.
Sunday’s second leg was a whole different matter, with Marcelo Bielsa’s side taking revenge with a deserved 3-1 win.
So what was the difference between the two encounters? Three words: Jamie Richard Vardy.
Planning life without one of the club’s greatest players has been the specter of the party for some time for Leicester. Their contrasting fortunes against Leeds this season, with and without him in the side, saw the problem return on Sunday.
In the November contest, Vardy was directly involved in three of his team’s four goals. For Harvey Barnes’ opener, he showed trademark poise to get around Illan Meslier, before squaring him up for his teammate to come home. The second also had his fingerprints all over it with Yuri Tielemans engulfing the bounce of his diving head.
A hat-trick was then completed when he finished well after an unorthodox but brilliant assist from Cengiz Under.
This talismanic display was typical of Vardy over the past three seasons. During that time, he has managed 52 goals and many more assists, while playing a key role in instigating his team’s press.
Despite some optimistic catches and an encouraging if slightly brutal offensive against Everton, the impact of his absence was as large as one might expect at King Power Stadium on Sunday.
What made Leicester so effective against Leeds in the fall was Vardy’s ability to exploit the vast expanses of space left by Marcelo Bielsa’s charges, and on several occasions during Sunday’s game, the Foxes’ counterattacks were screaming for equally clever races behind. However, Ayoze Perez, who was drafted to replace him in the last two games, is not naturally inclined to do so.
Instead of nine fake Perez in the lead, the Foxes got a lot of Vardy-esque enthusiasm in the press, but in position the players couldn’t be more different. Instead of stretching things by sitting on the shoulder of the last defender, the Spaniard fell. It would have been nice if Barnes and Marc Albrighton had compensated by bouncing behind the Leeds back line. Unfortunately, neither of them did, with both of them being more comfortable running defenses with the ball on their feet.
James Maddison’s recent and heightened appetite for the goal has also waned somewhat against the Whites, with his late pushes into the box not being frequent enough.
The loss to Leeds was the only tenth Premier League game Vardy has missed in the past three seasons. In that span Leicester have won only three times, including two against poor West Ham and Newcastle sides in the last campaign. Too bad, without Vardy Leicester have failed to beat Norwich, Fulham and now newly promoted Leeds in the last two terms.
Of course, his absence wasn’t the only reason they were struggling against the Whites. The loss should more likely be seen as another reminder of how difficult life is after Vardy for Leicester.
It also suggested again that Leicester’s current substitutes are not of the quality needed to replace him. This summer is going to be an important one for Leicester. Finding Vardy’s successor – or at least a capable understudy – seems like a task that can no longer be put off.