Five games, five wins, 11 goals scored and only two conceded, January has so far been a clear month for Leicester City.
Brendan Rodgers’ side even briefly rose to the top of the Premier League table at one point, thanks to a memorable 2-0 win over Chelsea.
Everything looked rosy… until the news of Jamie Vardy’s hernia surgery, who is set to keep the Foxes’ timeless talisman until February.
Vardy turned 34 recently, but his influence has shown no signs of waning. Last season’s Golden Boot winner currently leads the goals (13) and assists (5) charts for Leicester and there are many less measurable qualities he brings to the squad as well.
By constantly sitting on the shoulder of the last defender, he creates pockets of space for James Maddison to operate. Meanwhile, his decoy races also make his teammates look so devastating on the counter.
As he continues to play such a crucial role, the news of his injury has been treated with considerable fear within Leicester’s fan base. This reaction was exacerbated by the Foxes’ list of upcoming games. This period will put their best four titles to the test in earnest, with games against Everton, Leeds, Fulham, Wolves and Liverpool before mid-February.
While losing Vardy is a big blow, Leicester will do everything in their power to ensure that their recent momentum does not wear off. Fortunately, recent signs suggest that they have every chance of doing just that.
In the last campaign, apart from Vardy, only Kelechi Iheanacho managed to score a brace. This time around Harvey Barnes has already scored 10, while James Maddison has scored nine. Lower in the scorecard, Youri Tielemans is also enjoying a good campaign, scoring five times despite his role as a retired midfielder.
Especially impressive was Maddison’s transformation into a scoring attacking midfielder. In the past, he preferred to take the ball on the deep U-turn. However, with that term the 24-year-old developed an appetite to get into the box, which paid off massively. His poacher’s finish in his last outing against Brentford was his fourth goal in four games, and he only needs two more strikes to secure his most prolific Premier League season of all time.
Rodgers have long espoused Leicester’s need to diversify their scoring threat and that term they seem to finally be getting there. While Vardy hasn’t scored a goal in his team’s last seven games, the Foxes have still managed to go undefeated. Along the way, they scored impressive victories over Chelsea and Southampton, as well as a 2-2 draw with a table-top Manchester United – all without the divine intervention of their magic number nine.
This is something Rodgers was keen to point out when asked about the effect Vardy’s absence would have on him.
“When you don’t have one of the best forwards in the league, it’s disappointing,” he told reporters earlier this month (via BBC Leicester Sport).
“We always try to trust the collective, the group has always been able to find results. I have other great forwards – Ayoze Perez and Kelechi Iheanacho. ”
But which of the two should replace Vardy in his absence? Well, to be fair, neither player has had much of an impact this season, scoring a Premier League goal between them. Perhaps a better option would be Barnes, who made a brief 45-minute appearance up front in his side’s 1-0 win over Arsenal in October.
Unlike the other two candidates, he is more naturally inclined to attempt backward runs, which should prevent the gap between the opposition lines becoming cluttered. It might not be as efficient as having the real deal out there, but this Vardy-lite solution might be what Leicester need to ensure their good run continues.