Jamie Vardy and Leicester City have set the English Premier League upside down this season. From out of nowhere, the Foxes have sprinted into and stayed at or near the top of the table throughout most of the first 19 weeks of the season. And they’ve done it with style with some of the finest individual and team performances of any club in the EPL. And one of their top performers is Jamie Vardy.
Three years ago, Jamie Vardy was playing non-league football with Fleetwood. Now he is the leading scorer in the EPL. Few defenses have had much success in stopping his astonishing efforts.
It might be useful for a defender to attempt to explore just exactly how Vardy does his damage and, possibly, if he has any weaknesses in his attack. More specifically, in the three general types of scoring threats a player has—left and right foot or header—which one is deadliest? What are his preferences, if any, and what differences are there in converting attempts in to goals? In other words, what is the anatomy of his goal scoring so that a defender might better develop a marking strategy?
Here is one approach.
Jamie Vardy’s goals and shot attempts for the first 19 weeks is provided in Table 1 (Source:WhoScored.com). The numbers show that Jamie Vardy has scored 15 goals this season from the 65 total shots taken. An illustration of Vardy’s goal conversion rate—excluding the non-open play attempts of set pieces and penalties—is shown in Figure 1. These numbers include 10 attempts comprised of 7 set plays and 1 goal and the 3 out of 3 converted penalties.
This article prefers to “clean” or remove set pieces and penalty numbers from the data and to include open play pitch performance numbers. In general, a defender’s primary concern is during open play: there is comparatively little control over the other types of events.
The “anatomy” of the remaining 55 open play shots shows Vardy to be, arguably, a two-footed footballer when it comes to his choice of attempts. Although he consistently takes his set plays and penalties from right side, it would be difficult to describe his foot of choice as predominant. However, when the results of his efforts are closely examined, there is a decided difference in the performance outcome of his selection of goals attempts. Here is the breakdown shown in Figure 2.
- Although Vardy attempts 21 shots (38.2%) from the left side he can only convert 2 (9.5%) of them. That produces a very low percentage of goals— 3.6%. So he’s not much of a threat when he’s shooting with his left foot even tough he’s invested over 38% of his shot attempts from that side!
- However, Vardy converts 7 (25.9%) of the 27 (49.1%) shot attempts he makes from the right side. That’s a 12.7% rate of success—over 350% as likely to score with the right foot as the left. And that’s an important point to remember.
- His header performance, clearly based on a very small sample, shows that he converts on 2 (28.6%) of his 7 (12.7%) attempts. The overall probability of making and scoring on an attempted header is only about 3.6%, the same likelihood as scoring with his left foot. Both very unlikely.
- Vardy’s overall goals conversion for all types of attempts is the sum of all three attempts or 20.0%.
- There is a statistically significant difference between Vardy’s right footed goal scoring performance and the combination of his left foot and header attempts (p-value << 0.0000; two group binomial z-test). This means that the chance that this difference could have happened accidentally or randomly is, essentially, zero. The difference is real. That comes as no surprise.
It is statistically unlikely that a defender will face Vardy in a large number of header situations if prior performance is a reasonable predictor. Even, so, his headers pose no serious threat.
Even though Vardy is good at ripping shots with either foot, he’s not much of a threat at scoring with his left foot. In fact, he’s pretty poor relatively speaking. Fear the right foot considerably more. And while you are at it, you might keep an eye out for that pal of his, Riyad Mahrez. He might be even better. More on him later.