Early this season in a piece I named The English Luis Suarez, I drew comparisons between the playing styles of Luis Suarez and Jamie Vardy. Since publishing that article, both Vardy and Suarez progressed to fire their respected teams to league glory, with the former winning the Pachichi (top scorer in La Liga) and making a case for next season’s Ballon Dor, and the latter scoring 24 goals, including a record breaking 11 goals in 11 games, which helped Leicester City win their first Premier League title in emphatic style.
On Friday, it was announced that Arsenal triggered a release clause believed to be in the region of £20-29 million to bring Vardy to the Emirates. The news broke the internet, with praise rightly going to football writer for the Guardian and Observer Stuart James, who broke the story on Twitter. Since the announcement, pundits have been somewhat critical of the decision by Arsene Wenger to sign a player who many feel reached his peak this season. At 29 years of age, many have questioned the investment made for a player with only a few more seasons left at the highest level and feel perplexed that a man who is notorious for signing younger players is gambling on Vardy. It just goes to show that football betting predictions is a very tough business, I mean who would have predicted a title win for Vardy’s current team last season? Others have questioned whether his style of play is a good fit for Arsenal. Many point to the fact that Leicester City’s direct, counter-attacking approach, built around Vardy, Mahrez and the need to sit deep would not be compatible for a side that bides their time in finding a breakthrough and forces their opponents to play deep.
Arsenal is a team designed to play possession-based football, so it’s no surprise they averaged the highest possession stats in the Premier League with 56.9% compared to Leicester City, who were the third lowest with 44.8%. With less of the ball, Vardy and co worked harder than any other team in trying to win it back, attempting more tackles (34.5 per game) than any other team. This intent in winning the ball back as quickly as possible resulted in Leicester scoring more goals in counter attacking situations (5) than any other team in the League. Arsenal scored three goals from counter attacks, the fourth highest in the League.
So what does this all mean for Vardy, and why the comparison with Suarez?
Luis Suarez developed his attacking style in possession-based teams that had a philosophy of patient build up play with a high defensive line. But the Uruguayan was a street fighter, who brought a tough, aggressive edge to the front line by constantly harassing his opponents when they had the ball. His obsession with always wanting the ball still sees Suarez in the top ten tackling forwards in La Liga, despite the fact that Barcelona kept the ball for an average of a whopping 62.9% of the time this season. His defensive contributions to the team are the catalyst for his ability on the ball, making him one of the most efficient pressing strikers in world football.
When Suarez wins the ball, his style dictates him to be much more direct in possession. Suarez forces the team he represents into being more direct whether they like it or not. His style is so effective that Brendan Rodgers abandoned his philosophy of “death by football” and Barcelona has evolved the Tika-Taka model to be more direct, placing more of a greater emphasis on getting the ball to Messi, Neymar and Suarez as quickly as possible.
Suarez’s direct style can be seen by the number of:
- Dribbles -117 Attempted, more than any La Liga striker
- Shots – 137 attempted, more than any La Liga striker
- Key Passes – 56, Second behind Lucas Perez
- Assists – 16 more than any La Liga striker
- Goals – 40 more than any other player in La Liga
The heat map below is an example of how hard Suarez works for the good of the team
His output is a direct result of a desire to force his team into making things happen. Suarez proves that a striker in his mould can be so effective in possession hungry teams, that they have to adjust their style to fit his attributes. He might not have the world class ability of the Uruguayan, but Vardy is in that mould.
Looking at the defensive contributions of strikers last season in the Premier League, only Troy Deeney attempted more tackles than Jamie Vardy and in comparison to Suarez last season at Liverpool, Vardy attempted more tackles (53) than Suarez (43). Vardys qualities at defending in attacking areas also saw him make the second highest interceptions (18) and blocks (23) of any striker in the Premier League. Like Suarez, Vardy fuses his defensive attributes with an appetite for running at defences and making his team attack quicker. He attempted:
- Dribbles – 91 fifth highest of any striker in the League
- Shots – 115 fourth highest of any striker in the League
- Key Passes – 48 Second behind Lukaku
- Goals – 24 Second to Harry Kane
- Assists – 6 joint second with Costa and Giroud
When you compare the attacking and defensive numbers between the Uruguayan and the Englishmen, you realise just how hard these two players work in all phases of play, with the quality needed to turn all their hard work into goals and assists.
Vardy’s work rate in full effect in Leicester’s 3-1 win against Everton
Jamie Vardy and Luis Suarez are more than a goalscorers. They are defenders and creators, providing the sharpest edges in the spear of an attack. Arsenal wanted Suarez in 13/14 for the exact qualities Vardy possess and those who feel that Wenger’s pursuit of the Sheffield-born striker doesn’t make sense, should ask whether Wenger is in the process of evolving his philosophy to suit the striker. Like Suarez, Vardy will have to get used to being one of several top players instead of being the leading man, but with the service he is set to receive, Vardy can focus more on getting into goal scoring positions, which may see his goal tally rise.
Let’s be honest, it’s been four seasons since an Arsenal player managed more than 20 goals in a Premier League season, so Vardy is hardly a step-down.
If they pull it off, Arsenal may have their own Vardy party next May.
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to give me a follow @mrcross89
All stats compiled from Whoscored.com and Squawka