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Leicester City: Finding the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne – data analysis

The story of Jamie Vardy at this point is well-documented, and at the age of 33-years-old, he claimed the Premier League Golden Boot by scoring 23 goals in the 2019/20 campaign. Due to his age, the discussion regarding a potential drop-off of his ability and as a result, the search of a future replacement. For these reasons, it would be worth scouting the market to find a young striker who could come in and learn from Vardy and take over his role in a season or two.

While last season was not his best in terms of goalscoring (this came in their title-winning campaign), he improved upon his last couple seasons in almost every conceivable way. His conversion rate went up from 19.7% last season to 22.9% this season, alongside an improvement in his non-penalty goals per 90, which went up from 0.46 to 0.56. Vardy has clearly benefitted from being coached by Brendan Rodgers, now scoring 33 in 44 games under the Northern Irish coach.

To replace Vardy, we must begin to understand where he excels. Of course, he is a clinical finisher, extremely capable of positioning himself in the right spaces to call for a pass and take a shot on goal. Additionally, he is a remarkably creative for a centre-forward and although not as energetic as he used to be, he is a decent presser of the ball.

This data analysis will help us to highlight, through the use of data and statistics, the heir to Vardy’s throne at Leicester City. Our dataset consists of players who have a good proportion of minutes as a centre-forward, aged 23 or under, are valued at £50m or under, have accumulated at least 500 minutes in the league (in Europe’s top five leagues, plus Liga NOS, Jupiler Pro League, Eredivisie, and the Championship) and have not already moved clubs this summer.

This data analysis can be used to help identify players who are competent enough to deliver output instantly, while also garnering potential to grow into a suitable replacement for Vardy at Leicester City. At the end of the analysis, we will highlight the six players who could fit the Vardy mould after exploring statistics concerning multiple key outputs which we have identified to be Vardy’s key characteristics.

Finishing ability

The main and most obvious feature of Vardy’s game is his clinical nature in front of goal. He has maintained around a 20% conversion rate over the last few seasons, which is emblematic of his ability to finish his chances at an elite level.

The first section of this data analysis displays our sample across two metrics which assess their capability to finish the chances they have either created for themselves or has been created by others.

xG per 90 demonstrates the quality of chances a striker is finding themselves getting into per game, whilst conversion rate divides the number of goals by the number of shots, which displays how many opportunities a player needs to score a goal on average.

Leicester City: Finding the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne – data analysis - statistics

Englishman Eddie Nketiah of Arsenal leads the way for xG per 90 with 0.92. He also has an excellent 31.25% conversion rate. Just reaching the minutes threshold with 574 minutes in the Championship for Leeds United, the 21-year-old statistically stands out in our dataset.

Leading the way for conversion rate is William Togui with 36%. Evidently, the Ivorian does not need many opportunities to convert a shot into a goal, aiding Mechelen to propel up the table in the 2019/20 season. He also produces a 0.43 xG per 90, which ranks as above average.

A player who ranks fairly high in both statistics is Myron Boadu. The 19-year-old Dutchman combines a 26.42% conversion rate with an xG per 90 of 0.58. Despite his age, Boadu has ranked as one of the best finishers in the Eredivisie this season just gone past.

Another homegrown player who ranks highly in one of these metrics is Josh Maja. The 21-year-old is another player who has had limited minutes (735 minutes in the 2019/20 season), but he made the most of his limited appearances, with a 33.33% conversion rate and an average 0.32 xG per 90.

Finally, one player who has split their fan-base in two with his performances is David Okereke. The Nigerian went through what some have expressed as a ‘purple-patch’ at the start of the season and then gradually fell off from there. Even with these comments, Okereke managed a 25.71% conversion rate and a very solid 0.53 xG per 90.

Creativity in the penalty area

Vardy is a forward who is a threat in the final third owing to passing as well as his finishing. Although his primary tool in the final third is his finishing, under Rodgers he has rediscovered the creative spark that saw him rack up eight assists in the 2014/15 Premier League season.

The following offensive metrics look to qualify our samples ability through an analysis of touches in opposition’s box per 90 and xA per 90. This section will help us to identify individuals who have a good proportion of touches in the opposition’s penalty area, and how creative they are with these limited touches, in addition to their ability to pop shots off on goal accurately.

Leicester City: Finding the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne – data analysis - statistics

The player who leads the way for touches in box per 90 is returning candidate Eddie Nketiah with 9.24, far and away the best in our dataset. He also notches up an xA per 90 value of 0.11, which ranks as above average.

Alternatively, the player who leads the way for xA is Facundo Colidio, with 0.33 per 90. Recently, he extended his loan period at Sint-Truiden from Inter Milan to last the duration of the 2020/21 season after impressing in his first campaign within Belgium. He has 4.87 touches in box per 90, which ranks as a high figure.

Next up we have another forward impressing in Belgium, Emmanuel Dennis. The Club Brugge player managed the second most touches in box, with 6.22 per 90, which he used to produce 0.1 xA per 90, average within our dataset, but nothing noteworthy in general.

Another player who ranks highly in both regards is Dutch international Donyell Malen. The 21-year-old has an impressive 5.76 touches in box per 90 and a good value of 0.14 xA per 90, in addition to his goalscoring exploits at PSV Eindhoven this campaign.

Lastly, Feyenoord forward Luis Sinisterra ranks highly in both metrics. His 0.21 xA per 90 could be due to his time spent out on the left-wing, while his 4.8 touches in box per 90 are indicative of his high amount of activity in the final third.

Pressing intensity

We have now analysed some finishing and creativity data. Before we shortlist six players who could be the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne and analyse them in detail, we are going to reveal which strikers are the most effective in pressing and recovering the ball for their sides. By looking at defensive duels and successful defensive actions per 90, we can gather an understanding of which players are effective in their defensive endeavours.

Leicester City: Finding the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne – data analysis - statistics

Dimitri Oberlin leads the way in both successful defensive actions and defensive duels per 90, with 9.62 and 11.72, respectively. This is indicative of his use as an energetic presser for his side, competent enough to ably recover the ball for his side.

21-year-old Eddie Nketiah yet again returns in this list, ranking second for defensive duels per 90 with 9.4. The young forward truly impressed in every aspect in the limited minutes that Marcelo Bielsa offered to him. Additionally, he completed 7.51 defensive actions per 90.

Frenchman Imran Louza deserves a mention here, acting as a false-nine for Nantes in Ligue 1 this season just gone by. His 7.51 defensive duels and 7.85 successful defensive actions per 90 could have been helped by his game time at central-midfield though.

It would also be worth acknowledging the pressing efforts of Brazilian Matheus Cunha. As of January, he was plying his trade for German outfit Hertha Berlin, he lit the league up with his performances upon his arrival, largely due to his attacking endeavours. Though, he also ranks remarkably high in his defensive actions, with 6.38 successful defensive actions and 6.62 defensive duels per 90, indicative of his energy in his defensive efforts.

Last of all, Charles De Ketelaere, at Club Brugge, had racked up 769 minutes in the league as an 18/19-year-old, which is important at such a young age for his development. Despite not producing a tremendous amount of goal contributions, his 5.96 defensive duels and 6.52 successful defensive actions per 90 both rank highly amongst our dataset.

Shortlist

After examining every individual across the sample concerning their individual performances across each data metric, I have managed to narrow it down to the following six individuals, who would realistically be available this summer or next summer for The Foxes (therefore no Victor Osimhen or Tammy Abraham). The darker the green, the higher the score.

Leicester City: Finding the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne – data analysis - statistics

Alexander Isak, CF, 21 years old, Real Sociedad

Leicester City: Finding the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne – data analysis - statistics

The first entry, Alexander Isak, has experienced a decent first season at the Basque club, who are becoming notorious for nurturing promising young talents. Despite being 6’2”, his technical ability is of a good level, and it enables the Swede to improvise in and around the box with fancy flicks or skill moves. His tendency to drop deep and link midfield play makes him a constant threat to opposition defenders. When he is in those positions, he can turn with the ball and utilise his blistering pace. His fluid movement in and around the box and creativity makes it difficult to anticipate his next step, seen in his 0.49 non-penalty goals per 90. His market value is £20m.

Breel Embolo, CF, 23 years old, Borussia Mönchengladbach

Leicester City: Finding the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne – data analysis - statistics

Breel Donald Embolo, formerly of FC Basel who are known for their conveyor belt of young talent, has played backup to both Alassane Pléa and Marcus Thuram this season. In 1,628 league minutes, the Swiss international has impressed in a whole host of ways, but namely, his positioning in the final-third has allowed the 23-year-old to explore many goalscoring opportunities. He has been utilised across the forward line in his career so far, and we have seen that in his runs this season, where he typically runs into the space, with his electric pace, between the full-back and centre-back which has helped him produce an xG per 90 of 0.55. His market value is £14m.

David Okereke, CF, 22 years old, Club Brugge

Leicester City: Finding the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne – data analysis - statistics

It was mentioned earlier that Okereke has split the opinions of the Club Brugge fanbase, but statistically, it is hard to see why. His performances dropped for a few games and did not really get a look-in from that moment onwards, with youngster Youssouph Badji being preferred at the start of the 2020/21 season. He cost the Belgian club a record €8m, and initially, he was asked to operate as a false nine by luring opposition defenders away to create space for Brugge’s speedy wingers, Emmanuel Dennis and Krépin Diatta. This explains his low 4.48 touches in the box per 90 (compared to his teammates) but this also indicates that he took his chances when he had them, producing 0.72 non-penalty goals per 90 at a 25.71% conversion rate too. Clinical. His market value is £4m.

Eddie Nketiah, CF, 21 years old, Arsenal

Leicester City: Finding the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne – data analysis - statistics

The Englishman has had a disrupted season, spending the first half the season unfairly placed on the bench by Bielsa and his coaching staff. He truly shone in all of our selected metrics, despite his lack of consistent minutes. Nketiah tends to start high between the central defenders, pushing the defensive line, and then asking for the ball in behind the defence, using his first touch as a layoff to create more space for himself. In this sense, he is not as selfless as Bielsa would like in his striker (as we see with Patrick Bamford), but this is hypothetically negated by his high potential output, as seen by his 0.92 xG per 90.  His market value is £13m.

Halil Dervişoğlu, CF, 20 years old, Brentford

Leicester City: Finding the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne – data analysis - statistics

Although a recent winter signing by the Championship club, Dervişoğlu’s meteoric rise through the ranks of the Dutch football leagues is hard to ignore. Starting this season at 19 years old, he certainly did not perform like this was his first season at the summit of Dutch football. Principally, he is a high-level technician who is especially dangerous with the ball at his feet, seen by his 1.83 progressive runs per 90 in the league this term. At his most dangerous, the 20-year-old is a creative outlet between the lines, in the half-spaces, and around the penalty area, reflected in his 1.5 chances created per 90. His market value is £900k (but was purchased for £3m).

Myron Boadu, CF, 19 years old, AZ Alkmaar

Leicester City: Finding the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne – data analysis - statistics

The 19-year-old has already suffered two long-term injuries in his short career, but his determination to come back and perform at the level he has done is admirable, to say the least. Technically, he is very able, as he has the ability to score with both feet and has an impressive calmness in one-on-one situations. His shot placement is very good, often able to find the corners even when off-balance or under pressure, signified in his 26.42% conversion rate. He mainly uses his speed when playing off the shoulder of the defender to find space in the penalty area via his anticipation to take shots of high value. His market value is £16m.

Summary

Now we have a shortlist of players who would be able to either act as an understudy immediately to Vardy or be able to come in the next season or two and begin to replace the veteran. By scouting players aged 23 or under, it has allowed us to find players who can be moulded into the type of striker that Vardy is, and begin to potentially replicate his output.

We have also highlighted young forwards who excel in our listed attributes, finishing, creativity, and pressing. Some of these forwards did not make our final shortlist, due to their skillset not matching Vardy’s, be it either low conversion rate, lack of creativity, or otherwise. The discussion regarding replacing Vardy should have been made a little easier through this analysis, taking a look through a wide lens at young forwards who could grow into the Vardy mould and hopefully produce on such a consistent basis as the 33-year-old.