After several years of procrastination, Leicester City cannot ignore finding a replacement for the mercurial Jamie Vardy this summer.
Vardy’s importance to the Foxes is hard to overstate. As well as scoring at a truly astounding rate – he has managed 18 goals or more in all but two of his seven Premier League seasons – he also instigates their press, hounding defenders in the final third and often forcing mistakes. Unfortunately for the Foxes, he is not getting any younger with Brendan Rodgers hinting that the club would be looking to recruit the 34-year-old’s successor this summer.
It is a huge decision. One that could have a drastic impact on Leicester for years to come. As its such a toughie, we decided to help out by compiling and ranking our own shortlist of possible replacements.
Before looking for some replacements, we first constructed a basic recruitment profile for Vardy’s successor.
His strongest attribute is his excellent finishing from inside the 18-yard box. Last season he registered 0.22 goals per shot and 0.5 goals per shot on target in the Premier League, figures superior to the likes of Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero and Mohamed Salah.
He also averaged a shot length of 12.4 yards and 6.1 touches in the opposition area, supporting the perception that Vardy is happiest latching onto balls played into the penalty box.
As well as shooting, his appetite for pressing defenders is legendary. Although he is not quite as manic as he was in his younger days – you can thank him giving up the pre-game Skittles vodka for that – Vardy still managed 309 final third pressures last campaign, the ninth most of any player in Europe’s top five leagues.
What seems less necessary when looking for his successor is any level of creativity on the ball. Although Vardy’s endless decoy runs do open up vast swathes of spaces for his teammates, he has averaged just 14.25 passes per 90 minutes over the past year. This put him in the bottom percentile of forwards in Europe’s top five leagues.
In short then, we are looking for a sharpshooting, defender pressing, 18-yard box prowling centre-forward and anyone with a whiff of ‘false nine’ about them should be instantly binned. Got it? Good, let’s get into the list.
Before you ask, no, he is not in any way related to Ali Dia, thank goodness.
24-year-old Boulaye Dia has been turning heads with his performances for Stade Reims, attracting interest from the likes of West Ham and Newcastle.
Early signs for this transfer look promising. He would be available for a nominal fee due to the ongoing French football crisis and has shown himself to be a clinical one-on-one finisher recently.
Saying that, question marks remain over whether he could replicate Vardy’s tireless pressing. Last season he ranked just inside the top 30 for final third pressures in Ligue 1. Although he has improved his numbers this term, they are still nowhere near what Leicester would likely be looking for.
Dia could also be a one season wonder. He only managed 10 league goals in his last two campaigns and has been overperforming his xG this time out.
Marcus Thuram has played a big part in Borussia Monchengladbach’s recent success.
The Frenchman has been deployed as a left forward or striker for Marco Rose’s side over the past season and a half, notching a fairly respectable goal tally.
He does press fairly enthusiastically in the final third as well, just scraping into the top 20 for most final third pressures in the Bundesliga last season.
What Leicester will be receiving in Thuram is a rough diamond, with a lot of potential. They have managed to get a lot out of these types of players in the past, but in Vardy’s replacement they should probably be looking for more of a finished product.
If Andrea Belotti was a few years younger, he would probably top this list.
Over the past five plus years he has led the Torino line, harrying defenders and consistently reaching double figures for goals. At first glance then,
the 27-year-old seems to fit the Vardy profile closely.
Last season only 10 Serie A players completed more final third pressures than him, however, his finishing was a little lacklustre. His 0.27 goals per shot on target was nowhere near the level of his 2016/2017 season, when he scored 26 goals. This gives the impression that Leicester might have missed the boat on Belotti, particularly as he is now into his peak.
It’s a real shame, because his rooster celebration is one of the best in world football.
Wout Weghorst is a pressing machine. Over the last two full seasons, no player attempted more final third pressures than him in Europe’s top five leagues – not even Vardy.
The Werder Bremen striker is on track to retain his crown this season as well, while his goal record also makes for impressive reading. Since arriving in the Bundesliga in 2018, he has notched goal returns of 17 and 16 respectively and he looks set to better both of those tallies this time around.
Even last season, when Werder were absolutely rubbish, he still delivered, returning 0.34 goals per shot on target. Perhaps the only thing that might put Leicester off is his advanced age. The Foxes tend to buy young and at 28, Weghorst is not that.
At just 21 years old, bringing in Jonathan David as Vardy’s replacement would be a punt from Leicester – but it could pay off massively.
At the time of writing, only four players in Europe’s top five leagues have attempted more final third pressures than David this season. His success rate of over 30% is impressive as well, besting what Vardy registered last term.
The Canadian’s finishing does need some work, but there are several promising signs. His 0.32 goals per shot on target this season is a solid base to work from, and only two players have registered a higher percentage of shots on target in Ligue 1 this campaign.
David could also be sniped for a knockdown fee, again because of the French football crisis.
The latest name fresh off Red Bull Salzburg’s conveyor belt of talent is 22-year-old Patson Daka.
The Zambian has been in ridiculous scoring form over the past two seasons, netting 24 Austrian Bundesliga strikes last term and managing 13 in his first 13 games this time out.
Combining supreme physicality with lethal finishing, Daka is attracting serious interest from across Europe. As 90min reported last year, Manchester City are among those scouting the rangy striker, but if Leicester secure Champions League football, he might be convinced to move to the east Midlands.
When Brentford sold Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa in the summer, many feared that the Bees would struggle to fill the void left by his departure.
However, as the campaign has progressed, Watkins has been slowly forgotten, thanks to the ridiculous form of new signing Ivan Toney. A free scoring year for Peterborough in League One last season has been followed by even better performances this time out. After 29 Championship games, Toney has notched 23 goals and nine assists.
It is not just finishing that Toney brings to the table either. Thomas Frank has asked the striker to lead his famed high press and he has risen to challenge admirably.
He would seemingly make a fine addition to the Foxes’ squad and Leicester will be secretly hoping that Brentford once again fail to make to win promotion, so they can swoop in and get their man.
Yes, yes, yes. We know Andre Silva has only just signed for Eintracht Frankfurt but he only penned a three-year-deal. The Bundesliga club have shown themselves to be very amenable to flipping their assets in the past as well, meaning this deal is not out of Leicester’s reach.
Would he suit the Foxes though?
If you have been even loosely following European football this season, you will know all about Silva’s incredible scoring record. In his opening 20 Bundesliga games, he has managed 18 goals, as well as three assists.
The majority of these strikes have been Vardy-esque poacher’s finishes and this is not the only similarity he bears with the Englishman. Silva is also a tireless worker in the final third, replicating the pressing role than Sebastien Haller used to play for the Eagles effectively of late.
A big stumbling block in a potential Leicester switch is super-agent Jorge Mendes. Mendes is unlikely to advise his client to move to any other Premier League club other than Wolves. Still, it is worth a go as Silva appears to be one of the most suitable Vardy successors in Europe.