Sport Soccer

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Jamie Vardy leads the way not just with goals but in making them count

Jamie Vardy has scored more valuable goals than anyone else this season
Jamie Vardy has scored more valuable goals than anyone else this season

In America they call it being "clutch". Keeping your nerve when the clock is running down, scoring when it matters, when your team is behind.

In the 1998 NBA play-offs, Michael Jordan scored a 20-foot jump shot for the Chicago Bulls with 5.2 seconds left to beat the Utah Jazz and win the Finals. It was his final ever shot as a Bull. Clutch.

In his career overall, Jordan was five from 11 on go-ahead shots during the last five seconds of matches. He did his work when it had value.

Now few pieces have ever segued from Michael Jordan to Jamie Vardy, but, in terms of dealing in goals or points when they matter, the Leicester man is the best in England at the moment.

If asked to name the Premier League player who has done the most this season, gut reaction would tell you Vardy. But the statistics also back it up and, what is more, show that he is not just scoring when the pressure is off. In fact, he has delivered under pressure more than anyone else so far.

The Euro 2016 hopeful - and Premier League record holder after his 11-in-11 run - has changed the course of a game more than any other player so far this season.

Of the 28-year-old's 15 league goals, 11 of them have changed the 'game state' by either bringing Leicester level or putting them ahead. Two of them have reduced a deficit and just two more have been 'cheap' in terms of extending City's lead. That's 73.3 per cent of his goals that have changed the direction of a match.

Now few would be willing to say Vardy is a better player than Sergio Aguero or Harry Kane but on the basis of this season's numbers, Vardy is delivering under pressure more than his more exotic peers.

Aguero - admittedly injured at times - has scored seven goals, but only 42.9 per cent of them have been of game-changing value. Three have been to extend the lead and one to reduce the deficit. It is also worth considering how five of his goals came in the same game, meaning his impact has been even less but it could be

For Kane, 37.5 per cent of his eight goals have been of match-altering significance. Two have put Tottenham ahead and one has brought them level. Like Augero, though, there is a case for his numbers being so as a result of the high-quality options their sides have.

The same goes for Vardy's team-mate Riyah Mahrez, with 36.4 per cent of his 11 goals having value. Six have come to extend a lead - often given by Vardy - while two have been go-ahead and two draw-level. The perfect example came on Monday when Vardy broke the deadlock against Chelsea and Mahrez added the second.

As for who stands alongside Vardy as the Premier League's clutch shooters, then look no further than Watford's Odion Ighalo, Swansea's Andre Ayew and Arsenal's Olivier Giroud.

Ighalo has been one of the surprise stories of the season - a fantasy league rating of a mere million shows how under-the-radar he was - but he has returned 10 goals with 70 per cent of them having value. The Nigeria international has put impressive Watford ahead six times and levelled things up once.

For Ayew, 66.7 per cent of his six goals have been go-ahead or levellers while if the data was stretched to five goals this season, team-mate Bafe Gomis is 100 per cent when it comes to scoring goals that matter.

And, what of Giroud? Maligned by some as a grade-two striker not up to the challenge of spearheading Arsenal's challenge, the France international has nine goals in the league, six of which have put his side in front, giving his strikes a value of 66.7 per cent.

But, as has been the story of the season, Vardy leads the way and there's currently no sign of him slowing down.

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