Vardy-less Leicester face a style challenge against Swansea
The chaos that engulfed the final six minutes of Leicester’s draw with West Ham ensured it was the referee’s performance that took much of the post-match spotlight.
Jon Moss awarded two penalties in a breathless closing period, drawing some inflammatory comments from Hammers front man Andy Carroll after the final whistle.
However, it was the official’s decision to send off Jamie Vardy for a second bookable offence in the 56th minute that could be his lasting impression on the game.
The Foxes striker will miss his side’s next game against Swansea as a result of his dismissal and his absence could be a crucial twist in the tale as Claudio Ranieri’s men bid for a first Premier League title.
Vardy has become talismanic as the focal of point of the Italian’s counter-attacking strategy in the league this term, growing so important that he has started the last 45 league games for the club.
Responsible for 38 percent of the goals Leicester have scored in the division this season, the England international clearly leaves sizeable shoes to fill. First reserve Leonardo Ulloa will likely attempt to step in to them, but is certainly not a like-for-like replacement.
More of a back-to-goal target man than a last-shoulder scamp, the Argentine’s selection will alter Leicester’s style considerably. Ulloa will play alongside the almost-invisible Shinji Okazaki, but will struggle to replicate the partnership that the Japanese has with Vardy.
Ulloa and Okazaki have not started a game together this season. Between them, they’ve scored nine league goals. Yet as part of a side that are greater than the sum of their parts, both have added quality to the team while playing within clear roles. The problem is, neither have been asked to put much stock in scoring.
Ulloa has made 26 league appearances. Just five of them have been as a starter. The former Brighton man has tended to have been used as second-half relief for one of the front two and as an outlet for teammates as they aim to hold on to a lead.
Okazaki is the decoy in Leicester’s counter-attacking heists. His intelligent runs open space for his teammates and his energy in pressing helps set the tone from the front.
Against the Hammers he didn’t have a shot or a successful dribble, he also completed less than half of the passes he attempted, yet he helped create Vardy’s opening goal by dragging Mark Noble away from midfield with his movement.
How that pair intertwine against the Swans will be a fascinating plot to follow. Should they gel it will be yet another testament to the job Ranieri has done, having rarely been required to veer from the method that has served his league-leaders so well.
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