It was almost inevitable. As the ball was slid through to Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s match with Manchester United on Saturday, it was as if the world stopped turning for a split second; a collective hush gripped the nation. Vardy, having scored in ten consecutive Premier League games, was on the brink of history: breaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s decade-long scoring streak record.
Vardy looked up and saw David De Gea approaching him with a gaping chasm between his legs. Leicester’s number nine slipped the ball through the Spaniard’s splayed defences and pandemonium ensured. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to blokes who were working full time in factories less than a decade ago….
But it has happened, and the 29-year-old’s exploits have done incredible things for both himself and his club. Whilst he is being earmarked with a £30 million price tag (Leicester purchased him for £1 million around four years ago), the Foxes are no dreaming of Champions League football; not bad for a side that escaped relegation by the skin of its teeth last time around.
For punters, Vardy’s run has opened up a whole wealth of markets that still look good value. Here’s the best of them:
Having notched 14 goals now, it is clear that Vardy is very much a contender for the top goalscorer crown in the Premier League. And he is the favourite with the bookies at 2/1, although the short price of Sergio Aguero (7/2), who has netted a mere seven goals and whose injury record is as impressive as Darren Anderton’s, is surprising.
If you have not been wooed by the Vardy hype then perhaps Romelu Lukaku, at 7/1, represents better value for you. He has bagged ten goals for an Everton side that has become rather reliable at finding the net.
LMA Manager of the Year
One of the happy side effects of Vardy’s form is that his side Leicester City have reached heights hitherto unknown. After more than a third of the season, they sit joint top of English football’s top flight – only behind Manchester City on goal difference.
The centre forward will take much of the credit for that of course, but it’s fair to say that you need to be able to defend well enough to accumulate points even with a red-hot striker in your side, and you need players who are capable of creating chances for him. The Foxes’ hunt for European football requires more than just a one-man band.
And so Claudio Ranieri needs to take a lot of credit for shaping a winning team from a squad of players that looked forlorn and doomed to relegation little more than six months ago. The Italian has continued the good work of former boss Nigel Pearson, who miraculously transformed the club’s fortunes in less than a month in the 2014/15 campaign, but added his own unique Tinkerman touches.
And that is unlikely to go unnoticed with the LMA Manager of the Year judges, who have a habit of supporting ‘lesser’ names with their award. Tony Pulis won it in 2013/15 for the role he played in keeping Crystal Palace up, while other notable overachievers who have lifted the trophy include Alan Pardew (2011/12) and Harry Redknapp (2009/10). It is not beyond the realms of probability that Ranieri could join that club, and 8/1 looks a fantastic price.
Premier League Without ‘Big Six’
The Big Six in this case are Chelsea (lol), Manchesters City and United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham, which leaves Leicester battling it out with the likes of West Ham, Crystal Palace, Everton and Southampton in this market.
At the time of writing, Crystal Palace (22 points) are seven behind Leicester, and surely their inconsistency – six defeats in fourteen – will ultimately prove fatal to their hopes. West Ham are also on 22 points but have looked stunted and lacking in penetration since the injury to Dimitri Payet. Everton look the toughest contenders in this market as they sit eight points behind the Foxes, but as their 3-3 draw with Bournemouth shows, the Toffees are prone to melting when the heat is on.
And so Leicester, at 6/4, look mean value here.