Twelve months on from his record-breaking Premier League scoring streak, Leicester City talisman Jamie Vardy appears to have lost a little of his stardust.
Last November, Vardy set a new record by scoring in 11 consecutive Premier League matches, but ahead of Club Brugge’s visit in the Champions League on Tuesday, he has gone 13 club games without a goal.
His struggles in front of goal have mirrored Leicester’s slump to 14th in the league table and prompted former England striker Alan Shearer to suggest he may have lost some of his famous hunger.
“Jamie is going through a goal drought and is not going to get out of it by sulking, because that is what he looks like he is doing at the minute,” Shearer wrote in The Sun recently.
“He is not doing what he did last season and causing defenders enough problems. He is making it easy for them.
“There is a lack of effort there. You have to work hard to get to the top, but you have to work even harder to stay there.”
Vardy, who turns 30 in January, finished last season on top of the world after his 24 league goals fired Leicester to their astonishing 5,000-1 title triumph.
But the close season brought with it a period of soul-searching after Arsenal triggered a release clause in his contract with a 22 million pounds ($27.2 million, 25.6 million euros) bid.
The speculation dominated England’s preparations for Euro 2016 and although Vardy ended up turning Arsenal down, instead signing a new four-year deal with Leicester, he found little solace in France.
He failed to dislodge Harry Kane from England’s starting XI and scored only once, in a group-stage win over Wales, as Roy Hodgson’s side were humiliatingly eliminated by Iceland in the last 16.
Vardy returned to Leicester to find the club gearing up for a campaign in which they would be viewed as the team to beat, rather than relegation fodder as they had been 12 months previously.
No longer able to count on opponents underestimating his team and coming out to attack, manager Claudio Ranieri added variety to his attacking options with moves for Ahmed Musa and Islam Slimani.
– ‘Banging them in’ –
Vardy forged a brilliant partnership with the similarly hard-working Shinji Okazaki last season, but this term he has had to adapt to different partners.
The rangy Slimani, bought from Sporting Lisbon to give Leicester an attacking focal point, is more of a target man, whereas the lithe and speedy Musa boasts a skill-set similar to Vardy’s.
Continuity has therefore been replaced by chop and change for Vardy, who has started six games alongside Slimani, six games alongside Okazaki and three games alongside Musa.
Defenders, meanwhile, have got wise to him, making sure to deny him the space on which he thrives.
He has scored just three goals since the start of the season and none since Leicester’s 4-1 defeat at Liverpool on September 10.
“I just think a lot of the chances I was getting last year have not been there this year,” Vardy said last week.
Leicester’s Champions League escapades have given their fans something to cheer about and the Foxes will book a place in the last 16 if they avoid defeat against Club Brugge.
Vardy is still to join the European party, having contributed none of Leicester’s five goals in the competition.
But he reacquainted himself with the sensation of scoring with a diving header in England’s 2-2 friendly draw against Spain last week.
It prompted Ranieri to declare he was “a new Vardy” and although he did not score in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Watford, he did win the penalty from which Riyad Mahrez scored Leicester’s goal.
“It’s just all about working hard and eventually they’ll come,” Vardy said.
“You do go through spells without scoring, but eventually it will come back and you’ll be banging them in again.”