As we enter the silly season of football, the January transfer period, fans and players alike await the first big moves of this season’s window. With the topsy-turvy nature of this year’s Premier league continuing into the New Year, this month could be crucial for all twenty teams in England’s top flight.
Leicester City have been the surprise package of this term, they topped the league at Christmas and have slipped slightly (now 2 points behind Arsenal) but their lofty position of second is no-less remarkable. Not to simplify the phenomenal success of the Foxes, and their manager Claudio Ranieri, but the catalysts of their form have been the magnificent attackers Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. Vardy is the Premier league’s joint top scorer with 15 goals while his Algerian colleague Mahrez has scored 13 and set up 7 meaning he has been involved in more goals than any other player in the league.
With the transfer window now open the sharks will be circling around Leicester’s prized assets. Luckily it appears the two stars are leaning toward staying at the King Power stadium at least until the summer, Leicester’s Italian boss has reinforced this point:
“Nobody goes from Leicester” said Ranieri. “They have said they want to stay and fight until the end and build with me and the chairman and our fans a big Leicester. We are a solid team and we want to continue together with everybody.”
While many of Leicester’s stars may be interesting other clubs this month- Kasper Schmeichel, N’golo Kante and Wes Morgan among others- there are two names who are already attracting huge interest.
Vardy for instance, would struggle to adapt to the style of most of the “bigger” sides in England. Manchester United’s rigid possession based system is the exact opposite of Leicester while Chelsea are not as static but have a similar playing style. If he were to go, Jurgen Klopp’s high pressing Liverpool may suit Vardy, however the German has insisted he is happy with his current striking options. Vardy’s best option is undoubtedly to stay put. Sides reportedly interested in Vardy include Manchester City, Chelsea and Gary Neville’s Valencia side.
There is also the matter of a Euro 2016 place to consider for Vardy. While at the moment it seems unthinkable that the free-scoring forward could be left at home by Roy Hodgson, stranger things have happened. There will probably be four strikers included in the English squad, maybe five at a push. Wayne Rooney is a cert to travel (even if his shaky from does not improve), as is Daniel Sturridge if he can remain fit, granted that is a big IF. That leaves 2 or 3 places with Vardy up against the likes of Danny Welbeck (if he is fit), Charlie Austin (who could well join a Premier League side) and Harry Kane who has 27 goals in 2015 and is arguably as assured of a place as Rooney and a fit Sturridge. This means it is vital for Vardy to continue his form until the end of the season, if not at his current level at least as near to it as possible. If Vardy left Leicester this month he would have to acclimatise to a new club and playing style, and there is simply no other side with the momentum and good feeling Leicester have at the moment.
Like Vardy, Mahrez’s improvement this term has been phenomenal. Many fans will have barely noticed him last season, but he has probably been the league’s outstanding performer so far this term. At only 24 he also has more time than his team mate to develop. Mahrez is probably more likely than Vardy to move on at some stage, be that this month or during the summer. There has been rife speculation of bids coming in for the wide man this month of €30 million plus. Barcelona, Arsenal and both Manchester clubs have both been credited with serious interest. Mahrez is probably not as reliant on Leicester’s playing style as Vardy is, partly due to the fact that strikers are required to hit the ground running more intensely than wingers. Midfielders aren’t judged solely on goals.
Mahrez is one of those rare commodities, a player who looks dangerous every time he touches the ball. However there is one big factor that he should consider if he is tempted to leave Leicester this month. At Barcelona he’d be up against the likes of Sandro, Arda Turan and Neymar for wide places, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanchez at Arsenal, Sterling De Bruyne and Navas at City. United are struggling with their wide positions but working under Louis Van Gaal won’t be appealing after the feel good atmosphere enjoyed by the Leicester team under Ranieri. At Leicester Mahrez is the main man. Could this be guaranteed at the mentioned teams? Certainly not. Like Vardy, Mahrez would be best served to wait till the summer at least. He will most likely complete his dream move then, whether it is to one of the big spenders in the Premier League or a European side.
The relationship between Mahrez and Vardy is also imperative. Both players have profited from their on-field chemistry. While the fairy story of Leicester’s season has captured the imagination of football fans, the title may be a step too far. However if they can keep their attacking leaders, who’s to say they can’t claim a Champion’s League place which would be a huge achievement in itself. What Vardy and Mahrez need to remember is the grass is not always greener on the other side, especially when you play for Leicester City.