Ayoze Perez joins Leicester City from Newcastle United in one of the most surprising deals of the summer to date.
The £30m fee spent by Leicester is questionable considering it’s fair to ask what they’ve actually bought for that price.
That’s not a question of Perez’s ability, as the diminutive playmaker has shown over many years at Newcastle that he possesses both the quality and grit to succeed at Premier League level.
No, the doubts arise more in search of the answer to an even more pertinent question: what are they signing him for?
While boasted qualities that eluded the majority of his less technically gifted teammates, the lingering question that has hung over the Spaniard has always concerned where he fits into the attack.
And with that, it’s difficult to understand why Brendan Rodgers has opted to spend such a huge sum of money to bring him to the King Power Stadium.
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The forward has played a variety of different positions, from right to left wing, number 10, second striker and even as a number 9. There’s no doubt he’s got the attributes to succeed in any of these roles, but Leicester are a side who boast tremendous and, crucially, young talent that you’d assume a progressive manager like Rodgers would want to exploit and develop.
Harvey Barnes, James Maddison, Demarai Gray, Mark Albrighton and potentially Youri Tielemans – should he return to Leicester in a reported £40m deal – could be in contention to occupy the starting three spots behind a striker, most likely Jamie Vardy, so it’s difficult to envisage where Perez fits into the squad.
Perhaps he will merely be a squad player but, given the size of his price-tag, it seems that he will be much more than a body to bolster squad depth.
With that said, it might be time for Jamie Vardy to look over his shoulder in fear of his place in the starting XI rather than to watch his teammate thread a through ball into his path.
Vardy has typically thrived in a counter-attacking side.
This isn’t a criticism of his ability on the ball, nor his final product or creativity, it’s simply fitting of his finest attributes – his pace and goal scoring instinct.
He thrives when running in behind and exploiting space, running directly at goal, the sort of thing he did relentlessly under Claudio Ranieri. The way Rodgers likes to play, however, won’t necessarily allow for this to happen.
Naturally, it’s pertinent to acknowledge that the Northern Irish manager enabled Vardy to rediscover his form shortly after he replaced Claude Puel. Spaces were suddenly prised open for the lightning-quick forward to exploit and he scored 10 goals in 11 Premier League games to finish the 2018/19 season.
But at 32 years old Vardy is moving towards the back end of his career and a contingency plan is needed to prepare for life after the Foxes legend, one which Perez may well be at the centre of.
Rodgers has been renowned throughout his managerial career in the top flight for playing short, incisive and attractive football.
He led Swansea to the Premier League with it and immediately caught the eye with his brave style, one which was later lauded by Luis Suarez, per Sports Mole, after he accepted the Liverpool job: “They always tried to play football with short-pass combinations and didn’t care what zone of the field they were at.”
He came agonisingly close to winning the Premier League with Liverpool and won a double treble with Celtic while adhering to his possession-based principles. He appears to believe in this approach and is refining it with every year that goes by.
Vardy doesn’t fit the remit as well as the former Newcastle star, which could see the fresh recruit adopting a centre-forward role in the side, where he can carry his team up the pitch, dribble past players, hold up the ball, create and score.
Perez can combine with midfield options effectively as well, and his stats suggest he enjoys this side of the game. Last season he proved to be far more involved with overall team play, registering 779 league passes compared to Vardy’s 416, and averaging 21.05 passes per game to the Englishman’s 12.24.
The stats points towards a fundamental stylistic difference between the two players, one which will at least offer Rodgers a fresh option in attack.
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Yes, Perez’s position in attacking midfield certainly contributed to the Newcastle man’s involvement in build-up play, but his side were also adopting a very pragmatic style under Benitez, so it can’t all be explained by positional differences.
Quite frankly, the Spaniard has a very different way of helping his team up the pitch.
Who knows, the two forwards may form a great partnership, and with Leicester in a rebuilding phase, there are certainly times when Vardy’s fantastic strike rate, pace and hunger will be required, but the club’s long-term future under Rodgers looks set to champion neat and complete players like Perez, Maddison and, if Leicester fans’ dreams are turned into reality, Tielemans as well.
It’s hard to see how the Spaniard will displace some of Leicester’s finest young talents, but with Vardy ageing – though showing little sign of it – perhaps this signing adds a weapon to Rodgers’ armoury that could see the veteran phased out.