THE BLOG

Player Focus: Lethal Ulloa Proving His Early Doubters Wrong

24/09/2014 17:12 BST | Updated 24/11/2014 10:59 GMT

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'Esteban Cambiasso equalises for Leicester City against Manchester United' is a sentence no football writer envisaged they would ever type. The Argentine midfielder was, however, on hand to draw the Foxes level against United on Sunday in his first start since joining from Inter this summer. Cambiasso's goal, a low drive past David De Gea, made it 3-3 at the King Power Stadium, before Jamie Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa netted in the final stages to secure a memorable 5-3 win for the hosts.

 

When Leicester confirmed the acquisition of Cambiasso last month, football connoisseurs were enthused at the prospect of a midfield legend plying his trade in England's top tier. The 34-year-old has one Champions League winners' title and six major league medals to his name and despite his advancing years, the former Real Madrid and Inter star still has plenty to offer at Leicester.

 

However, Cambiasso is not the Argentine supporters are raving about most at the moment. Ulloa has contributed significantly to Leicester's impressive start to the campaign and has quickly become a fan favourite as a result. The 28-year-old netted 14 times in 32 Championship appearances for Brighton last season and while his goalscoring return for the Seagulls was fairly disappointing for a striker, his form convinced Leicester to part with £8m to secure his signature. Ulloa has repaid the faith shown in him early on, netting five times in five games, including a brace on Sunday. Only Diego Costa (7) has scored more goals than Ulloa in the Premier League this season.

 

There is always a risk with signing a player who excels in the Championship, especially for a club record fee, but Ulloa has adapted to the Premier League with ease. His WhoScored rating (7.52) ranks among the top 25 players in England's top tier so far this term and such a start has helped Leicester win eight points of a possible 15 thus far. Ulloa's goals have gained seven of the Foxes' eight points this season and without the striker, Leicester may well be rooted to the foot of the table.

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Despite coming up against Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United - three of last season's top 7 - Ulloa has been unfazed by the pressure thrust on him, only failing to net in one of his five appearances this term - Leicester's 2-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

 

What is important to note is that Ulloa has the striking know-how to get into effective goalscoring positions. As a team, Leicester have created five clear-cut goalscoring chances, with Ulloa scoring 3 of these opportunities (against Everton, Stoke and Manchester United). Despite only signing for Leicester in July, Nigel Pearson is clearly keen on building his attack around the burly frontman and, judging from their league position, the team are reaping the benefits as a result.

 

While Premier League fans salivated over summer arrivals of Costa, Falcao, Cesc Fàbregas and Mario Balotelli, amongst others, Leicester's goalscoring dynamo has crept under the radar and up the scoring charts. That he has had just 11 shots on goal - sx of which have been on target - further highlights his prolificacy in the 18-yard box.

 

The commendable early season form of the high-flying Foxes has largely been down to Ulloa, with the Argentine the focal point in attack for Pearson's side. His height means he can help out at the back when needed and is an ideal outlet when Leicester are defending deep, with Ulloa able to hold up play effectively to ease the pressure on the back four.

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He has scored more headed goals (2) than any other player in the Premier League this term. A prime example of the threat he poses in the air came in Sunday's 5-3 win over United. Vardy did well to break past Marcos Rojo down the right wing to put a ball into the box (though there are suggestions the ball went out of play before the attacker delivered). Regardless, Ulloa got in between Rafael and Jonny Evans to plant a bullet header into the corner of the net that left De Gea rooted to the spot. 

 

Ulloa's aerial ability means he has developed a statistically calculated strength of 'headed attempts', and with Riyad Mahrez and Jeffrey Schlupp breaking down either flank, the aim is to put the ball into the danger zone where the striker can maximise this facet of this game. This is emphasised in Leicester's WhoScored strength of 'attacking down the wings'.

 

Despite early doubts on the back of his big money move to the King Power stadium, Ulloa's performances have done a lot to repay the hefty fee Leicester paid for him. If he can maintain anything like this kind of form between now and the end of the season, Leicester have a significantly better chance of consolidating their place in the Premier League, and Ulloa could well prove to be the signing of the campaign.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com