Leicester City’s title challenge has been a football analyst’s dream. All through the season, the possession numbers have shown that you don't need to have more of the ball to win games; it helps if you have Jamie Vardy on the hottest of hot streaks and a counter-attacking game that opponents have been slow to counter-act.
The very few unromantics out there may claim that it’s been a freak year with transition or troubled seasons for the traditional ‘big’ clubs and point out that Leicester’s projected points total of 83 would not have won the league in each of the previous five seasons (though it would top United’s 80 points in 2010-11). The fact is, coach Claudio Ranieri has given hope to every ‘middle-tier’ club in the world that they can break into the elite.
So just how did Leicester get to the point where they are about to pull off this incredible achievement? Here are some numbers that made the difference:
Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez with the PFA Player of the Year Award 2016 presented by Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri and host Manish Bhasi during the PFA Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London
Image credit: PA Sport
In the first case, we will look at the goal conversion that measures the percentage of goalscoring shots on target taken that end up as goals, with most clubs averaging somewhere around 31 per cent. After 10 games, Leicester's conversion was 41 per cent and it only started dropping after Christmas. The current rate is still a very high 38 per cent.
Football analyst Joel Salamon compared this to other Premier League teams with a similar conversion rate: they were Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson in 2010 and 2013, Liverpool with Luis Suarez at his peak, and the Manchester City side that pipped Liverpool to the title.
When it comes to goal conversion for all shots, Leicester’s rate is still an above-average 14 per cent, while opponents began the season scoring at 13 per cent against them. The average is around 8.5 per cent.
Leicester’s defensive numbers changed after game 11 of the season, which is when Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs started for the first time together (before then, Ritchie de Laet played at left-back). They kept one clean sheet in the first 11 games, and then kept 14 in the next 24.
As teams wised up to the threat on the counter of Vardy and Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez, the conversion rate dropped slightly. “But suddenly Leicester’s defence heated up at the exact same time,” said Salamon. “They started conceding a very low number of goals.”
|Metric||First 11 Games||Last 24 Games||First 19 Games||Last 16 Games|
|Goals per Match||2.09||1.67||1.95||1.63|
|Goals Conceded per Match||1.73||0.58||1.32||0.50|
|Opponent Conversion %||13.0%||4.3%||9.8%||3.7%|
Indeed, according to the figures from STATS.com in the table above, over the last 16 games, Leicester’s opponents have only scored on 3.7 per cent of all shots. The only team with a comparable record to this is Juventus in the last 16 games; the Italian champions’ opponents’ conversion rate has been a scarcely believable 2.1 per cent. “Leicester’s system allowed them to concede worse quality chances,” said Salamon, “but that 3.7 per cent opposition conversion also has a big chunk of fortune in it.”
No More Tinkerman
Leicester City's Italian manager Claudio Ranieri is pictured before the start of the English Premier League football match
Image credit: AFP
History is littered with title-winners that barely rotated their squads, but not recently. The days of Aston Villa winning the 1981 title using 14 players, or Nottingham Forest using 16 in 1978 are long gone. Arsenal won the title in 1989 with 17 players, as did Manchester United in 1993. Ranieri picked 17 players for his first 22 games of the season but more significant than that is the fact that Ranieri’s preferred starting XI have played 87 per cent of all game time this season. Compare this to top-four rivals Spurs (83 per cent), Arsenal (75 per cent) and Manchester City (70 per cent).
To see the difference in how the squads were used, the table below shows the squad player who played the 16th-most minutes over the season. For Leicester, that is Nathan Dyer, with only 213 minutes (two and a bit games cumulatively). Most of the other teams have players with closer to 10 cumulative games to their name: the likes of Martin Demichelis (985 minutes), Marcos Rojo (983) and Enner Valencia (979).
|Stat||Leicester||Spurs||Man City||Arsenal||Man Utd||West Ham||L'pool||Chelsea|
|Total Minutes played by Top 11 Players||30079||28724||24229||26038||23856||23894||23784||24077|
|% Available Minutes played by Top 11 Players||86.8%||82.9%||69.9%||75.1%||70.9%||71.0%||70.7%||71.5%|
|16th Most Used Player||Nathan Dyer||Ryan Mason||M Demichelis||Joel Campbell||Marcos Rojo||Enner Valencia||Daniel Sturridge||Baba Rahman|
|16th Most Used Player - mins||213||650||985||885||983||979||799||814|
“Leicester’s lack of injuries is totally unprecedented,” said Salamon. “Chelsea's top six regulars last season played an astonishing 92 per cent of available minutes, no other top-four team has managed more than 85 per cent since 2010-11. But Leicester's top six regulars have played 95% of available minutes this season.”
The figures for the top 10 most used players show a similar story: Chelsea's top 10 regulars last season played 81 per cent of available minutes, while no other top four team has managed over 75 per cent since 2010-11. Leicester's top 10 regulars have played 90 per cent of available minutes this season.
Leicester City celebrate Leonardo Ulloa's last-gasp penalty against West Ham
Image credit: Reuters
Bigger teams will win more penalties because they have more of the ball and attack more, so the idea that Leicester have broken a penalty record this season seems strange. But it’s true: they have been awarded 11 penalties and scored nine of them. Only five teams in Premier League history have scored double-figure penalties in a single season: Liverpool 2014, Blackburn 1995 and Arsenal 2007 all scored 10, while Crystal Palace 2005 and Chelsea 2010 scored 11.
More significant is the fact that 14 per cent of Leicester goals have come from the spot this season; a figure that’s twice as high as three of the four last Premier League title winners.
|Season||Team||Penalties For||Penalties Scored||% Goals From Penalties||Penalties Conceded||Penalty Goals Conceded|
Leicester City's striker Jamie Vardy (L) reacts after referee Jonathan Moss (2L) showed Vardy his second yellow card
Image credit: Imago
One reason Ranieri was able to pick such an unchanged team was that his players have missed only four league games through suspension this season – and two of those were as a result of Jamie Vardy’s recent red card against West Ham. Arsenal and Manchester City players have only missed one game each but Arsenal were fortunate in that Santi Cazorla, Per Mertesacker and Francis Coquelin were sent off this season but all managed to serve their bans for cup games.
Both N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater have been booked three teams each this season, an impressively low amount considering their games played, their position and work they get through in midfield.
|Team||Pairing||Booking each||Total Bookings||Red Cards|
|Leicester||Drinkwater & Kante||3 & 3||6||0|
|Tottenham||Dier & Dembele||9 & 2||11||0|
|Arsenal||Coquelin & Ramsey||5 & 4||11||1 (Coquelin)|
|Man City||Fernandinho & Toure||6 & 3||9||0|
|Man Utd||Schneid & Schwein & Carrick & Herrera||All 3||6 for each combo||0|
|West Ham||Noble & Kouyate||8 & 4||12||2 (1 each)|
The table above compares Leicester’s disciplinary record with their rivals. In this case, it proves that for once, nice guys can come first.