Leicester City FC— Reboot?

Leicester City FC did the unthinkable in the 2015/16 season. A big cheers to all the blokes who bet on Leicester to win the league at 5000:1 odds. It reportedly cost England’s bookmakers 25 million pounds in payouts.

We all know it was Jamie Vardy and the Riyad Mahrez duo who set the Premier League on fire sharing 41 goals among them out of the total 68 Leicester scored that season.

Individual contributions made by Leicester’s marksmen in the 2015–16 season

Both Vardy and Mahrez drew a lot of interest post their triumph from big clubs but they both decided to stay put. Now there has been a lot of analysis done over the years in decoding Leicester’s dream season, so today, I am not going to talk about that. On the other hand, something rather interesting has been happening at Leicester since 2016 and that is what I am going to share with you all.

The club finished 12th the next season i.e the 2016–17 season, advanced only till the 5th round of the FA cup and was eliminated in the first EFL cup round. The only feather in their cap was a quarter-final finish in the Champions League. Many say they concentrated on the European league to win it and that was their strategy, maybe, but I am not convinced by that. They won only a single away game in Europe’s top flight.

Lets take a look at N’Golo Kante. He was pivotal in Leicester’s trophy winning season. And by pivotal, he literally played as the pivot in the midfield and guided his team to victory. To put things into perspective look at the barplot below.

Kante in his 2015/16 Leicester City season

So Kante topped the chart with the maximum tackles and most number of interceptions in that season. He raked up close to 340 recoveries of the ball. Now these statistics clearly impressed Chelsea FC and Bam! off goes Kante before the next season starts. And Leicester is left with a massive void to fill.

One would think, that the Leicester’s defense will take a huge blow, but with their top marksmen still pledging allegiance, the 2016–17 season will be no different up front. Right? WRONG! Leicester managed to score only 48 goals that season. For reference, Vardy and Mahrez, ALONE, had scored 41 the previous season. See below the difference in their contributions.

What we see is a clear slump in the individual contributions of each player during the 2016–17 season. This is a direct result of lesser shots and even lesser shots on target, poorer shooting accuracy and shot conversion %. Evident below

Slump in numbers

Vardy had a 3.19 shots per game during their winning season and it dropped to 1.51 the next. So Leicester bore the brunt of Kante’s departure and finished poorly that season.

Expensive attacking signings like Slimani and Musa too did not help as they shared just 19 shots on target together. Pretty dismal for strikers. The January transfer window however saw the purchase of Wilfred Ndidi, a defensive midfielder from Genk.

The next season(2017–18) , Leicester spent unnecessarily on Iheanacho and Adrien Silva. Other purchases include Matty James from Manchester United and Vicente Iborra. Harry Maguire is a major boost for their defensive absentees. However, the most modest purchase out of them all i.e. Wilfred Ndidi changes things around for them completely.

Defensive midfielders

Each defensive midfielder loses more duels than they win except one player. Ndidi also tackles 138 times with a crazy 296 recoveries in 33 matches. So we see from these numbers that Ndidi helps Leicester regain control of the midfield thereby directly affecting a stronger attack.

Direct effect of a strong defensive midfielder on the attack

Mahrez leaves Leicester but Ndidi improves season on season.

He played only 32 matches in the 2019/20 season which is the reason for the smaller bars.

Couple Ndidi with, a versatile attacking mid in James Maddison and Leicester might yet again have the recipe for success. I mean look at the comparison of numbers of Mahrez’s best season here and Maddison’s previous two

Eerily similar numbers

If Maddison can work on his conversion and accuracy, with those number of crosses, I think Leicester have finally(long overdue) team to challenge the top.

They are in fact 2nd in the league while I am writing this. So I think they will not be a bad bet.

Leicester City instead of spending on strikers who they finally had to loan off or sell they could have attacked the problem which was facing them straight in the face right from the beginning, a strong midfield duo to give Vardy the freedom to run those beautiful diagonal runs.

Data credits — https://www.kaggle.com/krishanthbarkav/english-premier-leagueepl-player-statistics

An aspiring data geek with a keen interest in sports analytics, primarily soccer. I am on a gradual learning curve. But as they say good things take time.

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