How the hell did that happen?!
It has been over a year since my last post however the miracle of Leicester’s Premier League Trophy win has awoken me from my slumber to try and answer the key question that everyone – including Leicester’s fans – are asking: How The Hell Did That Happen?!
Well the final league table reveals that Leicester did indeed end the season with the most points out of all 20 teams – and the Premier League’s complicated “points = good” algorithm means they finish as champions:
And you can be sure that, unlike some of our more illustrious petro-chemically enhanced clubs, Leicester have in no way bought that title – at £53million, their entire squad was assembled for less than the cost of Kevin De Bruyne. Now I like Kevin De Bruyne. But not that much.
As for the Leicester fans, they’ll be shaking their cardboard atmosphere-enhancers all the way to the bank:
Losing 3 games all season (both Arsenal games and away to Liverpool in case you were wondering) and at a fraction of the cost of their ‘rivals’ is pretty damn impressive – but how damn impressive? The first insult being hurled at Leicester is that this season has been comparatively poor in terms of the points needed to win the league. How does Leicester’s triumph rank alongside the last 20 winners of that lovely shiny trophy?
So, pretty low down the list – in fact the Leicester title-winning team of 2016 would’ve only finished third in Chelsea’s record breaking season of 2005. However they still bettered the records of some pretty notable teams, including Manchester United’s treble-winning team of 99 and Arsene Wenger’s first championship-winning side at Arsenal.
Next up, the armchair-fan brigade insist that Leicester have been handed the title due to the poor form of all of England’s usual suspects:
All five teams have seen a downturn in points this season, with Chelsea’s fall from grace being most dramatic – they finished up a hilarious 27 points worse off than last year. Man City lost the next highest number of points – 13. How careless of them. However it’s worth noting that Leicester’s total this year would still have placed them above all but the champions Chelsea last season.
So how did they do it?
Much has been made of Claudio Ranieri’s transformation from his ‘Tinkerman’ days at Chelsea to the ridiculously minimal changes he has made at Leicester this season. LCFC have made only 27 changes to their starting eleven ALL SEASON – second in the Premier League era only to the Manchester United team of 92-93 (26 changes). This has all been made possible by Leicester’s unprecedented lack of injuries and their squeaky-clean disciplinary record:
How very Gary Lineker.
Buongiorno Mahrez and Vardy
An absolutely vital cog in the Leicester machine has been PFA and Leicester Player of the Year, Riyad Mahrez. The now common story of Mahrez’s rise from the depths of Le Havre’s reserves to the golden boy of the Leicester fairytale is just another almost unexplainable factor in the How The Hell Did That Happen question. His record at Le Havre was patchy at best. In fact his record for Leicester, up until this season, gave no indication they had a world-beater on their hands:
Riyad Mahrez Career Stats
Shooting boots well and truly found.
As for Vardy, he was pretty prolific in 2011/12 – with Fleetwood Town. Bought by Leicester based on that season he proceeded to stink out the Championship and the Premier League – until this season when his goals per game ratio shot up from a miserly 0.15 to 0.67, propelling Leicester to the Premier League title.
Jamie Vardy Career Stats
Between them, Vardy and Mahrez accounted for 60% of Leicester’s goals and 40% of their assists. Vital.
In fact Mahrez and Vardy aren’t the only so-called ‘journeymen’ Leicester players to supercharge their careers this season:
According to the excellent http://www.transfermarkt.com, 60% (14 of 23) of the players in Leicester’s squad have seen a rise in their market value this year, with the largest rise being Mr Mahrez – from €1.25 million last season to a come-and-get-me €20 million this year.
On The Pitch
So Ranieri has shown complete faith in a starting eleven, put together on a shoestring budget, some of whom are now worth almost twenty times their value at the start of the season. That faith and increase in value must be built on some pretty impressive game stats then? Well, in terms of wins and points, obviously! But look a little deeper and Leicester’s title win begins to look even more miraculous:
In terms of possession and pass completion – usually the key indicators of a decent side – Leicester finished 3rd bottom and 2nd bottom respectively, below all three relegated clubs in both tables! So that’s the hipster tiki-taka stats out of the window. For their title win, Leicester went old-school – kept it tight at the back, and scored a load of goals:
Leicester weren’t the highest scorers in the division however scored the most number of goals both on the counter attack and on penalties – does that tell us something about their style of play?
Lest we forget that Leicester shouldn’t really have even been in the Premier League at all, never mind winning the damn thing. At Christmas 2014, LFC were rock bottom of the division – usually a sure sign of impending doom. On the 3rd April 2015, they were still 7 points from safety at the bottom of the table. Then, the miracle began. Leicester won 7 of their final 9 games to finish fourteenth and survive easily. They became only the third team in Premier League history to survive after being bottom at Christmas. What happened next blew all of our tiny little minds.
A swing of 40 points, and +41 in goal difference tells the story of how Leicester transformed from relegation dogfighters to champions in the space of a season.
So…How The Hell Did That Happen?
Are we any further forward in solving one of sports greatest mysteries? In researching this piece I simply assumed that it would become blindingly obvious, that the numbers would provide the eureka moment and we could all finally understand how the hell this happened. But no. Looking at the game stats, Leicester were shocking in possession and couldn’t pass for toffee. In this Barcelona-dominated era, King Guardiola has these stats enshrined as the holy grail of performance. Little Leicester just blew that clean out of the water. And they didn’t paper over the cracks by simply spending a load of dubiously earned dollars on a team of mercenaries in order to win that trophy. Yes, they had some players who had the season of their lives (so far). But would you swap Jamie Vardy for Harry Kane? Or Sergio Aguero? What about Mahrez for Ozil or Sanchez?
The fact is, there is no solitary key ingredient to Leicester’s march to the title. Instead, the perfect storm of solid team performances, inconsistency from the usual powerhouses, a settled first eleven and a couple of players with the knack of scoring when it mattered provided the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and they took it – making an absolute mockery of the billions of pounds spent by so-called bigger clubs to even reach the ‘magical’ fourth place nevermind win the league. Leicester proved that the good old-fashioned footballing values of teamwork, solid defence, and scoring goals can still reap rewards. So what happens next for Leicester? A period of domestic and european dominance? A spectacular fall from grace resulting in an even more spectacular relegation? Or a gentle slide back into mid-table mediocrity? Ask any Leicester fan if they even care. What about the rest of the league? Will they curb their spending, knowing that the league can be won on a shoestring? Take more of a chance on unknown, unproven players from the lower leagues? Maybe do some work on their defence? Unfortunately I think we all at least know the answer to those questions.