These 2 teams played to a 0-0 draw on the season’s opening day
4 of Leicester City’s 6 losses this season have come on the road
Wolves have scored just 9 of their 35 goals in the 1st half of PL games
Leicester City has been eyeing second in the Premier League table for some time now.
With Man City on its February break, the Foxes can officially catch Pep Guardiola and take second place with victory on the road at Wolves on Friday, with kickoff set for 3 p.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.
Just two points back in third, Leicester City can overtake Man City should they top a Wolves squad licking its wounds. Thankfully for the hosts, the February break may have served to alleviate some of those injury concerns. Adama Traore suffered a double blow in the 0-0 draw with Manchester United before the hiatus, dislocating his shoulder and suffering a kick to the calf later that eventually forced him off. Thanks to the long break, Traore is expected to play some part in the match, even if he doesn’t start. If Traore begins on the bench, it could signal a first Premier League start for new signing Daniel Podence.
Leicester City will be without an impactful player as well, with Wilfred Ndidi likely to miss his second straight match, with Brendan Rodgers saying the Nigerian returned too quickly from a knee operation.
Wolves: OUT – Ruben Vinagre (thigh). QUESTIONABLE – Adama Traore (shoulder/calf).
Wolves defender Conor Coady on return of Willy Boly: “He slotted straight back in and is a fantastic footballer. He is a brilliant person too to move forward in the team. You saw what he did on Saturday. He did exactly what he did before he got injured. He is a fantastic person to come back in. It’s not an easy game to come into either. He was brilliant and he does that every single game – you know what you are going to get from him. He has been a big miss since he has been injured, so to have him back is a huge thing for this football club.”
Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers on Wolves: “It will be a tough test. They are well organized, they’ve been together for a few years. Nuno [Espírito Santo] has done a great job there. I’m looking forward to the challenge of it.”
The possible absence of Traore and Ndidi take a bit of sting out of this game, and that could see this headed for another draw. Both teams would rue a loss far more than they would fear a draw, and that’s sometimes how these battles play out. It would be great for the Foxes to find themselves second in the table, and Wolves could jump all the way to fifth, but ultimately the point is the most valuable. It won’t be as dull as the season opener, but a 1-1 draw with some excitement at the end could ultimately play out between two teams proficient at scoring second-half goals.
Yes, this will cause controversy. Yes, you won’t agree with these 20 selections.
There is no right answer here because certain players may not have been the best technical player to play for a certain team over the last decade but they may have been the most important to their success.
Anyway, here it goes.
Arsenal: Alexis Sanchez – Yes, it didn’t end well for him at Arsenal. But for four seasons he led them to the FA Cup, top four finishes and scored superb goals along the way. His hunger to win drove Arsene Wenger‘s teams on and along with Jack Wilshere (when he was fit) and Aaron Ramsey, he was one of the few world-class quality players the Gunners possessed.
Aston Villa: Jack Grealish – A local lad who arrived from the academy with his low socks and slick Peaky Blinders-esque haircut, Grealish is Villa through and through and Villa’s hopes of staying in the Premier League this season revolve around the English playmaker. He stayed with them when they went down and brought them back up as skipper and his mercurial talents mean the big clubs are circling.
Bournemouth: Steve Cook – It is amazing to think he is just 29 years old. Cook has been with Bournemouth throughout their promotion from League One to the Premier League and is now at the heart of their defense. Some great players have been key to Bournemouth’s success but Cook has held it all together.
Brighton and Hove Albion: Lewis Dunk – Another local lad who has com through the ranks to be a star, Dunk is a towering, powerful center back who was with Brighton when they were at the Withdean and has been influential in their promotion and consolidation in the Premier League. He’s also played for England. His decade has been a Slam… Dunk.
Burnley: Ben Mee – A mainstay in Burnley’s defense after joining from Man City in 2011, initially on loan, Mee has been essential to their promotion campaigns and keeping them in the Premier League. A no-nonsense defender, Burnley can totally trust Mee. The unsung hero in a club of unsung heroes.
Chelsea: Eden Hazard – My favorite player of the decade in the Premier League because he could change the game on his own. Hazard led Chelsea to two Premier League titles, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Europa League and when he was at his best he was unstoppable. Ask players around the PL who was the best player they came up against and the vast majority will say Hazard.
Crystal Palace: WilfriedZaha – The academy product was a star in the Championship, left for Manchester United, came back and ripped it up. Zaha is loved by Palace’s fans and is probably the best player outside of the top six in the Premier League. His pace and power is just too much to handle for most teams. And even though he wants to leave for a team challenging for trophies, Zaha will go down as a Palace legend.
Everton: Leighton Baines – Okay, so it was a flip of a coin between Baines and Seamus Coleman, but I’m going for Baines. His quality from set piece situations was incredible and he was just wonderfully reliable. Everton’s two full backs will be etched into Toffees history but Baines’ extra quality in the final third gives him the nod.
Leicester City: Jamie Vardy – Okay, with N’Golo Kante, Wes Morgan, Kasper Schmeichel and Riyad Mahrez around, this wasn’t that easy but Vardy should get the nod. He scored the goals to lead Leicester to an incredible Premier League title win as his pace and clinical finishing capped off his unreal rise from non-league to the Premier League, and his resurgence over the past 12 months has been amazing. Vardy isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but when he’s at his best, nobody can stop him.
Liverpool: Virgil Van Dijk – This could be a controversial pick given the fact that he’s only played for Liverpool for two years, but there’s no doubt that no other player has been as important to the team as VVD. Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah have been attacking stars for the Reds over the last decade but Van Dijk’s arrival helped lead Liverpool to the Champions League and improved their entire defense which had been their Achilles heel under Jurgen Klopp. Van Dijk is a Rolls Royce and probably the most complete defender the Premier League has ever seen.
Manchester City: Vincent Kompany – A proper Man City legend, Kompany was the captain for all four of Man City’s Premier League title wins over the last decade. Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and David Silva have all been key parts of City’s glittering decade but Kompany was the glue who held it all together. Injuries hit him hard in the second half of the decade but he was no doubt one of the greatest center backs in the history of the game. His goal to clinch the 2018-19 title was the perfect way to go out.
Manchester United: David De Gea – He routinely won United’s Player of the Season over the last decade and without him Red Devils fans shudder to think where they would be. He has had a few big errors over the last 12 months but DDG has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League over the last decade. Amid all of United’s struggles to get back to the top, De Gea has been their one true star.
Newcastle United: Yohan Cabaye – Had the quality on the ball to rip teams apart and led the Magpies to a fifth-place finish under Alan Pardew. Papiss Cisse, Chieck Tiote, Moussa Sissoko and Demba Ba all had exceptional stints at Newcastle, but Cabaye had the extra class required to sew it together. The way he left for PSG wasn’t ideal but when all is said and done the former Lille midfielder was a game-changer at St James’ Park.
Norwich City: Wes Hoolahan – A yo-yo decade for the Canaries who went all the way down to League One and worked their way back to the Premier League via back-to-back promotions. Republic of Ireland midfielder Hoolahan was their main attacking threat throughout the promotion years and he was capable of the sublime.
Sheffield United: Billy Sharp – A local lad who has spent three spells at his beloved Blades and most recently signed for them in 2015 in League One, he scored the goals to take them back to the Premier League. Sharp has spent his entire career scoring boatloads of goals in the lower leagues and his dream was to play for Sheffield United in the Premier League. He’s achieved that, even though he hasn’t played a big role in their incredible season back in the top-flight. Sharp, 33, will forever be a Sheffield United legend.
Southampton: Rickie Lambert – Another star forward who led his team from League One to the Premier League. Lambert signed for Saints from Bristol Rovers for $1.3 million in 2010, just after they had come out of administration, and then led them to back-to-back promotions as they returned to the PL. He then established himself as one of the top strikers in the league, got a call-up to the England team, play at the 2014 World Cup and eventually sealed his dream move to hometown club Liverpool. Known as “Sir Rickie” at St Mary’s, there will be a statue of him at the club one day as he led them back to the top-flight and did it was pure style befitting of the legendary No. 7 shirt he wore. He did Matt Le Tissier proud. Sadio Mane, Morgan Schneiderlin, Van Dijk, Adam Lallana, Jose Fonte and others were stars for Saints in the last decade but Lambert was the reason they were even in the PL in the first place.
Tottenham Hotspur: Harry Kane – Has any other player in the Premier League burst onto the scene more than Kane in 2010? The London lad has come through Spurs’ academy to become a global star and is a goalscoring machine. In 2013-14 he was struggling to break through after several loan spells and now Kane is one of the best center forwards in the world. Kane scores every type of goal imaginable for club and country and is the captain of England and Tottenham’s talisman. The only thing left for him to tick off is winning a trophy. Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Hugo Lloris and Jan Vertonghen have all been mainstays but without Kane’s goals, Spurs would not have turned into genuine title contenders and regulars in the Champions League.
Watford: Troy Deeney – Mr. Watford, Deeney led them to promotion to the PL in 2015 and they’ve been there ever since. Deeney’s goals (126 in 380 games in all competitions) and bulldozing displays have kept Watford in the top-flight and they’ve reached FA Cup semifinals and finals as they continue to punch above their weight. Deeney is Watford’s captain and sets the tone for the entire club.
West Ham United: Dmitri Payet – Yes, West Ham fans will not like to admit this, but Payet was otherworldly at Upton Park and the London Stadium. The way he left for Marseille wasn’t great, at all, and the current owners have pretty much removed him from their history. But his amazing goals, free kicks and general outrageousness turned him into a club legend. Payet was box office as Slaven Bilic‘s side qualified for Europe.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Conor Coady – A mainstay in central defense for Wolves, Coady has led the charge since Fosun bought the club and Nuno Espirito Santo took over. A produce of Liverpool’s academy, he is a true professional who sets the standards day in, day out. Coady joined Wolves when they were struggling in the Championship and they are now in the Europa League knockout rounds and are challenging for the top four four after taking the PL by storm over the last two seasons. All of the recent impressive signings in attack and midfield have been important, so too has Matt Doherty who has been with Wolves since their days in the third tier, but Coady is the heart of Wolves and has been since 2015.
1. Rodgers rewarded for risky rotation: Brendan Rodgers changed nine men from the group embarrassed by Liverpool on Boxing Day, and the makeshift XI very much deserved the three points. Demarai Gray missed a penalty kick and a few other chances were left for dead, but overall the Foxes had every claim to the win.
2. Hammers a real relegation threat: Manuel Pellegrini’s defense has been woeful, and his star attackers couldn’t bail them out Felipe Anderson did assist on Fornals’ goal, and was lively on the left wing, but Sebastien Haller has not been able to sharpen his attacking acumen since an early season hot streak and neither Manuel Lanzini nor a trio of substitutes combined to deliver much threat.
3. Ayoze the assister takes the reins: Longtime Newcastle star Ayoze Perez is a mere component of the King Power Stadium attack. He drove the attacking bus on Saturday in the absence of Jamie Vardy and James Maddison, the latter replacing him in the 64th minute after assists on both goals. He was two for two on dribbles and drew three fouls in a very strong performance.
Man of the Match: Perez.
Lukasz Fabianski gave away a terrible penalty to Kelechi Iheanacho, but then made a save on Demarai Gray’s poor penalty to keep it 0-0.
Iheanacho put Leicester in front when Ayoze Perez made an athletic play to keep a ball in bounds for a near-post headed goal.
Gray then tore into a shot from 12 yards that was nowhere near the mark.
West Ham had a nice chance bound wide when Sebastien Haller’s header was off frame, and the equalizer came moments later through Fornals.
The Spaniard arrived on the scene for a Felipe Anderson cutback to cue the bubbles.
Say it again with me. We’re doing this Good Will Hunting style, until you truly believe the words you are repeating.
Leicester City is a top Premier League club.
Four years after winning the title against astronomical odds in one of the most historic seasons in sports history, Brendan Rodgers has cemented Leicester City as anything but a fluke. This club is for real.
After three mid-table finished that allowed the club to institute a sustainable model of player acquisition, talent development, and asset maximization, the Foxes are back near the top of the table and look a club that has the ability to secure itself as a leading force in the English top flight.
This summer, the club put the finishing touches on two critical components of the plan, two moments that may prove defining decisions in the club’s history. The first was selling Harry Maguire and replacing him with young Caglar Soyuncu, a move which not only netted the club a massive sum of money, but also cemented Leicester City as a talent development hub capable of producing talent, offloading for a huge profit, and not losing a step on the pitch.
The second was replacing Claude Puel with Brendan Rodgers. Puel, in charge of Leicester City for two years, was caught in between instituting his preferred possessional style of play and changing the culture of the squad, a hesitation which cost the Frenchman his job. Last season, Leicester City was seventh in the league in passes per game but fifth in accurate long-balls per game, a testament to his inability to decide the squad’s identity. This season, Leicester City is fourth in passes per game behind Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool, and fourth in total shots per game, all while sitting ninth in accurate long-balls (for what it’s worth, Liverpool is 1st in that category while Man City is third, largely down to their exorbitant possessional advantages). This team has completed the transformation Puel wanted but never achieved – they are a dominant Premier League side that wants to dominate its opponents.
Even deeper, the numbers agree. Jamie Vardy is scoring at otherworldly levels, especially for a player at 32 years old. His 16 goals lead the league by six, and even with his outrageous finishing ability (he has a +5.47 differential between actual goals scored and expected goals scored, nearly double anyone else – Harry Kane and Teemu Pukki are second at +2.92), he is still second in the league in total xG behind Marcus Rashford.
James Maddison, Ricardo Pereira, and Wilfried Ndidi are all among the top 5 in WhoScored player rating this season, while Vardy sits seventh. Soyuncu ranks sixth in the league by WhoScored among central defenders in his first full Premier League season at just 23 years old, while his center-back partner Jonny Evans is eighth in his 13th campaign in the English top flight. Pereira is a tackling machine who gets far less screen time than new Manchester United signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka, owner of a reputation for that exact skill which earned him a big-money move. Ndidi, meanwhile, continues to rise in prominence as he leads the Premier League in tackles and ranks third in interceptions.
Sure, Rodgers inherited a fantastic squad, but the list of players falls well short of screaming “second in the table” and the former Liverpool manager has metamorphosed them from budding talents to world-class players. He has mixed young talent with veteran experience flawlessly, making sure to keep title veterans Wes Morgan, Cristian Fuchs, and Marc Albrighton involved despite their declining roles.
The club has also found itself the beneficiary of a few unique circumstances. Most notably, they have avoided significant injury to this point in the season. A large part of that has been Vardy’s international retirement which (at least, for the time being) has kept him fresher than most, whereas double duty has weighed down other top goalscorers in the league. Only Matthew James is currently sidelined for the Foxes who remain one of the healthiest teams in the league. They also don’t have European play to worry about, a proven ingredient for domestic success.
Still, Rodgers is the source of much of their continued improvement. The Foxes have conceded just nine total goals all year, the least of any English top flight side, and are the only team in the league not to have conceded from a set-piece this Premier League season, a testament to their rigid and well-drilled discipline. And they have scored gobs of late goals under the current boss – they scored 10 goals inside the final 15 minutes of his first eight games in charge of the club, and this season they lead the league with five goals inside the final five minutes (even with Manchester City). Against Aston Villa he managed to pair Vardy with Kelechi Iheanacho up front, a prospect that left Puel utterly baffled.
It’s a shame this team isn’t among those competing in Europe this campaign, as they could surely challenge the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich for a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals, but they will almost certainly get the chance next season. They get a chance to play with the Premier League big boys soon during the holiday season, with back-to-back matches against Liverpool and Man City just after Christmas Day.
Claude Puel just couldn’t get it right. Vardy said earlier this season that Puel’s training sessions were “too slow” to the point where it was consequently “difficult for us to be fast and aggressive in matches.” That’s not a problem any longer. Brendan Rodgers has this team absolutely soaring at breakneck speeds towards a long-term place among the Premier League’s elite. The Foxes’ transformation from one-hit wonder to sustainable elite-level success should be a case study for other clubs looking to is still in progress, but has reached the final phase.
Leicester City sits second place in the Premier League table in mid-November, eight points back of a historic Liverpool position.
Since winning the title, Leicester City has finished 12th, 9th, and 9th and suddenly are challenging for a Champions League place yet again. The simple fact that the Foxes have managed to sustain considerable top-flight success over the course of the last six seasons might be even more impressive than their lightning-in-a-bottle title run.
While there are a few holdovers from the title-winning campaign, like goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and striker Jamie Vardy who stand out among the crowd, there has understandably been considerable turnover from that title team. Midfielders N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater were sold for significant sums of money, as was winger Riyad Mahrez. Both members of the center-back partnership Wes Morgan and Robert Huth put together are 35 years old (Morgan is still with the club but has logged just 28 Premier League minutes thus far).
So, naturally, we thought it fitting to compare the two sides. In another universe where Liverpool doesn’t dominate the Premier League landscape in record-breaking fashion, could this current Leicester challenge for a title? The only way to find out is to pit them against the squad that did. Here we go.
GOALKEEPER – Kasper Schmeichel (15/16) vs. Kasper Schmeichel (19/20)
Now 33 years old, Kasper Schmeichel has become one of the faces of Leicester City. Fans adore his leadership and calming presence, and respect his dedication to the club. But how does he stack up now against the likes of his younger self? With five clean sheets in 12 appearances under Brendan Rodgers this season, Schmeichel is up to his old tricks. Among qualifying goalkeepers, Schmeichel ranks second in the league in overall score according to SofaScore’s rating system, and has has managed to do so without facing a ton of shots – Leicester City has conceded the fourth-fewest xGA according to UnderStat.com.
So how does that stack up to the legendary title-winning season of 2015/16? That year, Schmeichel recorded 15 clean sheets in 38 league appearances, one behind Petr Cech‘s 16 for the league lead. He had the fourth-highest saves per goal conceded total in the league at 2.8, behind just Cech and a pair of goalkeepers with higher volume in Vito Mannone and Fraser Forster.
VERDICT: DRAW – Schmeichel is up to his old tricks, and has kept his level of play high through the years. Leicester City still has a rock between the sticks.
Wes Morgan and Robert Huth built an unlikely center-back partnership at Leicester City. A former Chelsea youth product, Huth was on his fourth club after spending six years at Stoke City toiling in the middle of the Premier League table. Morgan, meanwhile, had been a career Championship player, with the previous campaign his first in the top flight. Together, they logged a massive 6,570 Premier League minutes en route to a defensive performance that saw them concede just 36 goals in 38 games, one off the league’s stingiest defensive output. By April, the two led the top-four defenders in blocks, and both appeared in the WhoScored’s top 15 for center-back ratings at season’s end.
Today, an equally unlikely circumstance has led Leicester City to the league’s best defense. 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu has developed into one of the best young center-back prospects in the league next to experienced former Manchester United defender Jonny Evans. Thanks to that pair, Leicester City is one of just two teams to have conceded a single-digit goal total through 12 matches alongside Sheffield United. Soyuncu ranks 3rd in WhoScored rating among CB’s with at least 7 appearances, while Evans is 11th, and the former is a beast in the air and pressures with accuracy. Also, he can dribble?
We were done, but this one was too weird not to do.
VERDICT: SOYUNCU/EVANS – While Wes Morgan and Robert Huth will live in club lore, the longevity potential for Soyuncu/Evans and their underlying statistics prove they are far more than a one-hit-wonder and can be a massive asset for this club moving forward.
One of the more under-heralded fan favorites of the 2015/16 title team, Christian Fuchs is another that will live on in club lore. He was energetic and a lively presence in the dressing room. Along with his full-back partner Danny Simpson, both players were seemingly on the decline before coming to Leicester – Fuchs had made 16 and 25 league appearances in his final two season at Schalke before being shipped out, while Simpson had lost his starting place at Newcastle two years prior and spent a season in the Championship with QPR before Leicester City gave him another shot at the Premier League. Somehow, things clicked under Claudio Ranieri and the two took off, providing both defensive cover and overlapping contributions moving forward.
With Fuchs a bit-part player and Simpson off at Huddersfield Town, they have been replaced by two of the best full-backs in the Premier League. Ricardo Pereira was the second-best right-back in the league behind Trent Alexander-Arnold last season according to WhoScored, while Ben Chilwell has earned a regular spot on the England national team.
VERDICT: Pereira/Chilwell – Fuchs is an absolute fan-favorite and Simpson’s revival was stunning to behold, but like the current center-back pairing Pereira and Chilwell have the longevity to serve the club for years or become valuable assets, and the two have already earned personal accolades the previous duo would not have achieved.
DEFENSIVE MID – N’Golo Kante (15/16) vs. Wilfred Ndidi (19/20)
This is one of the most fascinating player comparisons in recent soccer memory. N’Golo Kante’s rise to become one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, earning PFA Player of the Year in 2016/17 and finishing 8th on the Ballon d’Or list for 2017. Kante was the most important player on the title-winning squad – quite simply, Leicester City doesn’t win the title without Kante leading the league in tackles per 90 (4.7) and interceptions per 90 (4.2). His ability to halt opponent counters in their tracks was mind-numbing.
And yet, Leicester City’s only gone and produced his clone.
Wilfred Ndidi leads the league in interceptions per 90 minutes and is second in tackles behind tackle machine Aaron Wan-Bissaka. At just 23 years old, the Foxes are staring another N’Golo Kante in the face, a player who many believed – rightly so – was a once-in-a-generation type midfield product.
VERDICT: N’Golo Kante – while Ndidi is a massively promising player who is producing another season like Kante’s in 15/16, it will be hard to top one of the most legendary performances of the past decade, one backed up by Kante’s rise to stardom over the past few years.
CENTER MID – Danny Drinkwater (15/16) vs. Youri Tielemans (19/20)
Danny Drinkwater has flopped since his move to Chelsea, but don’t let that cloud your memory of his performance as N’Golo Kante’s midfield partner. Drinkwater was massively important to Leicester City during the title run, scoring two goals in 35 league appearances and assisting seven more, providing a dynamic presence in midfield to both calmly hold possession and provide dangerous moves forward. Still, admittedly being next to Kante made Drinkwater look better, and that proved true through the rest of his career.
Tielemans, on the other hand, is putting up numbers of his own that prove he’s his own player outside of any lift he gets from being slotted next to Ndidi and James Maddison. His passing percentage is way up from his days at Anderlecht and Monaco, and while he still struggles with turning the ball over on occasion, his heavy volume (55 passes per 90, 13th among non-defenders) and key passes (1.8 per 90, 17th in the league) suggest Tielemans has settled into an important role with the club.
VERDICT: Tielemans – While Danny Drinkwater was important to Leicester City’s run, his peripherals suggested Chelsea probably should have been more careful with its money. Tielemans has made significant strides since his disastrous time at Monaco and has become an important cog in midfield.
ATTACKING MID/WINGER – Riyad Mahrez/Marc Albrighton vs. James Maddison/Ayoze Perez (19/20)
Riyad Mahrez’s road to becoming Leicester City’s record sale was at times a bumpy tale, but there were no higher highs than he had in the 2015/16 title run. The Algerian international became a Premier League sensation with his 17 goals and 10 assists, doing it all for the Leicester City attack. He produced an xG of 11.88 for himself, with a silly goal conversion rate on top of that. In addition, he set his teammates up for a nearly equal 11.45 xA total, picking up 20 big chances created and dribbling successfully at a rate of 3.5 per 90 minutes. By contrast, Mahrez’s wing partner Marc Albrighton is a mostly forgettable player for casual fans, but he was massively important in other ways. Playing in every single Premier League match that season, Albrighton helped keep the shape and offered a more rigid foil to Mahrez’s marauding, with Fuchs overlapping on the left.
This season, James Maddison is the standout attacking player for the Foxes, with the 22-year-old developing into a key contributor up front. The youngster is eighth in the league in key passes per 90 minutes, and he himself is ripping off over three shots a game, with four league goals already to his name. Still, Maddison could be creating more – with 23 shot assists on the season so far, only two have qualified as “big chances” according to SofaScore. Ayoze Perez has not quite brought the explosiveness we saw in his Newcastle days over to the King Power Stadium, but his three-goal haul is also proving important early on.
VERDICT: Mahrez/Albrighton – while this duo was sorely one-sided, the season Riyad Mahrez had for Leicester City that title-winning campaign was an attacking display for the ages. Maddison is an extremely solid future asset contributing at a high level for such a young age, but he still has distance to cover to reach the heights of Mahrez that fateful year, who finished as the highest rated player in the entire league according to WhoScored.com.
STRIKER – Jamie Vardy (15/16) vs. Jamie Vardy (19/20)
Alongside Schmeichel, Jamie Vardy is the face of Leicester City. His out-of-nothing story makes him special to Leicester City fans, and his goalscoring prowess has been critical to the club ever since they were promoted to the Premier League. Vardy has made a career of scoring out of nothing – his top-flight career has seen him score 91 goals, a massive +11.5 differential over his 79.5 career xG.
Yet, a closer look provides a fascinating underscore of the evolution of the 32-year-old’s career. This season, in just 12 matches, Vardy has bagged 11 goals on an xG of just 5.19, meaning nearly 6 of that +11 career differential has come just this campaign. The Foxes striker is taking just two shots per 90 minutes, and yet has scored on nearly half of them – absolutely astronomical conversion numbers that are surely unsustainable, even if Vardy’s career has been built on exceptional finishing.
While those numbers are surely inflated by the relatively small sample size of 12 matches this year, they aren’t all that different from the title-winning season. That campaign, Vardy took 115 shots – 3.28 per game – and scored on 24 of them, and his 0.19 xG per shot is quite close to the 0.21 he is putting up this season. Most interesting, he scored 18 of those 24 goals with his right foot, a variance which has evened out this season as Vardy becomes more competent with his off side – four goals with his right, four with his left, and two with his head.
VERDICT: 15/16 Vardy – This season’s Jamie Vardy just isn’t shooting at the volume you’d expect from a striker of his finishing caliber, and he needs to find a higher volume if he wants to keep up the ridiculous goal conversion rate that will surely regress towards the mean.
It is impossible to discuss the epic season Leicester City had in 2015/16 without talking about Leonard Ulloa and Shinji Okazaki, who combined came off the bench 30 times in league play and were often called upon to rescue points. Andy King became a club icon as a Leicester City youth product who fans took a liking to, brought off the bench 16 times himself to close a game down.
Brendan Rodgers has Demari Gray and Harvey Barnes at his disposal to inject life into a game, while Hamza Choudhury is a talented young player who has shown flashes of being able to do the job himself should anything happen to Ndidi. Still, Grey – who was a member of that title-winning squad – has not become the star many thought he would a few years ago and Barnes is still showing his age at 21 years old. The group has yet to become true super-subs and Rodgers has been somewhat forced to run with his main group – five players have played every minute of this Premier League campaign so far (Schmeichel, Soyuncu, Evans, Vardy, Pereira) while another (Tielemans) is has seen just seven minutes of rest.
VERDICT: 2015/16 – It felt like every time Ranieri called upon the cavalry, they would deliver in the given situation. Gray has yet to develop into the player many believed he would years ago, and Barnes is still a raw product.