Striker Jamie Vardy has 15 goals in 16 league matches
Riyad Mahrez has second-highest number of assists in EPL
Leicester back on top of league after win over Chelsea
Leicester City has been the undisputed success story of the Premier League this season. The surprise package tops the table after Monday’s 2-1 victory over plummeting, and now managerless, EPL champion Chelsea.
But how has the club, only promoted to England’s top division in 2014 after a 10-year absence, done it?
For a start, leading goalscorer Jamie Vardy has struck 15 times in the league this term – as many league goals as La Liga superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo combined – and his side has scored in all its Premier League games.
Meanwhile, Foxes midfielder Riyad Mahrez (a bargain buy from French club Le Havre), boasts the second-highest number of assists in the Premier League, with his 12 set-ups putting him behind only Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, who has 16.
Algeria international Mahrez, who cost Leicester £350,000 ($522,000) when former manager Nigel Pearson signed him back in January, has also completed 54 dribbles, the most in the division, and contributed 11 goals for good measure.
His modest transfer fee contributes to a total Leicester squad value, assessed by Transfermarkt, of £70.07 million. The Chelsea squad, in contrast, is valued at a whopping £379.75 million.
The unstoppable march
Money may talk very loudly in the Premier League – but it clearly doesn’t say everything.
Leicester’s quality, team spirit and togetherness, forged by Pearson, has been further encouraged by his successor Claudio Ranieri and is at the heart of the success story.
The team has been pretty much unstoppable since the first game of April when – stuck at the bottom of the league table, let’s remember – it beat West Ham 2-1 at its home King Power Stadium for a first victory in nine attempts.
That win, secured in the closing minutes by a goal from substitute Andy King, turned out to be the cue for an incredible lift-off. The Foxes have lost only twice in the 24 games that have followed.
If you calculate a Premier League table from the West Ham game onwards, Leicester sit at the top of the tree with 57 points – seven more than second-placed Manchester City, another team assembled at a hugely greater expense.
And if you take a look across Europe’s top leagues, only Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have collected more points than Leicester in that time.
Over those games, Leicester has scored 53 goals – and Vardy, who got the first of its season as Sunderland were beaten by an all-out attacking display on day one, has been the main catalyst.
An 11-game scoring streak equaled the record set by former Manchester United man Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Vardy’s strike against Chelsea was a 15th in just 16 league matches – not bad for a man who, a little over three years ago, was playing for Fleetwood Town in the lowly divisions outside England’s Football League pyramid.
By comparison, Messi and Ronaldo’s combined tally in Spain’s top flight stands at 15 for the season, although injuries have curtailed Messi’s appearance record and meant he has mustered only five goals to Ronaldo’s 10.
More than a fluke?
A fair degree of skepticism surrounded the Foxes’ blistering start to the season – many pundits firmly believed it wouldn’t last – but the results the players continue to achieve show it was no flash in the pan.
After all, Leicester had won seven of nine league games at the end of the previous campaign to secure EPL safety. This season, it’s 10 wins out of 16.
So, who could say it’s a fluke? Even former Chelsea manager Ranieri, who has always insisted Leicester can’t win the title come May, is allowing himself to get carried away. Well, just a little bit.
Speaking after the win over his old club, he said: “It’s magical. We must continue to work hard because I don’t want to wake up – I want to continue to dream with our fans.
“But during the training sessions, we have to put our dreams away and work hard.”
Leicester’s billionaire Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who kept faith with Pearson when the team was bottom of the table, chose to sack him in the summer and opt for Ranieri in a move that raised more than a few eyebrows.
But a team widely tipped to endure another survival struggle is reveling in making a mockery of such predictions.
Soon after arriving in the Midlands, Srivaddhanaprabha said he was targeting a top-five finish within three years. That was in May 2014. Some thought he was aiming for the impossible – but now the fabulous Foxes look well ahead of schedule.
According to Ladbrokes, the odds on the season’s opening day for Chelsea to be relegated and Leicester to win the league were 500,000/1. And what exactly are those odds now? 1,000/1, that’s what.