What’s up with Leicester?

After the triumph of last season, Leicester City find themselves sitting in a disappointing 14th spot in the Premier League after 11 games. So, what’s happened? How much worse are they performing compared to last season? How much of an effect has the loss of N’Golo Kanté had? Are the additional Champions League games proving a distraction? I’ll investigate these questions, looking at the numbers to try and find answers.

Starting off in attack, shots are down by almost 25% per game and when this is narrowed down to the penalty area, the situation is worse still.  Leicester are taking less shots per game than last season, and more of them are in locations less they are less likely to score in. Shots on target are also down from 4.7 to 2.9 per game, almost 40% down.

  Shots taken per game Shots taken in 18-yard box per game
15/16 13.7 7.6
16/17 10.5 5
Difference -23.4% -34.2%

This has led to a large drop off in goals scored per game, 1.18 compared to 1.79 last season (down 34%). A disappointing return for the third highest scorers in the league last season.

So, what has happened to the attack? What has happened to two of last season’s shining lights, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who played key roles and scored so many goals?

As with the overall trend of the team, both players are getting less chances to score. However, Vardy is suffering in front of goal more than the team is collectively, he is only taking around half the amount of shots per 90 minutes he was taking last season. Looking at his shots on target and shots in the penalty area per 90 minutes, they are also down by around half. This indicates he is not doing too much different when he gets the ball (he is also half down on non-penalty goals per 90), but he is just not getting the opportunity to shoot as much. This may be down to several factors, such as supply from the midfield and defences not allowing Vardy as much freedom to have space to run behind the defence. The additional of Islam Slimani has meant Vardy is no longer guaranteed a starting XI spot, potentially affecting his form.

Now onto Mahrez, who is looking half the player he was last season, and it shows in his numbers. He is beating opponents less often and is making less passes which lead to a shot (see the Vardy supply issue…). Whilst his shots aren’t down massively, shots on target are, possibly indicating he isn’t being allowed to go into the dangerous positions he was last season, perhaps as teams look to strangle the space that Leicester excellently exploited last season.

  Opp beaten p90 Shots p90 SoT p90 Key passes p90
15/16 3.68 2.54 1.15 2.01
16/17 2.74 2.32 0.63 1.47
Difference -25.5% -8.7% -45.2% -26.9%

Some hope can be found the expected goals (xG) numbers, (credit to David Sumpter for these, see tweet below) a measure of quality of chance created. Leicester have scored 2 goals less than their xG total, which indicates they can be considered unfortunate to not have scored more.

Looking on the defensive side of the game, shots conceded per game have slightly increased but goals conceded per game are up a massive 70% (0.95 to 1.64 per game). Delving deeper, shots on target conceded have nearly doubled, a potential cause for the increase in goals. Interestingly, although they are conceding more shots on target, proportionally less of them are in the 18-yard box, potentially indicating a glimmer of hope for the future defensively.

  Shots con per game SoT con per game SoT con in 18-yard box per game
15/16 13.6 3.68 2.61
16/17 14.5 5.36 3.36
Difference 6.6% 45.6% 29.1%

Looking at expected goals, Leicester have conceded 5 more goals than their expected goals, the second largest negative deviation in the league. This suggests that they have been unlucky to some extent and in the long term the situation is likely to improve. It is also important to note the deterioration in set piece defending ability as a reason for the increase in goals conceded, five of their goals conceded have been from set pieces.

It is also painfully obvious how much the team are missing the excellent N’Golo Kanté. Interceptions and tackles per game are down, and players are being dribbled past more times per game than last season. However, the fact that this has only led to a slight increase in shots conceded indicates this might be an issue for attack more than defence. Last season, many counter attacks were sprung immediately after a Kanté interception. This year however, less interceptions and tackles are being made, and counter attacks have suffered. Shots from counter attacks per game have almost halved (0.34 to 0.18). This could be an additional reason for the drop in attacking output.

  Interceptions per game Tackles per game Players dribbled past per game
15/16 21.6 20.4 11.4
16/17 14.9 16.7 12.9
Difference -31.0% -18.1% 13.2%

Leicester have been somewhat unfortunate in central midfield, with the highly anticipated Nampalys Mendy injuring his ankle 53 minutes into his league debut. This hole has been tried to be filled by Daniel Amartey and Andy King, who both have had runs of league starts next to Danny Drinkwater, six and four respectively. Unsurprisingly, they have not been able to match Kante’s level of performance. Drinkwater himself has shouldered some of the defensive load, tackling 40% more per game on average, with interceptions around the same level.

  League mins Interceptions per 90 Tackles per 90
Kante 15/16 3020 4.6 5.2
King 16/17 444 2.2 2
Amartey 16/17 565 1.6 1.6
Drinkwater 16/17 979 1.7 4.3

A possible solution to this issue may be a change to playing three in central midfield, however this is unlikely to happen for a while due to a shortage of central midfielders in the squad (just the three mentioned are currently match fit, leaving Claudio Ranieri with little room for manoeuvre). Whilst its possible to point to the Mendy injury, some blame should go to the arguably disappointing summer transfer window. The club were reportedly keen to sign an additional central midfielder, evident from the deadline day chase of Adrien Silva from Sporting Lisbon, but failed to do so.

A possible cause for this downturn in form could be that the focus has switched from the league to the Champions League, where Leicester have been doing well. Looking at the games before the Champions League fixtures, Leicester have been very poor (3 losses and a draw). However, the fixture list was not kind to them in these fixtures, with trips to Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham preceding their four Champions League matches. Conversely, after Champions League games Leicester have been afforded a very kind set of fixtures, this has resulted in better form in these games (2 wins, a draw and a loss). As a fan, I agree with the strategy of prioritising the Champions League, as it is unlikely we will return in the foreseeable future, so it is important to make the most of it.

Overall, Leicester are struggling to find form, they are missing the midfield presence of Kanté and key players Vardy and Mahrez are yet to meet the levels now expected of them. The team are taking less and conceding more dangerous shots per game, however expected goals indicate they may have been unlucky at both ends of the pitch. It is fair to say the Champions League has been a distraction, but it is not a bad one to have! They are nearly qualified from their group which can allow the focus to switch back on to the league, just in time for a run of fixtures which see them play just two of the top six in the next twelve games after visiting four to date this season.  After the highs of last season it is no surprise they are experiencing a domestic lull, yet with European distractions soon to disappear and some tough fixtures out of the way, the next few months may see Leicester get back to their best.

Thanks for reading. I’m on Twitter (@georgeball95), feedback is welcome.

Data for this article is from whoscored.com and Paul Riley.

If you wish to write for Chance Analytics please email chanceanalytics@hotmail.com



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