Columnists, Sports

Why this Leicester City team is better than the title winning one from 2016

For any other team outside of the traditional ‘top six’ clubs in English football to be placed third in the Premier League — only two points behind last season’s champions Manchester City — seems like a fairytale.

Leicester City, arguably, has already had their fairytale with their remarkable, unexpected title-winning campaign of 2015-16. At the time, the team was tipped to go down after having just escaped from the jaws of relegation in the previous season.

The title-winning team under then Claudio Ranieri was built upon pragmatism. They defended deep, using a five-man midfield with second striker Shinji Okazaki dropping deep. When then-unknown and now world-class N’golo Kante won back the ball, Danny Drinkwater used the pace of frontman Jamie Vardy to exploit the vast spaces left open by attacking teams.

Against tougher opposition, the brilliance of winger Riyad Mahrez would come through and their resolute defence continued to hold on for more vital victories.

The current team, under manager Brendan Rodgers, plays a lot more free-flowing, attacking football, already proven by their emphatic 5-0 and 9-0 victories over Newcastle United and Southampton respectively, with the latter being the highest-ever away victory in English Premier League history. Rodgers is known for his attacking teams, including Liverpool during the 2013-14 season — the team went on to score more than 100 goals.

For those who do remember that Liverpool team might also like to highlight their defensive frailties, which eventually cost them the title.

This Leicester City team have the second-best defense in the league, conceding only eight goals so far. The back four are also much more comfortable on the ball, with their fullbacks particularly interested in breaking forward and getting into dangerous positions.

What is more remarkable about their defence is that Leicester City just sold their best center back, Harry Maguire, for a record fee. Despite this, they have looked just as assured with Çağlar Söyüncü proving to be one of the best defenders this season.

He has a commanding presence, with a great sense of positioning that allows him to make up for his lack of pace. Despite his clunky frame, he is quite adept on the ball, always ready to break defensive lines with penetrating passes.

In midfield, Rodgers has found a perfect balance. Wilfried N’didi sits at the base of the midfield directly in front of the defence where he screens the defence and provides additional cover.

To the right side of the midfield, Youri Tielemans acts as the box-to-box player, aided by his tremendous stamina, work-rate and quality on the ball. He has chipped in with five goals and four assists this season, and at 22, shows a high level of maturity. Leicester would do very well to hold onto a player who seems destined for greater things.

Finally, James Maddison completes the midfield as the creative and attacking force. He drives forward toward defensive lines with his immense dribbling ability and a keen eye for the goal. He was the only player to create 100 chances last season and is always on the lookout for Jamie Vardy who hangs on the shoulder of the last defender. Just like his midfield counterpart Tielemans, he too has a lot to learn and will continue to improve.

Up top, the evergreen Vardy continues to be a goal-scoring machine with 10 goals already this season, currently the top scorer of the league. Age hasn’t hindered his pace and he continues to time his runs to perfection. His ability in front of the goal has not waned either and with such a creative midfield behind him it won’t be surprising to see him competing for the Golden Boot come the end of the season.

The only concern for Leicester is their current xG (expected goals) from open play of 12.18 is a lot less than their 22 goals. They have been scoring a lot more improbable, unexpected goals. Such a stat is difficult to maintain over the entirety of the season, even with a striker as efficient as Vardy.

However, the lack of European football midweek gives Leicester an advantage, especially with their top four rivals United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal currently struggling. This allows Rodgers to essentially play the same team almost every game, giving them stability and a better understanding with each other.

This Leicester City team is one point ahead of their title winning team at the same stage of the season. While they will not win the league due to the ridiculous standards set by Liverpool and City, their stylish, youthful players will certainly entertain crowds and prove to be difficult to beat.

Considering they have already broken ‘top six,’ qualifying for the UEFA Champions League should also not be seen as an amazing achievement.

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