The Runner Sports

The End Is In Sight For Leicester City

It is not possible for a club to be facing more different circumstances from one year to the next.  April 3, 2015, Leicester City were languishing in last place in the Premier League.  The club had only 29 points and was facing the distinct possibility of relegation.

Fast forward to April 3, 2016, and Leicester City were wrapping up another white-knuckle victory over Southampton to put their season point tally at 69, a full 40 points higher than one year ago.  Even more incredibly, Leicester City now has but six matches to hang onto a now gaping seven-point gulf between them and Tottenham.

To make this possible, Leicester City has transformed from a free-wheeling, we’ll out score you, club to a lockdown defensive unit that is capable of grinding out results.  Before Christmas this season, Leicester City won matches 3-2 three times and 4-2 once.  Led by Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, Leicester seemed to score at will, but the question lobbied by skeptics was what was going to happen when Mahrez and, more importantly, Vardy ran out of goals.

Indeed, those goals have to some extent dried up with the above two combining to scoring only seven goals in the last sixteen matches, opposed to twenty-eight before that.  So why hasn’t Leicester City slowed down? Shouldn’t they, after the top two options slow their scoring rate tumble down the table?

Nope. Claudio Ranieri has instead morphed his club into an incredibly defensively sound outfit.  Even to start the season, Leicester City sat back and absorbed pressure before launching dangerous counter attacks.  Now they largely follow the same game plan, but a combination of opponents tactical changes and slight adjustments has seen Leicester City continue their domination on top of the table.

The shift many of the opponents have been taking is to play much more conservatively.  In many matches, this means that Leicester City doesn’t dominate possession, or even have the lion’s share.  Rather, opponents are not pushing so many men forward into attack to better deal with the Leicester City counter.  Doing this limits the counter-attacking power of Leicester City (read Jamie Vardy’s specialty), but at the same time also limits the pure numbers in the box offensively.

Over the weekend, Southampton employed two defensive midfielders, Jordy Clasie and Victor Wanyama along with three central defenders that were responsible for snuffing out counters.  Allocating that many men back to defensive efforts meant that Southampton was only able to muster two shots on net for the match.

The second change that led to Leicester City conceding fewer goals is that they are now attempting to control more of the match through possession than to begin the season.  Their possession stats are still not in the Barcelona realm, far from it, but the stats are much more even than to begin the season.  Obviously, having the ball in possession would result in fewer opportunities for the opponent.

So yes, Vardy has stopped scoring the buckets of goals, but Leicester City through a combination of sturdier defending and goals from unexpected sources has picked up multiple wins.  In the last six matches, Leicester City has won five and drew the other on the back of goals from Wes Morgan, Andy King, Shinji Okazaki, and Leonardo Ulloa.  All title-winning clubs need unexpected performances and especially so for a club of Leicester City’s size.

The winner was smashed into the goal by Morgan this past weekend and as a collective defensive unit, combined with thousands of free donuts, Leicester City were able to capitalize on Tottenham’s slip to extend their lead to seven.

The end is in sight for Leicester City as they look to hoist their first top division title in their history. Six more matches remain.

John Harbeck

Ohio sports and all things soccer.If you like my writing follow me @JHarbeck5 on twitter

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