Last claiming the trophy in 2015/16, it goes without saying that their glory was one of the most unexpected in the history of the sport.
Ironically, it is actually the Foxes’ longshots this season that are helping them assemble another title challenge.
Great goals from the Foxes
With half of the campaign already passed, Brendan Rodgers’ men have scored from outside of the area on six occasions in the Premier League – with a couple of other thunderous efforts coming in the FA Cup and UEFA Europa League.
Wilfred Ndidi’s early blockbuster against Chelsea in midweek was the latest in the long line of spectacular efforts including Dennis Praet’s against Burnley, James Maddison’s wonderful effort at the Etihad Stadium and Harvey Barnes’ strikes against Manchester United and Crystal Palace. Youri Tielemans also struck gold from outside of the area against Newcastle United.
Of clubs in the Premier League, only Leeds United have scored more goals from range, whilst Leicester have already bettered their total from 2015/16 – the last time they won the league. If they continue this average for the rest of the campaign, they should find the back of the net from outside of the area on 12 occasions, a remarkable figure.
Leicester defying the numbers
Interestingly, when looking at those six aforementioned strikes, they are all actually amongst the Foxes’ most difficult chances – a natural expectation with goals from outside of the area.
Using the expected goals (xG) model, the easiest opportunity of them all was Tielemans’ swept finish at St James’ Park just after New Year’s Day. The Belgian’s strike sat at just 0.07 xG.
Of the six goals that the Foxes have netted from outside of the area, they only add up to a total of 0.25 xG. This explains the huge disparity between Leicester’s actual goal total of 35 and their total xG of 29.42. Again, this indicates that the East-Midlanders are finding the net with hugely difficult chances, considering that only Southampton currently possess a greater difference between their xG and actual goals.
So, are these goals down to good fortune or have they been plotted by Rodgers?
Why is this happening?
Looking at the raw statistics, Leicester have not improved in manufacturing the opportunities where they can find the net from range. They are currently averaging less possession per game than during 2019/20 – 52.1% compared to 55.1% - whilst less of their play is in the opponent’s final third.
The Foxes are also averaging just 11.6 shots on average per match, the 12th highest in the league, with just 4.2 of those coming from outside of the area which is actually a decrease on last season’s 5.3 per game.
Indeed, Leicester are not just taking numerous pot shots from outside of the area in the hope of finding the net; their proportion of shots taken from range is also marginally down from 37% to 36%.
Leicester lethal from range
The main reason for the Foxes’ lethality from range is their efficiency. Leicester currently have the highest shot conversion rate in the Premier League at 11.7%. Whilst their shot accuracy is not actually awe-inspiring at 36.2%, it has actually improved upon 19/20’s 35.4%
The Foxes’ conversion rate from range understandably drops when driving from outside of the area - all the way down to 7.6% - but this is still a hugely impressive figure considering that they only found the net with 4.5% of the shots they took from outside of the area last season. Only Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur find the net more regularly with shots from range.
Vardy’s running helping again
This lethality could be down to good fortune or poor goalkeeping but it seems more like a deliberate ploy from Leicester boss Rodgers. With Jamie Vardy stretching the game, forcing opponents back into their own penalty area, this allows more space for the team’s technicians Maddison, Tielemans, Barnes and Praet – all players who have scored from outside of the area – to operate.
Apart from Vardy, who has the most shots per game in the Leicester squad, it is those players who are threatening the most. Maddison, Barnes, Tielemans and even Ayoze Perez, who has been afforded just rare opportunities, are taking over 1.3 shots per game in the Premier League. It makes sense then that those players are usually those to be deployed behind Vardy.
It seems that a combination of a creation of space on the edge of the area, coupled with more efficient long-range shooting has seen the Foxes become one of the most effective teams from outside of the penalty area.
If they can continue those numbers, alongside their confident and attacking football, then there is no reason as to why Leicester couldn’t score the ultimate longshot – the Premier League title.