Monday 26 September 2016

Can Leicester City really win the league? The stats say yes

Tom Rooney

Published 03/02/2016 | 11:36

Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel
Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel

Leicester City’s bravura victory over Liverpool last night pushed them three points clear at the top of the Premier League to maintain a title charge that, despite conventional wisdom, has yet to wilt. Can the Foxes hold onto their lofty position until the season's end?

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Leicester, under Claudio Ranieri, are laying siege to the monopolisation of English football, pulling down the ivory towers one brick at a time.

They have continued to defy and confound all odds or logic simply by dint of not going away. The combined goals and nous of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, predicated on a tireless collective cohesion, tangibly under cuts and near satirises the frivolous spending of, among others, Manchester United and Liverpool.

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But let’s not lose the run of ourselves; it is, after all, early February and there are 14 league games to come between now and the beginning of May.

Can Leicester really do it?

Do these intrepid buccaneers in royal blue have the resolve to hold off the admittedly impotent and staid canters thus far passing for Arsenal and Manchester City’s attempts at taking a title they could apparently take or leave?

Well here’s what the past tells us. Leicester are currently on 50 points with a further 42 available to them. Unlike Arsenal and City, the league is now their sole focus. Looking at the previous five campaigns at this juncture reveals both good and bad data for the Foxes.

All but one of the teams – Chelsea in 2013-14 - that were top of the table at this stage went on to win the title. The average points total at that point was, however, 62.2. The impact of Leicester taking just eight points from the five games from mid-December to early January is now clear to see.

The mean points total for league winners in the last five years is 86.2, which, on the face of it, does not allow Leicester much wiggle room. Yet with only two losses thus far, albeit accompanied by eight draws, getting to 80 points, which was enough for Manchester United in 2010-11, is not beyond the realm of possibility.

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Fittingly, Leicester travel to the Emirates and the Etihad Stadium in their next two league games. In the corresponding fixtures, they drew nil all with City over the festive period and were soundly battered by Arsenal last September in a 5-2 hammering inspired by an Alexis Sanchez hat-trick.

After, there are dates with sides currently outside the top nine; Watford, West Brom, Norwich and Newcastle. The following four are a little trickier as they entertain Crystal Palace, travel to Southampton and Sunderland, prior to hosting West Ham.

Swansea (home), Manchester United (away), Everton (home) and Chelsea (away) comprise a trying but negotiable denouement to the campaign.

City are still competing on four fronts at least until final the week of this month when they face Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League last 16 before taking on Liverpool in the Capital One Cup final.

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They are as reliant on Sergio Ageuro as ever and, with Pep Guardiola confirmed as their next manager, an immediate psychological faltering may creep into the greater subconscious as Manuel Pellegrini's time at the helm runs down.

Ahead of them lie Leicester, Spurs and Chelsea, then Liverpool again directly after the Capital One Cup finale. They host Louis Van Gaal’s United in March, and go to Chelsea a month later. Remaining, are eminently winnable ties with Bournemouth, West Brom, Stoke, Southampton and Swansea.

Arsenal remain in three competitions, though the likelihood is that Barcelona will end their interest in the Champions League by mid-March. Yet a third FA Cup in as many years may well appeal to Arsene Wegner.

In the next four weeks, the Gunners have trips to Old Trafford and White Hart Lane. Their penultimate match is a date with Man City at the Emirates which, without jumping the gun, may prove a title decider.

They can take solace in the fact that Aston Villa, who by any stretch of imagination will at that point be relegated, come to Emirates on the final day. 

Swansea, West Brom, Everton, Watford, Sunderland and Norwich represent a genuine opportunity for 18 points. But they are punctuated by dates with West Ham and Crystal Palace.

So there it is. Do you fancy Leicester’s chances at becoming just the sixth club to win the Premier League since 1992?

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