Started from the bottom...


 

So how did Leicester do it?

Bottom of the table in December 2014, top of the premier league and Champions for 15/16.

Here’s a run down on some of the key game changers that have lead to their success:

Moneyball

If you have seen the movie then you will know this was all about signing the most efficient players.

Stats over Instinct

In football, most people think that moneyball simply does’t work the same as it does in baseball.

The game is much more fluid and unpredictable, where every player on the pitch will be moving (GK are exceptions) as apposed to baseball which is almost a static sport.

Stats, it is argued, simply don’t hold as much value because they don’t consider the tactical side of organisation, shape and set-up play.

Leicester are a moneyball team

With a net spend last season of £30.72 million, the team that won the league were the most effective buyers in the whole division. with a cost per victory of £2.13m.

Compare that to:

Arsenal  £11.17m

Man U     £19.54m

 Man C     £20.46m

Chelsea   £24.63m

Leicester know how to buy players at a low market price, and get the best results out of their players.

N'golo Kanté

Cost the club £6.75m, for that outlay they got themselves a player that made 218 tackles during the season, almost double any player at Arsenal and Man U, and higher than any Man C and Chelsea player. 

Kanté is an energetic menace. A player that runs and harasses players into mistakes. He is a nightmare for any opponent and will surely be targeted by one if not many top European clubs this summer.

Effective, and cheap

Riyad Mahrez

Cost £400,000, that was all that was needed for last seasons star premier league performer. That’s 17 goals, and 11 assists, and the MVP award.

In his first season, he was far less productive, and clearly settling into a new lifestyle and culture played a big part in that form. 

Now that he has his feet firmly on the ground, his talent has become so powerful, he will be commanding a fee of up to £40m from any suitors.

Increased in value 100x

Marc Albrighton

A free transfer who produced the highest cross count in the Premier League last season. His endless running and crossing attempts have seen his stock rise considerably from his Aston Villa days, where he struggled to even get into the team on a regular basis.

The key to crossing is the leg work that goes into them. Crosses are defenders nightmares and cause confusion in the box for any defence lacking good communication and organisation.

They may not directly assist a goal, as often thought. But crosses lead to chances, which lead to goals. A lot of the goals scored by Leicester came from crosses, but not simply by a cross - finish - goal formula but more cross - finish - block/clearance/miss/tackle/knockdown/bar/post - finish - goal.

Efficiency is an understatement

Jamie Vardy

£1.7m (after add ons).

Less than £2m secured Leicester the 2nd best goalscorer in the premier league

In Vardy they have one of the quickest players around. He is the joint fastest player in the premier league (with Anthony Martial) and it is this that makes him stand out. His pace puts him in positions others simply couldn’t physically reach.

Remember Thierry Henry? It was his pace that made him the most feared striker in the premier league, not just his ability to finish.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy is a clear exception to the rule of requiring pace to finish. But with the pace and delivery of Beckham/Ronaldo/Giggs, he didn’t need to run that far to finish.

Vardy relies on his pace in the same way that Michael Owen did in his prime. But with Vardy staying injury free for the season they have been able to pump long balls forward for him to chase on a regular basis.

The real value is his pace

Scouting

The moneyball system only works in conjunction with good research 

The real brain behind the machine at Leicester is Steve Walsh.

He is the man that did his due diligence on ALL of the players mentioned earlier. It is the work of Walsh that has gone relatively unnoticed to the general public.

He is the type of coach that needs to see players in the flesh, analysing their performances physically, and then looking into the data to back up his personal opinion.

Unfortunately he is a dying breed

Football clubs that want to be successful need to hire people that are prepared to do their research on players first hand. Here-say is the assassin of the scout, and the byproduct of the “General Manager” or “Head of Recruitment”.

As a child, I was coached by a former Feyenoord player who would bring with him a technical sheet that consisted of around 30 areas in a players game. These were the areas of the game that they would assess to see how technically sound a player was.

Scouting runs in a similar fashion. But assessments can easily be done online nowadays, and this is why Steve Walsh is so valuable. 

Scouting, at its most effective, has to be done live and in person. A camera will only show so much of a specific player, often they will not be on screen when they are not in possession. But the best scouts are interested in the both possession and out of possession phases of play.

Steve Walsh and his team are experts at finding diamonds in the rough, so expect more interesting signings of players you may not necessarily know.

Defence, Defence, Defence

In Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester have arguably the best Goalkeeper in the league. With the second best record for clean sheets (15), and who was also 5th highest in saves in the whole division, Kasper is not just his fathers son.

His shot stopping is his most interesting stat.

He is a keeper that likes to make saves, and be involved in the action. His communication with his defence, and the trust of his teammates is second to none. Clearly though, he has earned the clean sheets he has kept.

Leicester have the 3rd highest block count in the league, as well as the 4th highest tackle count. With Christian Fuchs in particular, a huge contributor and the second highest tackler in the league with 130 successful tackles.

Leicester have very good discipline.

Rarely getting sent off, 3 in total all season. And the 3rd lowest yellow card count.

In Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, they have found a mix of grit and stubborn determination. They are both big ariel presences and threats at either end. With the experience of Huth, they have a cool head to help dictate and communicate across the back line.

The discipline of the team is almost unbelievable, allowing most of their opponents more possession and usually passing far less, their effectiveness comes in patience and calculated moves forward.

If they are to have any chance of defending their title successfully, they will need to replicate their defensive strengths, but adjust when playing in Europe, where allowing possession is punished severely.

Hat tips...

Some final mentions and important info

Leicester scored 42% of their goals in the last twenty minutes, 8% more than Chelsea, 6% more than Arsenal, 7% more than Man City, 5% more than Man U.

2 of the top 5 scorers are Leicester players (Vardy and Mahrez)

Second lowest offside count - smart players making intelligent runs. The pace of Vardy and Mahrez mean they don't need to run on the high line, but can afford to make runs from deep in behind the opposition defence.

3rd lowest pass count - They were efficient and effective with making every pass count, they have so much confidence and trust in their organisation and defence that they are comfortable out of posession.

Injuries - 11 players played more than 30 games. 14 played more than 20. Their squad was strong and fit, which is a massive bonus for any team aspiring to win the league.

Of course, there are always other factors involved in any teams successes, the collapse of the ‘top 4’ being the most obvious, along with Claudio Ranieri and his philosophical change from ‘tinker man’ to ‘thinker man’. 

Next season will be a different story, with Europe and added pressure of being champions. But right now, Leicester are history makers, and arguably the biggest romance story in modern footballing history.

What do you think made Leicester so successful this season?

Are they the greatest underdog story in football?