Premier League stats: Why Leicester are title challengers again
We need to talk about Leicester.
Much of the recent media focus has been on the fascinating battle between Liverpool and Manchester City, the managerial turmoil at Tottenham and the developing crises at Arsenal, Everton and West Ham.
Away from all that noise though, Brendan Rodgers' side have continued to go about their business quietly (barring one headline-grabbing result), ruthlessly and quite superbly - with Saturday's 2-0 win at Brighton keeping them second in the table, a point above the reigning champions and behind only Jurgen Klopp's unbeaten leaders.
You don't need us to remind you what happened the last time Leicester were as well-placed at this stage of a Premier League season.
And while we wouldn't suggest the Foxes book Andrea Bocelli again just yet, the stats behind their impressive start to this campaign do hint at something special brewing once more at the King Power Stadium.
The 2-0 win at Brighton means Leicester have equalled their best run of consecutive victories in the Premier League.
The last time they bagged five successive wins was under Claudio Ranieri back in 2015-16, the season that ended with them as, well, you know.
Unlike that late-season run four campaigns ago - which comprised four 1-0 wins and a 2-0 success - this current series of victories have come with a mightily impressive aggregate of 17-1.
Yes, nine of those goals came in one game at Southampton, but falling just one short of double figures in a Premier League game is hardly to be sniffed at. It has, after all, only been done twice before.
|Leicester's joint-best Premier League runs|
|05/03/16 Watford 0-1 Leicester||19/10/19 Leicester 2-1 Burnley|
|14/03/16 Leicester 1-0 Newcastle||25/10/19 Southampton 0-9 Leicester|
|19/03/16 Crystal Palace 0-1 Leicester||03/11/19 Crystal Palace 0-2 Leicester|
|03/04/16 Leicester 1-0 Southampton||09/11/19 Leicester 2-0 Arsenal|
|10/04/16 Sunderland 0-2 Leicester||23/11/19 Brighton 0-2 Leicester|
They've still got some work to do if they are to challenge the overall club record for consecutive wins, which was set between 21 December and 1 February in their 2013-14 Championship title-winning season.
If they get anywhere near the Premier League record of 18 straight wins, set in 2017-18 by Manchester City, or the recent 17-game run by Liverpool, which was ended at Old Trafford in October, then we really will be in title-talk territory.
But with successive home games coming up against struggling Everton and Watford then a trip to Villa that is followed by Norwich's visit to the King Power, they look to have a decent chance of extending their fine form.
Prolific in attack
Anyone who has followed Rodgers' career will not be surprised by Leicester's attacking improvement since his arrival. This is the manager whose forward-thinking blueprint inspired Liverpool to 101 goals in the 2013-14 Premier League season.
They have more emphasis on retaining possession than under predecessor Claude Puel and are still adept at the quick switches of play to a rapid forward line that served Ranieri so well for a season, but also now have the extra intelligence and guile of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans.
As a result, Rodgers' second-placed side have had the fourth-highest number of shots in the division (147) and created the fourth-highest number of chances (139).
However, for shooting efficiency they are top of the class.
Such ruthlessness in front of goal is spearheaded by Jamie Vardy.
Not only has Vardy scored more Premier League goals than anyone else this season, he's done so more efficiently than any of his main strike rivals.
It took a couple of goes, thanks to VAR spotting some encroaching in the penalty area, but the 32-year-old scored his side's second goal from the spot at Brighton - meaning he has netted in each game of the Foxes' current winning run.
Many quality strikers down the years scored their goals in bursts, but Vardy's form inevitably evokes memories of the Foxes' title-winning season, when he netted in 11 straight games to overtake former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy and set a new Premier League record.
His efforts that season left him just one short of the all-time English top-flight record for scoring in consecutive games - 12, set by Jimmy Dunne of Sheffield United in 1931-32.
|Top 10 longest scoring runs in Premier League history|
|Run of games||Player||Club||Date of last goal in run|
|10||Ruud van Nistelrooy||Man Utd||23/08/2003|
|8||Ruud van Nistelrooy||Man Utd||19/01/2002|
Solidity at the back
Leicester have conceded a league-low eight Premier League goals this season, with Saturday's game at Brighton their fourth consecutive clean sheet as part of a league-high six overall.
This is no fluke. Their defensive efforts have resulted in fewer shots faced (125 - the fifth best in the division) than Liverpool (134) and a better expected goals against than Manchester City.
It is a record few would perhaps have predicted after they sold leading centre-back Harry Maguire to Manchester United in the summer for £80m.
Take a bow then, Jonny Evans and Caglar Soyuncu.
The latter deserves particular praise. He started just four league games in 2018-19, but this season has stepped up to fill the position vacated by Maguire.
|Soyuncu (2019-20) v Maguire (2018-19) for Leicester|
|Tackle success rate %||74.07||54.84|
|Aerial success rate %||66.18||78.15|
|Passing accuracy %||88.16||85.58|
Don't underestimate the role played in their fine defensive record by the man who patrols the area in front of them, Wilfred Ndidi.
The Nigeria player has made more tackles (62) and interceptions (37) than any other midfielder in the division this season.
They couldn't, could they?
"We're happy, we're not shying away from anything, but I just think there are only 13 games gone."
That was what Rodgers said when asked about his side's title credentials after Saturday's win.
"What's really pleasing is the consistency," he added. "We arrived and they were in 12th and we wanted to improve and build on the good work that Claude [Puel] had done.
"What's great now is that our supporters are singing: 'We're going to win the league!' in the most competitive league in the world, so that tells you where they're at, the confidence they have and the dreams that they have, which is absolutely brilliant."
For all of the expectation-managing going on here, with a third of the season almost gone, Rodgers' side are in the title race. What is also unavoidable are the similarities with 2015-16, with Rodgers the energising force - the Ranieri to Puel's Nigel Pearson.
Rodgers' side are actually a point better off than Ranieri's were at the same stage in 2015-16.
Two notable factors are working against the Foxes this time around though - their rivals are stronger than in 2015-16 and, unlike then, they will surely not be underestimated.
As a little addition, Leicester's win at Brighton was one of six away victories in the top flight on Saturday.
This is the joint second highest on a single day in Premier League history, behind only the eight on New Year's Day in 1994 - a figure aided by the fact there were 11 fixtures that day.