Premier League bets of the weekend: Back them again, Leicester have been outstanding value all season
The Foxes have proved they are indeed worthy English Premier League champions
Well done Leicester City, worthy English Premier League champions by virtually every measure. While many expected Claudio Ranieri’s men to crack under pressure, they stood firm and saw Manchester City, Arsenal and finally Tottenham lose their nerve and form.
Wins: Leicester have a 61 per cent strike rate, the best in the league, and crucially they have been effective at every level. Against bottom-half teams they have won 15 out of 19 and drawn the other four, which makes them joint-best with City.
However, unlike City, they have also performed well in the big games, going unbeaten against every team in the top six apart from Arsenal, who beat them home and away but did not have the consistency to make it count. Leicester’s 1-0 win at Tottenham in January, followed three weeks later by their stunning 3-1 victory at City, bore the hallmark of champions even then.
Losses: Leicester have suffered only three defeats and, if they do not lose either of their two remaining matches, they will match Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, who last season became the champions with the lowest number of defeats in the past decade. Other teams in that period have lost fewer than three matches and not won the title, which emphasises the importance of Leicester’s high win strike rate. Even so, to lose only three times in such a competitive season is a magnificent achievement.
Goals: Leicester rank third in the scoring charts with 64 goals (behind City on 68 and Tottenham on 67) but their ability to overwhelm teams with their attacking prowess was a key factor in putting them top at Christmas. At that stage they were the leading scorers, with Jamie Vardy having found the net in a record 11 consecutive matches, and their ability to score freely had earned them 10 points from losing positions in their first 17 games.
Clean sheets: Ranieri shrewdly realised that relying on his attack was an unsustainable strategy in the long run and in the second half of the season he made sure they were much harder to score against, which in turn meant one goal by Leicester often sufficed. After just three clean sheets in their first 18 games, they have recorded 12 in the last 18 and had six 1-0 wins.
Players: Leicester had three of the six nominees for the players’ player of the year – Riyad Mahrez, the winner, Vardy and N’Golo Kante – and the same trio took the top three places in the football writers’ vote, with Vardy on top. Half of Vardy’s 22 goals have been the match opener – a crucial factor – and he tops the league for combined goals and assists (33), with Mahrez (29) second on that measure. The inexhaustible Kante leads the league for tackles and interceptions.
The team: Leicester’s triumph was about much more than those star players and the team functioned no matter what. In the two games when Vardy did not start, the result was four points out of six; in two without Mahrez, it was the same; in five without Kante, it was 11 out of 15 – none of those matches were lost. In a reflection of their outstanding team effort, seven Leicester players received at least one vote from the football writers, against five from the other 19 clubs combined.
Tinkerless: Ranieri’s “Tinkerman” label always seemed unfair – many conveniently forget Alex Ferguson had the same reputation in his early years at Manchester United – and his approach with Leicester is a throwback to the era of smaller squads and settled teams. He has made just 27 changes to his line-up in the campaign and you have to go back to Manchester United in 1992-93 to find a lower number of switches. Eight of his players have started at least 31 of Leicester’s 36 games, with three more on 27 or 28.
Discipline: Leicester are joint-fifth in the Premier League fair-play table, a notable achievement considering they have spent so long out of possession (they rank 18th on that measure). Although Spurs and City have had no red cards and Arsenal have had the fewest yellow cards, it is notable that none of Leicester’s three sendings-off was a straight red. Kante, despite his voracious ball-winning appetite, has had only three yellow cards in 35 league appearances.
Leicester have some weaknesses, of course, but they were minor in comparison to their rivals’ issues and from a betting viewpoint they have been outstanding value all season. If they perform to anything like their normal level, that is the case again tonight when they host Everton.
The advice is to back them one more time in hope – no, expectation – of a performance befitting champions.
Leicester home win
Foxes never quit – the club slogan says it all
Chelsea on handicap
One defeat in nine away games under Guus Hiddink
Arsenal on handicap
Good record in top-six clashes this season
Schalke home win
Back to form against weaker opposition last week
Bilbao away win
Finishing strongly after Europa League knockout
One-goal wins for Leicester, a league high