The numbers behind Leicester City's Premier League rise
Leicester City seeks to crown an incredible season by visiting Old Trafford on Sunday. Exactly one year ago, the Foxes were one point above the relegation zone in the midst of a 10-game run in which they won eight of those last matches to finish 14th and secure a spot in the Premier League this current season. Back then, no one imagined how crucial those games really were in determining the fight for the title the following year.
If Leicester wins, their 13-place improvement on the previous season could be the most by a top division champion since Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest were crowned champions as a newly promoted side in 1978.
A critical look at Leicester's numbers this season may help explain its rise.
Quality over quantity
Out of the top-four teams, Tottenham (604), Manchester City (577) and Arsenal (536) have taken significantly more shots than Leicester (458). In fact, Claudio Ranieri's men rank eighth in this category, which is led by Tottenham, followed by Manchester City and with Arsenal in fourth place. For Leicester, 35 percent of those shots are on target. That is higher than City but still lower than Tottenham and about the same as Arsenal.
For Leicester, the difference is in the quality of the shots it takes. Assessing the expected goals helps to illustrate the team's efficiency of the chances it creates (expected goals measures how many goals a team is projected to score given the shots it takes and from where they are taken).
When analyzing expected goals, the Foxes have 1.87 expected goals per match, second behind Arsenal and ahead of Tottenham and Manchester City. In other words, Leicester is expected to score more than Spurs and City, even though it takes fewer shots.
This makes sense when the team averages the second closest distance to the goal in every attempt and its shot conversion rate is the highest in the league (39 percent). Despite taking fewer shots than its title-race contenders, Leicester's scarcer attempts yield higher returns.
Little possession and recovering in crucial locations
Leicester is not a team that prioritizes possession or high passing-percentage patterns. In fact, it has attempted the third-fewest number of passes this season and has the lowest passing-completion rate of any team in the league (68 percent).
Its low possession percentage may help explain why it is the team with the second-fewest number of lost balls (333) in the Premier League (and fewest when taking into account the defending half of the field). A team that takes few risks, Leicester has had only one error leading to a conceded goal, fewest in the league.
Moreover, Leicester leads the league with 751 interceptions. Even more critical, 62 of those recoveries were in the attacking third of the pitch, which is more than any other team in the league.
One particular player stands out in this aspect: N'Golo Kante, who leads the league with 111 tackles and 142 interceptions.
The sum of its parts
Out of Jamie Vardy's 22 goals, half of those were go-ahead goals, which is more than any other player in the league.
Riyad Mahrez's 11 assists are tied for second-most in the league. Additionally, his 17 goals are the most by a non-forward this season.
In defense, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel along with center backs Wes Morgan and Robert Huth have managed 15 clean sheets, which is tied for first in the league. As mentioned earlier, midfielder Kante leads the league in tackles and interceptions.
Ranieri's team has surprised the world with a tremendous season. And like in any team, the most determining element has been the players' performance.