When you look at the Premier League table as a whole, with just 6 points currently separating 5th and 17th, the overall story of the season has been one of inconsistency and unpredictability. To highlight just one example, Norwich City’s win at Everton seemed to come out of nowhere, particularly from a Norwich perspective, given they had been comfortably beaten at home by Watford in their previous match, their 3rd consecutive loss and 7th game without a win since shocking Manchester City. The clubs who have managed to find some consistency are therefore standing out from the pack, and perhaps the most intriguing club within that group is Leicester City, given what they achieved when winning the Premier League in 2015-16.
There are both similarities and differences to be found between the current Foxes team and their title-winning counterparts, and one of the similarities was particularly notable in their victory against Brighton and Hove Albion. Leicester’s game winning goal came via a counter attack spearheaded by Jamie Vardy and finished off by Ayoze Perez, something they had threatened to do a couple of minutes previously. A few minutes after that goal, Leicester again went close after Ben Chilwell carried the ball down almost the entire left flank, and whilst that situation could be explained by the fact that Brighton were now chasing the game, the first two breaks came whilst the score was 0-0. Brighton may have been at home, but committing so many men ahead of the ball and leaving huge gaps in behind, the type of gaps Jamie Vardy has made a career exploiting, seemed reckless. Would Brighton have been so ambitious against Liverpool, Manchester City or Chelsea? Few teams set out purely to stifle Leicester in 2015-16 which played perfectly into Claudio Ranieri’s tactics, and so far this season, most of their opponents seem to be viewing Brendan Rodgers’ team as just another mid-table club.
The 2015-16 team, though undoubtedly talented, were also limited, limitations which were exposed during the following season when a lot of teams set up against them with the type of tactics befitting of a match against the defending champions. With the current group however, I don’t see the same limitations. Their pair of free 8’s, James Maddison and Youri Tielemans, possess the creativity to break down a stubborn defence, whilst Perez also adds to the tactical flexibility they demonstrated throughout the latter stages of last season.
It is in the full-back positions where the differences between the current side and the 2015-16 side are perhaps most striking. Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs both had excellent seasons, but they did much of their work in their own half. Simpson failed to register a goal or an assist all season, and was ranked a lowly 54th amongst defenders for crosses. Fuchs was a little more productive, registering 4 assists and ranking 7th amongst defenders for crosses, but the side very much relied on their forward line (normally Vardy, Albrighton, Riyad Mahrez and Shinji Okazaki) for their attacking output and threat.
Just 13 games into the season, the current full-back pairing of Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira have both scored, and their combined total of 3 goals is the highest of any full-back pairing in the league. Chilwell’s 3 assists put him behind only Andy Robertson amongst full-backs, whilst both rank within the top 20 for crosses amongst full-backs. Arguably Liverpool’s duo of Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold surpass Leicester in terms of consistent attacking output and threat from their full-backs, yet this attacking threat has not come at the expense of defensive solidity. Far from it in fact, given that the Foxes currently have the best defensive record in the league, conceding just 8 goals, 3 fewer than Liverpool who possess the next best record.
So, can they do it again? The relentless form Liverpool have displayed over the last 18 months will make that a very tough task, but when you look through their team, it is not just in the full-back areas where their options stack up favourably against almost any other team. The individual talent is very high, but the balance of the side is almost impeccable with every partnership firing. If Liverpool do falter, Leicester look as likely as anyone to be the team to catch them.
Fantasy Premier League tip – Toby Alderweireld
Jose Mourinho’s return to Premier League might have yielded Tottenham’s first away win in the league since January, but it is too soon to judge whether he will be able to transform their fortunes this season. Nevertheless, Mourinho’s return is good news for Fantasy Premier League managers. Defensive solidity has been a hallmark of all of his sides, and whilst Mauricio Pochettino regularly rotated his options, Mourinho prefers to stick to with a settled back four. Alderweireld is likely to be the cornerstone of that backline, making him an attractive option, despite the fairly hefty £5.4 million price tag.