Solid defending, good goalkeeping, a touch of luck, or a combination of the three?
Leicester v West Ham, Sunday 1.30pm, Sky Sports 1
Leicester’s fairytale story continues at the top of the table, and Claudio Ranieri’s men are now heavy odds-on favourites to lift the Premier League title thanks to a seven point cushion above second place Tottenham.
Plenty has been made of the fact that this is partly down to the Foxes’ incredible defensive record since the turn of the year. In 2016 Leicester have conceded just six goals in 14 matches – 17 of the other 19 top flight sides have conceded more than double that in the same time. Throw in Kasper Schmeichel’s 10 clean sheets in 14 matches (71 per cent!) and Leicester look as impenetrable as Fort Knox on steroids.
But, at risk of bursting the bubble of joy bobbing around the East Midlands, are Leicester good defensively or is it a healthy chunk of good fortune?
Now, we’re as delighted as the next football fan that Leicester are on the verge of lifting the title – nothing warms the soul than a team of hard-working, talented players upsetting the odds and living the dream. However, could the following be an early pointer towards a dip in form next season?
In 2016 Leicester have conceded 188 shots against them. Incredibly only three sides – Crystal Palace (196), Swansea (205) and West Brom (205) – have faced more opposition shots. In comparison, Manchester City have only faced 115 shots, 73 less than the Foxes!
But it’s the quality of the shots against Leicester that have been poor. On average in the league in 2016, 32 per cent of shots are on target, but Leicester’s opponents have seen just 22 per cent of their efforts heading for Schmeichel’s goal. This can, in some part be attributed to solid defensive work from Leicester, and it’s also worth noting that they’ve blocked more than a third of the 188 shots coming at them, but it doesn’t seem logical to have such a good defensive record while conceding so many shots.
The cherry on top of this statistical cake, and the one number you should take most note of, is that Leicester’s opposition have converted just 3.2 per cent of their shots in 2016. The average league conversion is 10.5 per cent – Manchester City’s opposition have a conversion rate of 11.3 per cent, and Liverpool’s opposition have a conversion rate of 15 per cent. Whether it’s dogged defending, misfiring opponents, excellent goalkeeping or a combination of the three, it’s an unusually low conversion rate, and one that you’d expect to start climbing closer to the average.
Will that conversion rate start regressing to the mean this weekend? Leicester face a West Ham side that have failed to score just once in their last 15 league games, and have found the onion bag in 84 per cent of their matches this season. Only Leicester themselves have found the net more regularly.
It’s that Leicester keep a clean sheet and that the Foxes win to nil and continue their title charge. There’ll be plenty of punters who fancy the 1-0 correct score at considering Leicester’s recent antics, but there might be a snip of value in backing Leicester to win and both teams to score at .
It’s been more than eight hours since Kasper Schmeichel was forced to pick the ball out of his own net in the league, but that streak could come to an end when West Ham visit the King Power stadium.