Superman has the right of it: We ARE in a relegation scrap. Leicester City are 17th on the table, 1 point above the relegation zone, and 2 points from the bottom of the table. The question is: Does this team have what it takes to slug it out for survival?
We’re not going to tell you that this team is “too good to go down.” There’s no such thing, or, if there is, this team ain’t it. But, we here at Fosse Posse believe that the Foxes WILL beat the drop and return to the Premier League next season. Why? This team has loads of character and spirit, and an elite manager who will ensure tha....hahahahahahha. Just kidding. Here are the real reasons:
1. The (mostly) January Reinforcements
We needed a left-back, a right-wing, and a centre-half. We got all three, and they look to be good ones so far. Kristiansen represents an upgrade over our other options with his size, his pace, and his left-footedness. He’s young and has no experience at this level, but you wouldn’t know that from watching him. He also seems born to link with aggressive right-wingers and, wouldn’t you know it, we have one of those.
Harry Souttar is a guy we’ve had our eye on for some time. His combination of size, strength, and aggression are precisely what Leicester City have needed in the back line since the departures of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth. He was an absolute force in the air against Brentford, denying Ivan Toney so much as a look at the goal, in what I thought was a man-of-the-match performance.
Tete has been hit-or-miss so far, but his work rate and attention to his defensive duties help the club even when the ball isn’t being distributed his way. I attribute his lack of offensive impact more to the fact that Kelechi Iheanacho is another left-footer who likes to drift inside from the right, making the passing angles extremely awkward. I think he’ll be fine, but we do need to find a way to get him the ball in advanced positions.
So, we added three important players in January, but that’s hardly the extent of the reinforcements. Ricardo has made a successful return to the squad, lessening the impact of the injury to Kristiansen. Wilfred Ndidi has been struggling with injuries on and off all season, but if the Brentford match is any indication, he’s rounding back into the kind of form we expect from him. With our defensive struggles, having a true defensive midfielder is a massive boost.
Finally, it looks as though Brendan Rodgers is going to be giving Daniel Iversen a long look between the sticks. I feel for Danny Ward as any keeper would struggle to organise this patchwork defence we’ve been forced to use, but the Wales stopper doesn’t seem to have the confidence of the players in front of him and this is a switch that could make all the difference.
2. The Schedule
The Foxes have just completed their most-difficult section of the schedule, facing four of the big six in a five-match run. It went...poorly. After trouncing Spurs on 11 February, City lost their next four league matches on the trot (as well as losing to Championship side Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup).
Given our position at the start of that run of matches, you would be justified if you had expected Leicester to be in the bottom three at the end of it. I know I certainly did. The only reason we weren’t in the relegation zone was our goal differential.
April, however, is another story. Our fixtures next month are:
1 April: at Crystal Palace
4 April: Aston Villa
8 April: Bournemouth
15 April: at Manchester City
22 April Wolverhampton Wanderers
25 April at Leeds United
Those clubs sit 12th, 11th, 19th, 2nd, 13th, and 14th on the table respectively. With one obvious exception, there are points to be gained in all of those games. Given our form, do the fixtures actually make a difference?
They certainly did in October. We were actually in worse form going into the month, with 1 point from our first 7 matches. After that, we took 10 points from matches against Forest, Bournemouth, Palace, Leeds, Wolves, and Man City. The defence, which had been shipping four goals a match, somehow allowed only three goals over the entire month of October.
So, we’re in similar form, in a similar situation, and we have a similar schedule with a better group of players. A similar set of results are well within the realm of possibility, and 10 points would put us very close to safety.
3. The Improved Performances
We’re going to talk about xG here. If you don’t have any patience for the use of statistics in football analysis, then this isn’t going to be interesting to you. Also, I’m surprised that you’re reading one of my articles, because I use statistics quite often. The TL/DR: xG may not tell you anything about who won a specific match, but it’s a strong leading indicator of future performance.
We fully understand that expected goals are no substitute for the real thing. However, there is ample evidence that a team’s xG performance is a better indicator of team quality, and thus future results, than the actual results. xG has more predictive value than the real results, which makes sense if you think about it. You may win 3-1, scoring three wonder goals while the other team missed a handful of easy chances. Goals from 30-yard screamers count in real life, but you’re in trouble if you’re relying on them; normally, the team that creates the best chances is going to win.
Here are the goals for and against the Foxes, by month, for this season. I’ve smooshed November and December together because the World Cup limited us to two matches in each of those months:
That’s quite a story. The attack has been relatively consistent, while the defence has been all over the place but seems to have stabilised. Now let’s look at the xG and xGA for the same time period:
One nice thing about xG is that it tends to smooth out the game-to-game luck and give you a clearer picture of how the club is doing. Even without the spike in September that we see in the real numbers, the defence has been awfully porous. The attack, on the other hand, has been slowly, steadily improving over time.
That brings us to March, which was not good in the real world as we got one point from three matches. However, it marked the first time we “won” three matches in a row in terms of xG and xGA. Consequently, it is also the first month where we would have been expected to score more goals than we allowed.
Southampton: xG/xGA: 1.9-1.4, actual score: 0-1
Chelsea: xG/xGA: 2.4-1.6, actual score: 1-3
Brentford: xG 1.3-0.6, actual score: 1-1
We missed a lot of high-percentage chances against Southampton and Chelsea, and we had more quality chances than Brentford as well. These were not poor performances except in terms of finishing which, yes, we know, is one of the key things you have to do in football. One thing I can say with certainty is that, if the performances stay at this level, we’ll be safe.
The last thing I’d like to mention with regard to the performances is that this team is developing a mean streak. It’s difficult to quantify, but I’ve seen more commitment to 50/50s, more willingness to leave something on our opponents, and more challenges that probably should be worthy of cautions or worse.
I regard this as a good thing. Leicester City have a reputation for being soft. We were a club other teams felt they could bully. We were not “soft” in any of the last three matches. Lacking in quality? Oh, certainly. But, we were giving at least as good as we got in terms of physical clashes. That’s a trait we’ll need if we’re going to survive.
Still with us? Really, even after the charts and numbers and stuff? Thank you! We’ve laid out the case for Leicester City’s survival. Are you convinced? Let us know your thinking behind your answer in the comments.
Will Leicester City Be In The Premier League Next Year?
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