Despite a rough start to the festive season, Leicester City has solidified a Champions League qualifying position after a key win at Newcastle United. However, there are signs their position may be tenuous.
Leicester City is known for having the most remarkable championship run in the history of world soccer when they won the English Premier League in 2015-16. The Foxes defied the 5,000 to 1 odds to win the league by ten points that year over the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, and Manchester City.
After the champagne dried on the dressing room carpet, Leicester City drifted off the charts. They finished the following season in 12th and placed 9th in their last two campaigns. Last season was defined more for the tragic death in a helicopter crash of their beloved owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha after a home match than anything that happened on the pitch.
Like Phoenix rises, so does the Foxes
Like the phoenix that was re-born, the Foxes under the stellar work of seasoned manager Brendan Rodgers had risen to 2nd place in the Premier League table over deeper and richer Manchester City as the English winter rains hit the Midlands.
After winning eight straight league matches, Leicester crashed and burned with a draw to last place Norwich, followed by humbling ugly losses to Manchester City and Liverpool.
After the brutal Boxing Day demolition at the hands of unbeaten Liverpool at the King Power Stadium, the Foxes ended the West Ham managerial career of Manual Pellegrini by beating the Hammers in London, 2-1 in order to maintain their 2nd place slot.
A New Year’s Day recovery
On New Years Day, the Foxes dominated a hapless Newcastle United. The Magpies made it easy for the visitors by making ridiculous errors playing out from the back, leading to goals by ex-Magpie Ayoze Perez in the 35th minute (xG chance of 0.33 per understat.com) and by James Maddison three minutes later (xG chance of 0.05 per understat.com). Hamza Choudhury scored in the final minutes to put Newcastle out of their misery like the final season of “Game of Thrones.”
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The victory on Wednesday keeps Leicester City in second place, but a far distance from both first and fifth place. This would suggest that the Midlands club will remain in the top four to clinch a Champions League slot. However, there is reason to believe that their place in the coveted Champions League is not set in stone.
According to understat.com, Leicester is fifth in the Premier League in expected points (xPTS), fifth in expected goals (xG), eighth in expected goals against (xGA), and first in the ratio of actual goals versus expected goals.
These statistics suggest that the Foxes are far exceeding expectations and could start playing closer to those expectations soon. Leicester’s xG against Liverpool and Manchester City were, according to understat.com, were 0.1 and 1.0 respectively. Indicating a significant gap between themselves and their closest rivals.
The good news for Brendan Rodger’s team is that Manchester United, Wolves, and Tottenham have performed as inconsistently as Christian Bale (all inexplicably losing on New Year’s Day) which has given Leicester City a stronger case for the top four.
Despite drifting back to mid-table purgatory and an epic tragedy, the Foxes are back in the sun even if it’s hidden by dark winter clouds.