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Monday, January 24, 2022

Leicester City Are Better Placed This Season To Reach The UEFA Champions League

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Leicester City fans might be starting to feel a sense of déjà vu.

After thirty games, they are once again third in the league, and realistically are unable to reach the top two. With just eight games left, Brendan Rodgers’ men might start looking over their shoulder as they look to succeed where they failed last season, and hold on to a UEFA Champions League spot.

Leicester are two points better off than at this point last season, but the teams behind them are better off too. This time last season, fifth-placed Manchester United and sixth-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers both had 46 points. This season, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and West Ham United (who could close the gap if they win their game in hand tonight) all have 49.

Last season, Leicester missed out on fourth place after losing to Manchester United on the final day, but it was the defeats to Everton and Bournemouth that put Leicester in that situation to begin with. They only picked up eight points in their final eight games.

This season, their run in is slightly tougher, and should Tottenham Hotspur pick up form, the battle for the Champions League could go down to the final match. With Spurs, Manchester United and Chelsea as their final three games, Leicester will need to pick up the points in their next five games, which include home fixtures against Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion.

But despite the tough run in, Leicester do have some advantages over last season.

Maintaining Momentum

Leicester’s first advantage is that their form hasn’t started to drop off yet. Last season, Leicester picked up eight points from their last eight games, but they only picked up nine points in the nine games before that. They’ve picked up 17 points in their last nine this time around, only losing to Arsenal and Manchester City.

Just as Leicester had already lost momentum at this stage of last season, Manchester United, with new signing Bruno Fernandes driving them forward, were unstoppable, going 14 matches undefeated to grab the final Champions League spot.

This season, Chelsea were the team with the momentum before their defeat to West Brom. But outside the current top four, the chasing pack have been a bit inconsistent so far. Liverpool might be the team most capable of finding a run of form; they have three straight wins in all competitions and have put together impressive runs over the last two seasons.

Full Strength Squad

Perhaps just as important as Leicester’s good form this season, is that the medical team haven’t been quite as busy.

Injuries to Wilfred Ndidi, Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira really hurt the Foxes toward the end of last season. This season, with the exception of Harvey Barnes, Leicester are close to full strength.

Barnes will return for the final few games of the season, but in his place, Kelechi Iheanacho has hit such form that if he keeps it up, Barnes could find himself out of the starting eleven.

Scoring Without Vardy

Like last season, key striker Jamie Vardy is not matching his early season form, but crucially, this time around, Leicester are able to party without Vardy.

The 34-year-old forward is perhaps more streaky than most, often having a goalscoring run of ten games or so, before hitting a barren patch. He scored 17 of his 23 league goals last season in his first 18 games, only scoring six in his final 17.

In those 17, the rest of the team only managed 15 goals between them.

This season, he is going through an even worse dry spell, with just one goal in his last thirteen league games, but the rest of the team have managed 22 goals between them in that time. Despite Vardy looking like he will finish the season far short of the 23 goals he scored last year, if Leicester City as a whole keep up their current scoring rate, they’ll match last season’s 67 league goals.

This sharing of the goalscoring burden has led some pundits to claim that Brendan Rodgers is managing Vardy’s game time as he gets older. Vardy has played an average of ten minutes less per game this season, but at the same time, he has played the full 90 minutes in each of Leicester’s past seven league matches.

At thirty-four, and reliant on pace, Vardy has been written off as too old several times in the last few years, only to prove his critics wrong. With a relatively young squad overall, Leicester’s future looks bright if Rodgers can find a way of replacing Vardy in the long term, but clearly believes Vardy still has what it takes to deliver at the highest level for the time being.

While Vardy is blanking, Kelechi Iheanacho is currently on a hot streak, with seven goals in all competitions since the start of March, and if he can continue that form, or Vardy can find another scoring run of his own, that should be enough to get Leicester over the line in May. But even if Vardy’s barren spell continues, Leicester still have enough firepower in them to avoid an end-of-season collapse.

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