Why Leicester City's speed of attack is a Premier League anomaly
By Adam Bate with David Sumpter
Last Updated: 27/02/16 2:13pm
There is more than one way to play exciting football. That's just one of the lessons of Leicester's extraordinary success this season. The Premier League leaders have shocked everyone by not only winning games, but winning them differently to the rest...
In La Liga, leaders Barcelona have enjoyed 62 per cent of possession this season and have also made the greatest number of short passes. In fact, the top three in Spain - Barca, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid - have played the fewest long passes in the league.
Meanwhile, Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich have an astonishing 67 per cent of the ball. Like Barcelona, they play more short passes than anyone - and the hit the fewest long balls in the league.
Comparing the leaders of Europe's major leagues
|Team||League||Possession ranking||Short passes ranking|
|Leicester City||Premier League||18th||19th|
|Paris St Germain||Ligue 1||1st||1st|
Clearly, it's the Premier League leaders who are bucking the trend. The contrast is stark. Leicester have had only 43 per cent of the ball this season and have the worst passing accuracy in the division. Only West Brom play fewer short passes.
But this only tells us how Leicester are different to other top teams. It doesn't help to explain why it is that what they are doing works. For while Arsenal's stats suggest they're an inferior version of Barca or Bayern, Leicester appear more statistically similar to Sunderland.
What David Sumpter, a professor of applied mathematics and author of forthcoming book Soccermatics, has helped to tease out in his analysis is that it's not the type of attacks that mark Leicester out from every other team around, but rather the swiftness of them in fashioning goalscoring opportunities.
Sumpter examined a 'danger zone' from which the most shots are taken that result in high-quality chances. He then traced those particular plays back to work out where on the field the ball was 30 seconds prior to these shots arising.
In the case of Arsenal, the ball was usually already within the attacking third and at the feet of creative players such as Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla, searching for an opening. But Leicester's story is very different. In fact, they are at the other extreme.
The catalyst for Leicester's best chances is frequently a long pass upfield, often from their own half. Indeed, their shots from this danger zone are preceded by - on average - fewer than four passes. No other Premier League team gets such opportunities so directly.
For Leicester, it's about the speed of the attack. On average, each pass takes the ball nearly nine metres closer to the opposition net. That's almost twice as far as an average Arsenal pass and, remarkably, two metres further than any other Premier League team.
Leicester might not lead the way on many of the traditional metrics with which we are familiar. But if that's the case, perhaps it's time to change the metrics. As ever, the stats that matter are points, wins and goals - and Leicester have found a different way to get them.
David Sumpter is the author of Soccermatics, available from May 5