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6 numbers that illustrate how improbable Leicester City’s title run was

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It's not just their long odds at the bookies that are stunning.

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Leicester City wrapped up an astonishing Premier League title with Tottenham Hotspur's draw at Chelsea on Monday evening. No one saw this coming at the start of the season -- the Foxes defied 5000-to-1 odds, the same odds that the bookies have on Elvis Presley being found alive this year. But while that 5000-to-1 number has been thrown out frequently, it's not the only shocking one in Leicester's rise. Here are some of the other interesting numbers that made it all possible.


On December 19, Leicester -- still only 18 months after promotion -- took down Everton at Goodison Park by a 3-2 margin. Riyad Mahrez scored twice, and Shinji Okazaki put the match away with a goal in the 69th minute.

This was Leicester's eighth league win in 11 matches (the other three all draws). The Foxes hadn't lost since getting rocked by Arsenal on September 26. This was the moment people began to switch from "They're a nice story" to "Wait, are they for real?"

To that point, Leicester's pace was almost unstoppable. Their ability  to make key passes on a counter-attack and create spectacular scoring chance after spectacular scoring chance had them averaging 2.2 goals per match. And going 29 matches back to the previous season, when they rallied to safety after falling well behind in the relegation battle, they had maintained a pace of 2.4 points per match. Projected over a 38-game season, that's a 92-point pace. That will win you the league just about every time.

Opponents were adjusting, though. They were figuring out ways to cut of the transition game and slow the Foxes down. Leicester was having to pass more to create chances, and they weren't that kind of team. Leicester got shut out for three straight matches from December 26 to January 2, and that 2.2-goal scoring average would get cut by about one-third, to 1.5 per match thereafter.

This should have been the end, but it wasn't. Thanks in part to other powerful teams scuffling a bit, Leicester was allotted a bit more margin for error in this year's race. But make no mistakes: The Foxes continued to produce. They redoubled on the defensive end, lowering their goals allowed from 1.1 per match to 0.6. Over their last 17 matches, they've won six by a score of 1-0. They adjusted to the adjustments, shifting from explosive to scrappy, and they are league champions because of it. Manager Claudio Ranieri might be getting a £5 million bonus because of his work this year. If ever anybody could earn a bonus £5 million for coaching a sports team, Ranieri did.

£22 million

On Monday evening, Chelsea's Eden Hazard scored in the 83rd minute against Tottenham, tying the match at 2-2 and giving Leicester the last result it needed to clinch the title. Four years ago, Chelsea purchased Hazard from Lille for a reported £32 million.

Leicester's entire first-choice starting lineup cost approximately £22 million on the transfer market. Three of the most important trigger men who defined LCFC's potent style -- Danny Drinkwater (from Manchester United's reserves), Jamie Vardy (from Fleetwood Town), N'Golo Kante (from SM Caen), and Mahrez (from AC Le Havre) -- cost a combined £8.2 million.

When you're talking about "moneyball" in soccer, part of what you're talking about is the inexpensive signings that can help to complement or define a given team's style.

"The key isn't the £30 million players," Colin Trainor, one of the original writers of the incredibly useful Statsbomb, says. "It's how to get the five best players you're going to be able to get for £15 million. Somebody valued at £2 million on the market ... some are going to be worthless to you, and some are going to be worth £5 to 6 million."

And that's where analytics can help.

"The little guy who's half-decent but can be had for £2 million -- you can use numbers to figure out who the smart clubs should be picking."

Numbers might help you figure out where you should look.

Leicester just won the league because of guys who cost almost exactly £2 million each.


Leicester's 27 lineup changes in league play are far, far fewer than normal for a league champion.

Midfielder Matty James, perhaps the club's best player last year, ruptured knee ligaments last May and has missed the entire year. So you probably won't get too far telling Leicester fans that their team was lucky with injuries in 2015-16. Still, there can be extreme power in continuity, and Leicester's April lineup pretty closely resembled their August lineup. A few injuries or slumps could have exposed a lack of depth, but that was not a concern. Chemistry and familiarity skyrocketed with this group, and that couldn't have hurt when it came to gutting out all of these late results.


Leicester are obviously an outlier. But the Foxes are only part of the reason why this season has been a stunner in England. The club has distracted us from what have been quite a few noteworthy stories. The Big 5 of English football -- Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool -- have combined to average just 58.8 points this season, 62.1 projected over a 38-match pace (there are two matches left). Over the last 10 years, these five clubs have averaged 74.3 points. Right now, none of the five have hit 70 yet (at 67 and 64, respectively, Arsenal and City still could); the last time at least one of the five didn't reach at least 80 was 1999.

So that's a pretty easy narrative then, right? Leicester lucked out because the others stunk? Sure. But Leicester and a few other clubs had a role to play in that stink. The Foxes have improved from 41 to 77 points, but there's another plot line emanating from London: With perhaps the youngest lineup in the league, Tottenham Hotspur have improved from 64 points to 70 (again, with two to play), and West Ham have improved from 47 to 59.

We've heard a lot about all the money rolling in with the Premier League's new television structure. That has a couple of different effects. It certainly adds to the coffers of the power clubs, but it also raises the floor for everybody else.

Think about Major League Baseball. The 2001 season was the first time a team's opening day payroll had topped the $100,000,000 mark. That year, the New York Yankees' payroll ($109.8 million) was about 4.5 times bigger than that of the lowest team (Minnesota, with $24.4 million). Of the eight teams that made the playoffs, five were among the top nine in payroll. Overall average payroll that year: $64.5 million.

In 2015, meanwhile, the average opening day payroll had nearly doubled to $124.7 million. The highest payroll (the Dodgers' $272.8 million) was still four times bigger than the lowest (the Astros' $68.5 million), but only three of the nine most expensive teams made the playoffs. And in the World Series, the No. 16 team (Kansas City) beat the No. 21 team (New York Mets).

The shift is subtle but significant. More money for the lower teams gives them more room to maneuver, more margin for error for putting together a smart front office, strong management staff, talented roster, etc. A Leicester isn't going to win the league every year, but strangely enough, money might end up being the cause of the breakup of Power Club rule in the Premier League. And especially for teams like London's Tottenham and West Ham, already based in one of soccer's power cities, they may not have needed too much more margin for error to build contending squads.

Or hell, maybe everything goes back to normal next year. We're all just guessing at the moment, aren't we?


With 22 wins, 11 draws, and three losses, Leicester currently have 77 points. Over the last 10 years, the Premier League champion has averaged 87.4 points; in the 22-year history of the league, the champ has averaged 86.1.

So yes, this was certainly a down year for the elite teams. Still, with two matches remaining, Leicester could still hit 83 points. As recently as 2011, 80 points won the league. The champions from 1997 (United, with 75), 1998 (Arsenal, 78), and 1999 (United, 79) all failed to hit even 80. (That 1999 United team, by the way, also won the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup and is celebrated as one of the club's best ever.) Between 77 and 83 is certainly a lower-than-normal point total for a champion, but it isn't an unheard-of number.

And hey, if the Foxes were to celebrate and carouse, nonstop, for the next couple of weeks, losing to both Everton at home and Chelsea in London to finish the season (and could you blame them for doing so?) to finish at 77, that would still not be the lowest.


(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Ranieri won 107 matches as Chelsea's manager from September 2000 to May 2004. His teams finished sixth, sixth, fourth and second in the Premier League; his last squad was strong but fell victim to the run of Arsene Wenger's last great Arsenal squad (26 wins, 12 draws, 0 losses).

Granted, Leicester still would have had more chances to clinch the title no matter what happened on Monday night at Stamford Bridge -- anything beyond LCFC losing twice and Spurs winning twice would have done the job. But perhaps it was fitting that Chelsea played a role in clinching the title for Ranieri's squad. The Blues came back from 2-0 down in a more-than-chippy derby with Spurs to tie on Hazard's late goal. Chelsea fans chanted Ranieri's name late in the match while a citywide party began (OK, continued) about 125 miles north.