Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez Aren't Getting It Done for Leicester City
Prior to last season, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were relative unknowns. Shoot, Leicester City Football Club were a relative unknown.
But then the incredible happened. Spurred on by huge seasons from both Vardy and Mahrez -- as well as breakouts from N'Golo Kante, Christian Fuchs, and Danny Drinkwater, among others -- the Foxes won the most unlikely league title in Premier League history.
Actually, it may have been the most unlikely team championship in sports history. A side which narrowly escaped relegation in the 2014-15 campaign trounced big-money clubs like Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United.
On their way to the 2015-16 title, the Foxes got top-notch performances from Vardy and Mahrez, two players fairly new to the top flight of English soccer (or top flight of any European domestic league).
A speedy striker, Vardy set the record for most consecutive Premier League matches with a goal, scoring in 11 straight games, while consistently straining back lines with his pace.
RT .FemiCoolfm: Never Forget: Vardy's record-breaking goal pic.twitter.com/ECtsJ2MRvX
— Never Forget Bot (@forgetmebot) December 5, 2015
Vardy fit Leicester's counter-attacking style perfectly, but Mahrez gave them a playmaker who could create against set defenses. An attacking midfielder, Mahrez carved up the Premier League with his superb dribbling, deft touch, and killer left foot on his way to being named the league's Player of the Year.
@Ollie_Parsons1 Mahrez wonder goal vs Chelsea pic.twitter.com/IqLiMe2Kmb
— Ollie (@Ollie_Parsons1) March 13, 2016
Vardy and Mahrez were magical, but magic became the norm for Leicester last season. No one really expected them to challenge for the title again this year -- heck, something like their title run last season may never happen again -- but the Foxes weren't expected to be flirting with the relegation zone.
That's exactly what's happened, though, through 18 games. We're nearly halfway through the campaign, and Leicester sit 16th, just three points clear of 18th-place Sunderland. The Foxes advanced to the Round of 16 in Champions League play, so it hasn't been a complete disaster, but Leicester have looked every bit the part of a bottom-table side a year removed from winning the league.
Of course, the loss of Kante, a midfield workhorse, to Chelsea has had an impact, as well as natural regression after the Foxes fared incredibly (read: unsustainably) well in one-goal games last year, but the biggest difference between the miracle workers from last year and this season's Leicester team has been the drop in production from Mahrez and Vardy, the club's two biggest stars.
A Tale of Two Seasons
Mahrez and Vardy weren't instrumental to the Leicester attack last season -- they were the Leicester attack. When Leicester went forward and created a chance -- or a goal -- odds are, Mahrez or Vardy (or both) was involved.
The Foxes scored 68 goals, 41 of which came from either Vardy (24) or Mahrez (17). Mahrez accounted for 11 assists while Vardy set up 6 goals, with the two finding each other for a goal eight different times. Only two other Leicester players -- Leonardo Ulloa (six) and Shinji Okazaki (five) -- had more than three goals. If Mahrez and Vardy didn't put the ball in the back of the net, the Foxes were in trouble.
That's exactly what's happened this season. After combining for 41 goals and 17 assists in 38 matches a year ago, Vardy and Mahrez have teamed up for just 8 goals and 4 assists in 18 matches this season. That's 1.07 goals per game last season to 0.44 this year and 0.45 assists per game in 2015-16 to 0.22 this year. Their production has been cut in half.
As you'd expect, Leicester's goals are down from 1.78 per game last season to 1.27 per game this year.
But that's just looking at goals and assists.
Using WhoScored.com's player ratings, as well as other numbers, we can see the full scope of Vardy's and Mahrez's loss of form.
|Shots Per Game||2.3||2.1||3.2||1.4|
|Passes Per Game||27.9||30.4||17.4||15.4|
|Pass Success Rate||73.6%||77.0%||65.8%||65.1%|
|Crosses Per Game||0.9||0.4||0.3||0.2|
|Key Passes Per Game||1.8||1.4||1.3||0.6|
|Dribbles Per Game||3.5||2.3||1.1||0.4|
|Fouls Drawn Per Game||2.2||1.6||0.8||0.4|
The duo's numbers have plummeted nearly across the board, starting with each player's WhoScored rating.
Mahrez led the league with a sparkling 7.84 rating last season, but his 6.82 rating this year ranks fourth -- on Leicester.
Vardy's 6.63 rating this season checks in 10th on the team among players with at least 10 appearances while his 7.51 rating a year ago ranked 9th in the league.
Obviously, the goal-scoring touch hasn't been there for either player, but they haven't been nearly as active as they were last season.
Mahrez has attempted more passes per game this year and is completing them at a better rate, but his crosses and key passes per game have both tumbled. After coming up with 0.31 assists per match last campaign, Mahrez has generated a meager 0.12 assists per match this season.
Even when he was providing a serviceable amount of chances for others last season, which isn't his forte, Vardy was still pretty much a striker through and through -- which is another way of saying he's out there to score goals. Well, he's not making the net bulge this season -- 0.33 goals per game this year, compared to 0.66 goals per game in 2015-16 -- and his already-lacking service to others has evaporated. His 1.4 shots per game are less than half of what he provided a year ago.
We're not even halfway through the season, so Mahrez and Vardy have plenty of time to turn things around, and both are talented enough to do just that. However, their underlying stats don't indicate a goal-scoring barrage is on the way.
That's bad news for Leicester.
While the Foxes probably won't find themselves battling relegation late in the year -- their minus-8 goal differential is the same as 10th-place Watford and is reflective of a mid-table squad -- they surely don't look like a top-half-of-the-table side.
They're going to be facing an uphill battle against Sevilla in their Champions League Round of 16 tie, and Leicester are going to be a longshot to sniff anything close to a Europa League spot in future seasons without Vardy and Mahrez, their stars, playing like stars.