Is the Leicester class of 2019/20 even better than the 2015/16 title winners?

The Foxes go head-to-head with Arsenal on Saturday night in a key battle in the race for a top-four finish.

Those sides were the top two in 2015/16 and Leicester have the upper hand again, sitting in third with a six-point cushion on the fifth-placed Gunners.

In fact, Leicester currently have more points than they did at the same stage as their title-winning season.

So how do Brendan Rodgers’ men compare with Claudio Ranieri’s 5000/1 champions? We take a look…

The stats

Leicester were also in third spot at this stage of the 2015/16 season, however, Rodgers’ current crop have one point more and a far better goal difference – in part thanks to their recent 9-0 thrashing of Southampton.

Leicester have scored 27 goals this season and conceded just eight, giving them the joint-best defensive record in the division. In 2015/16 they had 23 goals to their name but let in 19 – the most of any top-half team.

The gap between Leicester and the league leaders at this point is significant, though.

While four years ago they were still within touching distance of the top, only three points behind leaders Manchester City and Arsenal, this time Leicester are eight points behind first-placed Liverpool.

That fast start by Liverpool, who have only dropped two points this season, and Man City’s pursuit could put another title win out of Leicester’s reach this season. After all, their haul of 81 points and a goal difference of +32 in 2015/16 wouldn’t have seen them finish higher than third in subsequent years.

However, individually, Jamie Vardy will still have hopes of claiming the elusive golden boot prize which he missed out on by one goal in 2015/16. He tops the scoring charts with 10 goals so far – one less than he had at the same stage in 2015/16.

Vardy remains the star man for the club – but behind him there is a real contrast in how the two editions of the Leicester teams play…

The style

Ranieri’s side had just one clean sheet at this stage in 2015/16, with the Italian boss infamously buying his team pizza after a shutout against Crystal Palace. But while the Italian tightened up his side’s defence as the Foxes became serious contenders for the crown, it was their famed counter-attacking play which drove their title charge.

Over 20 per cent of the team’s passes were hit long in that season, with the pace of Vardy and Riyad Mahrez doing damage in behind opposition defences when Leicester broke up the pitch with pace.

In contrast, this season’s team have a far more controlled approach, with an ability to dominate possession and patiently create openings for their forwards – and are much more defensively sound as a result. Just 10.4 per cent of their passes are now hit long.

That’s not to say they don’t race forwards when the opportunity presents itself but there has been a clear style shift.

As the table above shows, Rodgers’ men have significantly more possession and make far more passes than Ranieri’s team did.

It’s a method which plays to the strengths of creators James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, Youri Tielemans and Ayoze Perez, while full-backs Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira have been given licence to attack given the safety net of Wilfred Ndidi, who has been playing an N’Golo Kante-style holding role.

So are Leicester now better than they were when they won the title? It’s early days. The season is still young and Rodgers’ side will have to prove they can sustain their levels throughout the busy winter period and into the crunch spring fixtures, just as Ranieri’s team did. The toughest tests, which the 2015/16 generation were able to negotiate, lie ahead.

But Leicester’s start to the campaign has been a promising one and the signs are Rodgers has them on track to be mixing with the Premier League’s top sides once again…

The pundit verdict

Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson:

Leicester have been outstanding. They have an unbelievable manager. Brendan Rodgers has not added much to the squad he inherited from Claude Puel, but he’s improved every single player at his disposal. He’s getting a tune out of every single player, it’s incredible. I cannot speak highly enough of Rodgers. Chairmen up and down the country will be thinking ‘how did we not get him?’

This Leicester team where languishing in mid-table and going nowhere until Rodgers came in, and in less than 12 months he’s got the whole squad playing with confidence, they all know what they are doing and look like a proper team.

At 4.30pm on Saturday, when Liverpool and City were losing, Leicester were in the title race. That may be beyond them this season, but I’d go as far as saying that this current team is better than the side that won the Premier League in 2015/16.

If they beat Arsenal on Saturday, they will be in the driving seat for the top four. Rodgers has done so well that Leicester have a job on their hands keeping hold of him. If I were Arsenal, I’d be breaking the bank to get him, give him a five-year contract and sit back and watch him transform the club.

Title winners – where are they now?

Kasper Schmeichel – The goalkeeper remains Leicester’s No 1.

Ben Hamer – Back-up stopper is now on loan at Derby.

Mark Schwarzer – He didn’t play in either season but can claim successive titles after helping Chelsea to the crown in 2014/15. Now retired.

Ritchie De Laet – Started 2015/16 at Leicester but was loaned out to Championship Middlesbrough mid-season. Now at Royal Antwerp.

Danny Simpson – Released in the summer by Leicester and was picked up by Huddersfield.

Wes Morgan – Still at Leicester as captain but no longer a first-choice centre-back.

Robert Huth – After injury kept him out of the 2017/18 season he announced his retirement in January 2019.

Marcin Wasilewski – One game short of a winners’ medal with four appearances in 2015/16. Has been at Wisla Krakow in his Polish homeland since 2017.

Yohan Benalouane – He made four appearances in 2015/16 and is now at Nottingham Forest.

Christian Fuchs – The left-back signed a new one-year deal at Leicester in May 2019, although only made three Premier League appearances last season.

Marc Albrighton – Still at Leicester although he has largely been used from the bench this season.

Danny Drinkwater – Now on loan at Burnley after failing to find game-time at Chelsea following a big-money move in 2017.

N’Golo Kante – Won the title again at Chelsea the following season and remains a key player for the Blues.

Andy King – Has had loan spells at Swansea and Derby. Now on loan at Rangers.

Daniel Amartey – Still at Leicester but hasn’t been used by Rodgers this season after a bad ankle injury last year.

Jeff Schlupp – Was named the club’s young player of the year in 2015/16 but joined Crystal Palace in 2017.

Demarai Gray – Joined in January of the title winning season. Has struggled to nail down a starting spot but is a regular off the bench.

Riyad Mahrez – After a long transfer saga, Mahrez eventually joined Manchester City in the summer of 2018 and won his second Premier League title the following May.

Gokhan Inler – Made five appearances in the title-winning season and is now at Istanbul Basaksehir after a season at Besiktas.

Jamie Vardy – Still the star man for Leicester and currently the Premier League top scorer.

Shinji Okazaki – Playing in the Spanish second-tier with Huesca after being released in the summer.

Andrej Kramaric – Just two appearances in 2015/16 before going on loan to Hoffenheim. Now there permanently and scoring regularly in the Bundesliga.

Leonardo Ulloa – A useful impact sub in the title-winning season, he is now at Rayo Vallecano in Spain after a season at Mexican side Pachuca following a loan spell at Brighton.

Joe Dodoo – Made one sub appearance in the title-winning season. Now at League One Bolton after moving to Rangers in 2016/17 and spending time on loan at Charlton and Blackpool.

Watch Leicester vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm.

(c) Sky Sports 2019: Are Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City even better than Claudio Ranieri’s 2015/16 Premier League champions?