Manchester City made something of a statement in their 1-0 win over potential title challengers Chelsea on Saturday, whereas Manchester United seemed to take another step back as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's reign stuttered again.

But Solskjaer is certainly not the only top-flight manager feeling the heat – Nuno Espirito Santo's honeymoon period as Tottenham boss is well and truly over, with the Portuguese now among the favourites to be the first Premier League boss sacked this season following a 3-1 defeat in the north London derby.

Without any further ado, here are some of the more curious facts and stats from across the Premier League this past weekend…

City defence putting the 'guard' in Guardiola

It may not have been the thrill ride neutrals were likely hoping for, but City's 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge was another impressive indicator of just how good Pep Guardiola's team is as a unit.

Of course, they won the Premier League only a few months ago, so saying City are "good" probably won't cut it for analysis – but what is really making people sit up and take note at the moment is how their unity and cohesion is translating into defensive solidity.

City have conceded just one goal in their six Premier League games this term, the fewest they've ever shipped at this stage of any league campaign.

Let's not forget that Chelsea had been widely praised for their own start to 2021-22, yet on Saturday they were prevented from having a single shot on target in a home league game since November 2012, which coincidentally was also against City.

But even more impressive from City's perspective was the fact Chelsea's expected goals (xG) value was just 0.2, the worst they've recorded in a home Premier League game since Opta records began in 2008-09.

While Chelsea fans will understandably be frustrated, it would seem their struggles on Saturday were more down to City being in a groove defensively.

They've only faced six shots on target this season, a record no Premier League has bettered over the first six matches in a campaign since at least 2003-04. If they keep this up, the title will surely be staying at the Etihad Stadium.

Fernandes' penalty miss not Man Utd's big issue

It was another day to forget for United on Saturday as they lost 1-0 at home to Aston Villa.

They were presented with a great opportunity to equalise in second-half stoppage time, but Bruno Fernandes sent his penalty over the crossbar.

Much of the focus afterwards was on Fernandes and his miss, though it would be unfair to pin the blame on him – after all, of the 23 spot-kicks he has taken since his United debut, he's only failed to convert two.

In the same time period, Cristiano Ronaldo – seemingly Fernandes' main penalty rival now – has taken 22 and missed four. This is not a problem that United need to dwell on much.

Instead, they'd be wise to look into their glaring tactical inefficiencies, with Solskjaer's team sorely lacking identity, cohesion and a defined playing style. Too often they are bailed out by moments of individual brilliance, which is an unsustainable approach to solely rely on in a title challenge.

Against Villa, those instances of individual excellence never arrived, despite United mustering 28 shots. That was the most efforts attempted by United without scoring in a home league game since October 2016 (38 shots in 0-0 draw with Burnley).

They have now conceded in each of their past eight league games at Old Trafford, their worst such run in 49 years, and lost three successive home matches (all competitions) for the first time since 1962.

Norwich set new benchmark for worst start

With every match that passes, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to become ever dimmer for Norwich City.

A 2-0 defeat at Everton on Saturday leaves Norwich pointless and with a -14 goal difference after six matches – that makes their start to the season the worst after six matches in Premier League history.

Only twice before had a Premier League side begun a campaign without a single point from six games, the last of which was Frank de Boer's infamous Crystal Palace team in 2017-18 – the Dutchman was sacked after the fourth match in that sequence.

Norwich have at least been a little more patient than Palace, with Daniel Farke's record of overseeing two promotions seemingly ensuring he retains some good will at the club, even if he now has the highest loss percentage (75 per cent, 33/44) of any manager to take charge of at least 20 games in the Premier League.

Most would already consider Norwich to be doomed for relegation, though perhaps there is some reason for optimism.

There have only been nine teams to start a top-flight season (prior to 2021-22) with six or more successive losses, but four of them – including Palace – have avoided relegation.

Vardy joins exclusive club

Jamie Vardy ended up having a peculiar day when Leicester City drew 2-2 with Burnley on Saturday, the former England striker scoring three of the four goals.

It was his own goal that gave Burnley an early lead, while he also got both Leicester equalisers, including one late in the day.

That was his first own goal ever in 360 appearances for Leicester, while he became the first player to net at both ends for the club in a single Premier League game.

It's happened to some of the best, though. He joins an illustrious list containing 11 others who have scored at least 100 goals but also put past their own goalkeeper, with Harry Kane, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney among them.

On top of that, Vardy is now only one of five players in Premier League history to score at least twice at the right end and an own goal in the same game after John Barnes (Liverpool v Spurs 1995), Niall Quinn (Sunderland v Charlton Athletic 2001), Rooney (Man Utd v Stoke City 2012) and Tammy Abraham (Chelsea v Wolves 2019).

But he is still doing more than his fair share at the other end, his brace in this game taking him to eight goal involvements in his past seven league games, which is 89 per cent (8/9) of Leicester's goals in that time.

Bad omens stacking up for Nuno

After three wins from his first three Premier League games in charge, everything was looking rather rosy for Tottenham boss Nuno.

Three matches and three defeats later, some will doubt whether he'll still be in charge this time next month, let alone this time next season.

Sunday's north London derby was his 10th in charge of Spurs and the 3-1 loss made him the first manager to lose as many as four of his first 10 matches at the helm of the club since Glenn Hoddle in 2001.

Hoddle was also the last Spurs boss to conceded at least three goals in three consecutive league games in September 2003, and he was sacked after that run.

Nuno will probably make it to the next match but the last team to begin a season with three wins and then lost the next three (Everton, 1993-94) finish as low down as 17th.

His future arguably rests on getting something out of Kane, who's failed to score in five straight league games for the first time since August 2016, but things aren't looking great given Spurs' 35 open-play shots is the second fewest in the division and their expected goals (xG) total is just 3.2, only higher than three teams.

While a lack of quality chances might usually be masked by Kane's excellence, he's not bailing them out any longer – if that continues, it's difficult to see Nuno keeping his job for the long term.

The Premier League table already looks to be taking shape, with a thrilling title race potentially in store.

Two of the favourites meet early on Saturday, as Chelsea welcome Manchester City to Stamford Bridge.

At the same time, Manchester United – joint-top alongside the Blues and Liverpool – host Aston Villa at Old Trafford.

With the season really kicking into gear, so are the title races in fantasy leagues. So, to avoid getting left behind, take heed of our Opta-powered picks for matchday six...

 

DAVID DE GEA (Manchester United v Aston Villa)

Despite their EFL Cup defeat to West Ham on Wednesday, United remain unbeaten in the league and moved onto 13 points thanks to some late drama last Sunday, also in a match against David Moyes' Hammers.

Jesse Lingard came off the bench to score against the club for whom he starred on loan last term, but West Ham were awarded a last-gasp penalty and a chance to rescue a draw. However, substitute Mark Noble, with his first touch, saw his penalty saved by David de Gea.

It ended a run of 40 penalties without a save from De Gea, who has now this season prevented more goals (2.5) than any other keeper in the Premier League, according to expected goals on target data.

SHANE DUFFY (Crystal Palace v Brighton and Hove Albion)

Has Graham Potter's luck at Brighton and Hove Albion finally changed? His team have impressed over the past few seasons, yet a clinical edge was often missing. Now, though, the Seagulls have won four of their five games and sit pretty on 12 points.

A key figure in their strong start has been Shane Duffy. The centre-back's career looked to be petering out after a poor loan spell at Celtic last season, but he has come back strong this term.

No Premier League defender has had more shots (10) or scored more goals (one) than Duffy so far this season, while only Man City have faced fewer shots on target than Brighton in 2021-22.

REECE JAMES (Chelsea v Manchester City)

Reece James is of course an expensive option for fantasy players, though it is an investment worth making, given his ability going forward and the fact he plays for one of the competition's strongest teams.

Despite only playing 158 minutes so far in the league, James has been directly involved in three goals, more than any other defender.

He has scored once and provided two assists, averaging a goal involvement every 53 minutes.

BRUNO FERNANDES (Manchester United v Aston Villa)

Given the hype around Cristiano Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford, it would be understandable if many fantasy players had elected to sacrifice his compatriot Bruno Fernandes in order to free up funds for the former Real Madrid and Juventus superstar.

But Fernandes is still one of the most reliable players in the league when it comes to accumulating fantasy points, and he would have had an assist in the win over West Ham had Ronaldo's initial effort gone in before he netted the rebound.

Fernandes has scored in all three of his Premier League appearances against Villa, with all three of his goals coming from the penalty spot. Only one player has scored more goals against an opponent with 100 per cent of them being penalties in the competition – Troy Deeney against United (four). No player has more goal involvements (49) than Fernandes since he made his debut in February 2020.

DEMARAI GRAY (Everton v Norwich City)

Rafael Benitez's unbeaten start at Everton came to an end at Aston Villa last week, before the Toffees then crashed out of the EFL Cup in midweek, with James Rodriguez's departure to Qatar completing a difficult few days.

Benitez, a contentious pick as Everton manager, could do with a win on Saturday against Norwich City, who are on a 15-match losing streak in the Premier League.

With Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison likely to miss the game through injury, Everton need Demarai Gray to carry on his fine form. He has scored three goals so far this season from just three attempts on target. Only in 2018-19 has the winger scored more goals in a single top-flight season (four).

RAUL JIMENEZ (Southampton v Wolves)

After winning at Watford to finally get their first points on the board, Wolves went down 2-0 at home to 10-man Brentford last time out.

Wolves have played some exciting football under new boss Bruno Lage, but they need to start converting their chances, and Raul Jimenez coming back into form would be key to doing just that.

Although he has yet to score or assist in the Premier League this season, Jimenez has been directly involved in 29 shots (14 shots, 15 chances created). Only Mohamed Salah (37) and Sadio Mane (31) have been involved in more. The Mexican has created the most chances without an assist and taken the joint-most shots without a goal, so surely his luck will change soon. 

JAMIE VARDY (Leicester City v Burnley)

It has not been a flying start to the season for FA Cup holders Leicester City, who have had some inconsistent results and performances to match.

They lost to Brighton last week, going down 2-1, with Jamie Vardy scoring his 150th goal in all competitions for the Foxes.

Vardy has been directly involved in six goals in his past six Premier League games (five goals, one assist), with these involvements accounting for 86 per cent of Leicester's total goals in that run (six of seven).

Pep Guardiola compared Ferran Torres to Jamie Vardy after his two-goal display in Manchester City's 5-0 dismantling of Arsenal on Saturday.

Just this week City saw long-term target Harry Kane confirm he will not be leaving Tottenham this year despite apparently trying to force a move away and then they missed out on the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United.

The central striker position is an area of the team City have been particularly keen to strengthen given no one scored more than 17 goals for them across all competitions in 2020-21, and Sergio Aguero – who missed much of the season through injury – left for Barcelona.

But Guardiola reiterated that he is perfectly happy with the options he currently has in attack after blowing 10-man Arsenal away – Torres led the way with a brace, while Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri all got one each.

The Spaniard drew much of the focus after the match, with Guardiola shooting down suggestions he was underwhelming last season when his 13 goals across all competitions was bettered by just five City players, all of whom played at least 726 minutes more than him.

Similarly, of those five with more goals, only Gundogan (24.3 per cent) boasted a better conversion rate than Torres (21 per cent), who showed a real clinical streak with his xG overperformance of 3.2 – Vardy, as a base for comparison, only scored 17 from 22.7 xG.

"Last season, the way he played was exceptional," Guardiola said of Torres in his post-match news conference.

"His numbers in terms of goals and assists… he played incredibly well. But in this position, a striker, he made movements like some of the best strikers' movements in behind – Jamie Vardy, these types of players.

"He moves incredibly well. He's a good finisher, so young. We did an incredible job buying him with a nice price and he can play in the three positions up front, and he's an incredible finisher.

"We're pleased for his movements, his work ethic and learning, many, many things. We're pleased for his performance even aside from the goals."

But Guardiola, while happy with his squad, was not getting carried away with the suggestion Saturday's win proves they do not necessarily need attacking reinforcements.

"We don't need a striker if we score five goals, if we don't score five goals then we need a striker," Guardiola added.

"You'll see throughout the season, if we don't score in games people say we need a striker. We tried but it was not possible. This team is still fantastic.

"Thanks to all the people working in the scouting department from day one to now for the players they gave me. The squad is really good and we're very pleased for this result. We scored a goal without deserving, sometimes it happens, and after 2-0 and the sending off the game was completely free."

Granit Xhaka was the man to see red for the Gunners – it was his fourth Premier League dismissal since the start of 2016-17, a joint high for the competition.

But even before that point, City were 2-0 up and cruising, ultimately becoming just the third side in Premier League to win three successive home games by five or more goals (after City themselves in October 2017 and Chelsea, August 2010).

City restricted Arsenal to just one shot, which came in the sixth minute, the Gunners' lowest such tally in a league game since Opta began recording such data (2003-04).

The Premier League is back. Yes, already.

After the packed schedule of 2020-21, the delayed Euro 2020, Copa America and Tokyo Olympics and a pre-season still impacted by travel restrictions, the new season in England's top flight will, hopefully, be a bit more like normal.

With fans set to return to grounds across the country, the anticipation for this opening weekend has been greater than many others – and, we assume, that same excitement extends to fantasy football.

To that end, Stats Perform's Fantasy Picks series has returned to point you in the right direction for those all-important choices. Whether you're squad-filling, striker-selecting or triple-captaining, these suggested selections - all backed by Opta data - should hopefully get you off to a flyer.

 

ROBERT SANCHEZ (Burnley v Brighton and Hove Albion)

Robert Sanchez was one of the more surprising names in Luis Enrique's Spain squad for Euro 2020. Given his form this year, perhaps he shouldn't have been such a shock.

The only goalkeepers to keep more Premier League clean sheets since the start of January are Ederson (12) and Edouard Mendy (10), with Sanchez's nine helping Brighton to secure survival.

They start their campaign away to Burnley, where they have lost only once in their past seven league visits. Indeed, the Clarets are on a 10-game winless run at Turf Moor.

 

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD (Norwich City v Liverpool)

Having declared himself fully fit and feeling confident, 2021-22 could be the season where we see Trent Alexander-Arnold back to his scintillating best.

That said, even his more difficult campaign last term had impressive elements. Since the turn of this year, his expected assists figure of 5.37 is the highest of any defender and second only to Bruno Fernandes (5.62) in the whole competition.

Liverpool average 2.8 goals per game against Norwich City in the Premier League and it's safe to back this man to provide the chances again at Carrow Road, particularly with Virgil van Dijk set to return to offer an extra set-piece threat.

JAMES TARKOWSKI (Burnley v Brighton and Hove Albion)

James Tarkowski has long been admired as a stopper at the heart of the Burnley defence, but he is a greater threat going forward than six league goals in six seasons would suggest.

Last season, the 28-year-old had the most touches in the opposition box (66) and the highest expected goals tally (3.37) of any centre-back in the Premier League.

Goals in this fixture are rare – just 1.5 per game on average – so gambling on a clean sheet and a set-piece winner from Tarkowski could be worthwhile.

 

MOHAMED SALAH (Norwich City v Liverpool)

In the past four seasons, Liverpool's opening Premier League goal of the season has been scored by Mohamed Salah. He got three in their win over Leeds United a year ago.

No player has ever scored on the opening day for five consecutive Premier League seasons but, given Salah's record, you would not bet against him.

It's worth adding that Liverpool have won seven away games in a row against Norwich in the top flight.

MASON GREENWOOD (Manchester United v Leeds United)

With Marcus Rashford recovering from shoulder surgery and Jadon Sancho still adjusting to new surroundings, it's highly likely Mason Greenwood will start on Saturday.

After scoring just once in 23 games, Greenwood ended last season with six goals in eight league appearances to take his tally to 19.

Manchester United scored six when Leeds United visited last season, and it's been 30 years since the Yorkshire club last won a league game at Old Trafford.

JAMIE VARDY (Leicester City v Wolves)

Along with Salah, Jamie Vardy is the only current Premier League player to score six goals in six opening matches of the season. He's a striker who hits the ground running, and running hard.

Leicester City are also enjoying a run of one defeat in 24 home league games against Wolves - and that was back in May 2007 in the Championship.

Wolves have gone eight seasons without losing their opening league match, but they have a new man in charge in Bruno Lage, and five of the previous seven managers whose first Premier League game came against Leicester were defeated.

 

CALLUM WILSON (Newcastle United v West Ham United)

Losing Callum Wilson to injury last term was a major reason behind Newcastle United's struggles, and it was his double in that shock 4-2 win away to Leicester that effectively secured their survival in May.

The Magpies begin 2021-22 against one of Wilson's favourite opponents. He has scored eight goals in 10 Premier League games against West Ham, more than he has against any other side in the competition.

The striker got his opening top-flight goals for both Bournemouth and Newcastle against the Hammers.

Leicester City missed out on Champions League qualification as a Kasper Schmeichel own goal and a late double from Gareth Bale condemned the Foxes to a 4-2 defeat by Tottenham on the final day of the season. 

Chelsea's 2-1 loss to Aston Villa meant Brendan Rodgers' side would have sealed a top-four finish with victory over Spurs and they started well, Jamie Vardy putting them ahead from the penalty spot. 

Harry Kane – in what could prove to be his final game for the club amid rumours he wants to leave – pulled Spurs level before the interval, though, with a goal that secured this season's Golden Boot ahead of Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. 

Another Vardy spot-kick restored Leicester's lead early in the second half, but there was late heartache for the hosts when Schmeichel – one of the heroes of last weekend's FA Cup final win over Chelsea – punched into his own net from a corner 14 miniutes from full-time.

Bale's late brace then ensured Brendan Rodgers' side finished the campaign a point adrift of Thomas Tuchel's fourth-placed side.

 

Jamie Vardy will be remembered as Leicester City's greatest ever player, according to his former team-mate Andy King.

Vardy's goals fired Leicester to an unforgettable Premier League title triumph in 2015-16, when he was named the FWA Footballer of the Year and went on to play and score for England at Euro 2016.

While the likes of Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante went on to seek pastures new, Vardy remained as the Foxes' talisman and on Saturday added the club's first FA Cup to their maiden top-flight title when Youri Tielemans' thunderbolt sunk Chelsea 1-0 at Wembley.

The 34-year-old's fairy tale ascent from non-league football has been well documented and, with 116 goals, he lies 19th on the Premier League's all-time goalscorers list.

Vardy will have his eye on climbing a few more places yet, as he is under contract to Leicester until 2023. When the time comes for him to move on, Wales international King believes there will be a virtually impossible void to fill.

"Everyone wants to know what the secret is or what he's like," King told Stats Perform.

"But he has no secret over things which he does. You guys know that because he's been telling everyone he drinks his coffee, drinks his Red Bull, he eats what he wants and then he goes out and scores two goals and runs around like a madman.

"What you see is what you get with him. Like with Wes [Morgan] and Kasper [Schmeichel], first and foremost he has great affection for the club, the people at the club and the owner.

"He's such a good guy to have in the changing room and to have off the pitch as well.

"The hole is going to be massive when he leaves Leicester. I think he's Leicester's best ever player. And that's before adding another trophy to the collection.

"He'll be a hard one to try replace when Leicester have to do that at some point."

On the other hand, Vardy's goalscoring mantle has arguably already passed, with the veteran playing a supporting role to the prolific Kelechi Iheanacho.

Vardy's 13 goals in the Premier League this term represent a joint-lowest return since he hit the same number in 2016-17, comfortably below the 23 he netted to win the Golden Boot last term.

But his nine assists represent a career best in the competition, matching his total from the past two years combined.

This can, in part, be attributed to a slightly altered role supporting Iheanacho in a 3-5-2 system - their lethal striker partnership taking Leicester to the brink of Champions League qualification, which can be secured in Tuesday's rematch with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

The former Manchester City striker scored 20 times in all competitions across his previous three seasons at the King Power Stadium but he has exploded into life this time around, with 18 to his name.

Thirteen of those have come in his past 13 matches and King believes the 24-year-old's patience over the course of a lengthy acclimatisation process has been rewarded with more than just a new contract until 2024.

"When he first came in, he was in and out of the team," he said. "It must be hard adapting from Man City to go into another team where you're not going to get the chances laid on a plate for you and you're not going to have the ball for 80 per cent of the game. You've got to learn to do the other stuff as well.

"Kel was a really honest guy, he was trying really hard to learn the system. To start with, Leicester played a 4-3-3 with only one striker and Vards is always going to play.

"They changed the system when Harvey Barnes got injured, which was a big loss because he was playing really well. I don't know if Brendan said to him, 'Look, I'm going to go to a 3-5-2 and you're going to be my second striker, you know you're going to play'.

"If that was the case, he certainly rewarded the manager because for the second half of the season he has been absolutely outstanding. He's carrying Leicester at a moment to the top four, scoring goals when no one else was and his all-round play has always been good.

"Like, anyone when they're playing with confidence and knowing they're going to play the next game, it all falls into place. Strikers go on a hot streak and he's certainly on one of those at the moment."

Jamie Vardy is looking to add to his growing medal collection with Leicester City after helping the Foxes to win their first FA Cup.

Leicester, who won the Premier League with Vardy in the side in 2015-16, finally got their hands on the cup with a 1-0 win over Chelsea on Saturday.

Youri Tielemans scored the sole goal for Brendan Rodgers' team at Wembley, with a late own goal from Wes Morgan disallowed following a VAR review.

Vardy has now played in every round in the competition including the preliminary stages, having started his career in non-league football, but had a quiet final.

Neither of the striker's two shots under the arch hit the target, while he lost possession with five of his 14 touches.

It mattered not, though, as Leicester claimed the FA Cup after four previous final defeats, and that encouraged Vardy to set his sights higher still.

"It's a brilliant feeling, a really brilliant feeling. We've managed to do it," he said.

"But when the gaffer came in over two years ago, he said he wanted us to keep progressing, how he wanted us to play, he wanted us to be challenging for trophies.

"Now we've got one, we're going to be wanting some more. Now it's hard work, dedication and keep progressing as much as we can."

Leicester could cap a stunning stretch by qualifing for the Champions League if they beat Chelsea again at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

Such an achievement would firmly establish manager Rodgers' side among the elite in English football.

"It was the big challenge I wanted to take coming to Leicester," Rodgers told a news conference.

"Having worked at incredible clubs like [Liverpool] and Celtic, could I go to a club outside of the top six and could we challenge and could we disrupt that hierarchy within the league?

"We'll always be a way behind in terms of financial perspective, but can we compete, can we perform and can we fight to challenge?

"And then obviously, on days like today, when you have the opportunity to create history, can you do that? Thankfully, we've been able to do it."

But Rodgers, repeatedly emphasising the financial gulf between Leicester and their opponents along with the rest of the 'big six', could offer few assurances on the futures of his cup final stars.

Tielemans, who now has nine goals in all competitions this season, would surely interest rivals, it was suggested.

Leicester fans did not have to look far for reminders of past departures on Saturday as N'Golo Kante started for Chelsea and Ben Chilwell almost turned the game on its head from the bench.

Kante had a relatively quiet outing, contesting just six duels, but Chilwell drew a superb save from Peter Schmeichel and forced the own goal that was then disallowed for his offside.

"I know the direction that we're going in and I know that Leicester in the future, I'm sure, will lose players," Rodgers said.

"We don't want to, it's not something we think about so much, but it's the nature of the game.

"But it's not to think about at this stage. You can see the happiness in the players, you can see the ambition we have, and of course you see the level that they play at.

"I don't think about it so much, I don't worry about it so much.

"I've got a really talented group of young guys that want to get better, and while I'm the coach and manager, until the very last day they're at the club, I'll always continue to do that."

Jamie Vardy once almost quit football to embark on a new life in the sunnier climes of Ibiza but now happily admits "thank God I didn't".

On Saturday, Vardy will make history as the first player to have featured in every round of the FA Cup from the first preliminary round to the final when Leicester City face off against Chelsea in the Wembley showpiece.

But things could have been very different for Vardy, whose rise from non-league football to Premier League star and England international (albeit he is now retired from the Three Lions) is well documented.

Vardy made a £1million switch to the King Power Stadium from Fleetwood Town ahead of the 2012-13 season, back when the Foxes were playing in the Championship.

He managed just four goals and only 17 starts in the second tier during that first campaign, leaving Vardy questioning his future in the game.

Former team-mate Ben Marshall revealed earlier this year on an episode of popular UK podcast 'Undr the Cosh' how Vardy had planned to hang up the boots early and head to party town Ibiza.

Vardy spoke about that time in his life and how the confidence of former manager Nigel Pearson helped to convince him to stick at it.

"Moving to Ibiza felt a good idea at the time," he told the Daily Mail. "It felt a really good idea. Thank God I didn't.

"It was one of those things. I'd never been in that environment - playing in the Championship, struggling, the performances and the goals not coming and it does make you think.

"I had a chat with Nigel Pearson at one point and I was trying to get him to loan me back to Fleetwood, just because I'd had success there. He said 'listen, you're good enough, just knuckle down, you can play a lot higher'.

"At that stage, I knew he believed in me and after that, it all clicked together. It was a learning curve. The big jump in standard took a bit of time getting used to and then the season after we got promoted."

Vardy was vindicated in his decision, helping Leicester to the Premier League and he now has 116 top-flight goals.

His 24 in the 2015-16 campaign fired Leicester to a famous title triumph and Champions League football in the following season.

Leicester have not been back at Europe's top table since, though they are third in the standings with just two games to play under Brendan Rodgers this term, and have the cup final against Chelsea to play.

Vardy pondered whether the unexpected title win came too soon for the Foxes.

"Winning the league probably set us back a bit because it wasn't supposed to happen so we probably weren't ready for it, on and off the field," he added.

"I couldn't see any of this happening when I signed but it's where the club wanted to go and what they wanted to achieve.

"The owners were brilliant and always wanted to go up and up, and keep progressing. If you look at the nine years since I've been here that's all it's ever done. It's carried on progressing."

Five years have passed since Leicester City stunned the football world and sealed their astonishing first Premier League triumph.

The Foxes had faced relegation the previous season before rallying late in the year but then stormed clear at the summit in 2015-16.

Leicester are now regular Champions League challengers, yet the story of that campaign remains remarkable.

With Opta data, we tell the tale of their title success through their three key performers.
 

VARDY'S GOALS

Jamie Vardy's rags to riches football fairytale story is well documented, but by this point in his career it is fair to say he had not yet made the grade in the Premier League. 

Having scored 16 times in their 2013-14 promotion campaign, Vardy scored one, created two more and won a pair of penalties for the further goals in a delirious 5-3 defeat of Manchester United in September 2014, then did not net again until March 2015.

Team-mate David Nugent provided an obvious, easy comparison, the player too good for the second tier but not good enough for the top flight.

Nugent's 20 goals in 46 games in 2013-14 improved his Championship tally to 90 in 254. He had found the net only nine times across 64 Premier League appearances, though, and would add just five more from 29 matches for Leicester.

But where Nugent's 2014-15 season followed a familiar, underwhelming theme, Vardy improved drastically over the course of a relentless run-in.

Playing a vital role as seven wins from nine games lifted Leicester from the foot of the table, Vardy ended the season with five goals and eight assists. Three of his five strikes came from fast breaks, having been involved in 11 counter-attacks – the fifth-most of any Premier League player – as the Foxes found an effective way of playing.

Leicester had fewer fast breaks in 2015-16 (21) than the previous year (34) but still led the league in this regard and scored from six such counters. Four of those goals came from Vardy among a breakout 24 for the season.

Freed by a quick, direct set-up, Vardy ranked fourth in the league for shots (115), second for shots on target (53) and third for touches in the opposition box (221). The ultimate confidence player, Vardy scored in a record-breaking 11 consecutive matches.

The tireless forward maintained his nuisance factor, too, winning possession in the final third 33 times and earning seven penalties – both league highs.

The Leicester number nine took 20.87 per cent of his chances but only marginally outperformed his expected goals (xG) total, his 19 non-penalty goals coming from shots worth a top-ranked 18.34 xG.

Vardy has since become more clinical – peaking with 28.17 per cent shot conversion in 2017-18 – but has never again been so busy in the area.

MAHREZ'S GUILE

Anthony Knockaert also fell into that Nugent group, lasting a mere nine games at Leicester in the top flight having created 2.6 chances per 90 minutes in the first of his three Championship promotion campaigns.

Riyad Mahrez, signed in January 2014, was the Foxes' other star winger and also struggled in his debut Premier League season. Having been involved in seven goals in 19 Championship outings, he could only match that tally again across an entire year in the top division.

As with Vardy, though, Leicester's late-season resurgence allowed the Algeria international to carry momentum into the new campaign; he started the final four matches of 2014-15 and netted both goals in a win over Southampton.

And the improvement in Mahrez's play was even more pronounced.

There were two more goals against Sunderland on the opening day, among 13 by Christmas alongside seven assists. That pace slowed – he finished with 17 goals and 11 assists – but Mahrez trailed only Vardy for goal involvements.

Despite this, Mahrez was far from the most prolific creator. His 68 key passes ranked eighth but made up less than half of leader Mesut Ozil's output (146). Mahrez crafted high-quality openings, however, second only to Ozil (28) in creating 20 'big chances' – situations where Opta would reasonably expect a player to score.

This was all the more impressive as Mahrez was also required to provide an outlet for a side with the third-lowest average possession (42.4 per cent) in the division. Only Wilfried Zaha (274 to 255) attempted more dribbles, while nobody completed more (131).

Mahrez has never once attempted 100 dribbles in a season since joining Manchester City, but the close control and spellbinding skill that is merely another option at the Etihad Stadium then attracted defenders and opened space for sprinters Vardy, Marc Albrighton and Jeffrey Schlupp.

KANTE'S GRAFT

Gokhan Inler was presumed to be the replacement for Esteban Cambiasso, who had led Leicester's rescue act from midfield with five goals – as many as Vardy – at the age of 34.

Inler started only three games but for good reason. Fellow new signing N'Golo Kante was perhaps the biggest game-changer for the Foxes. Opponents might have dominated possession but they could never rest.

Kante, at Caen, had led Ligue 1 midfielders in tackles (178), tackles won (146) and interceptions (110) and ranked second for recoveries (369) in 2014-15.

The transition to the Premier League was seamless. He was first again for tackles (175), tackles won (125) and interceptions (156), although he fell to third in terms of recoveries (326). The man in second was Leicester team-mate Danny Drinkwater.

What the Foxes lacked without the experience of Cambiasso, Kante's bite more than made up for.

The midfielder became more careful in possession following his move, too, losing the ball with just 18.1 per cent of his touches, the lowest rate of any Leicester player with 1,000 touches or more and an improvement on his 23.4 per cent with Caen.

Even then, it was not as straightforward as a single signing fixing every issue. Idrissa Gueye, another Ligue 1 recruit, ranked second in tackles, tackles won and interceptions and first in recoveries yet was relegated with Aston Villa.

But Kante's infectious tenacity set the standard at the King Power Stadium and only Tottenham blocked a greater share of their opponents' shots (32.7 per cent) than Leicester (30.6), contributing to a conversion rate of just 6.9 per cent.

When Kante then left for Chelsea at the end of 2015-16, struggling Leicester waited only until January before signing another tough tackler in Wilfred Ndidi, one of just two players – the other being Gueye – to have since registered 130 or more tackles in a single Premier League season (each doing so twice).

In that time, nobody has been able to match Kante's title-winning mark.

You could be forgiven for thinking the lines between reality and fantasy had blurred into one this week with the seemingly doomed experiment of the European Super League.

But fans of actual fantasy football can rest assured we have still scoured the best prospects to help you in your quest to top your private leagues and earn bragging rights among your pals.

With Premier League leaders Manchester City not in action due to playing the EFL Cup final against Tottenham this weekend, there are sure to be a few transfers needed in several teams.

That being said, take a look at our hand-selected picks, powered as always by Opta data…

ROBERT SANCHEZ

Brighton and Hove Albion have a poor record against teams in the Premier League's bottom three, winning only four of 24 such games – the 17 per cent win rate representing the lowest return of any team in the competition to have played a minimum of 10 such games.

However, Sheffield United are the lowest scorers in the division this season (17) and have failed to score in 18 different games, a league worst.

Moreover, Brighton's Robert Sanchez has eight Premier League clean sheets to his name in 2021. Only Ederson (10) has managed more.

VLADIMIR COUFAL

West Ham have won three of their last five home league encounters against Chelsea and another victory would significantly boost their chances of a top-four finish.

Hammers full-back Vladimir Coufal could well be a valuable source of fantasy points this weekend.

Coufal has four home assists in the Premier League this season, which represents the best in the division among defenders.

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD

Dropped by England manager Gareth Southgate for the latest round of international fixtures, Trent Alexander-Arnold has responded in impressive fashion.

The dangerous full-back has been involved in three goals in Liverpool's last three fixtures (two assists, one goal) – as many as he managed in his previous 24 games in the competition.

With Liverpool unbeaten in 24 home matches against Newcastle United, Alexander-Arnold is sure to feature heavily in many fantasy sides this weekend.

JESSE LINGARD

Another player for Chelsea to be extremely wary of this weekend, Jesse Lingard has been in the form of his life since moving to West Ham on loan from Manchester United in January.

The attacking midfielder has been involved in 12 West Ham goals so far in the Premier League (nine goals, three assists) to become a key component in their battle to qualify for the Champions League.

Only Mick Quinn (Coventry City), Les Ferdinand (Newcastle United) and Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) have had more goal involvements in their first 10 appearances for a club in the competition (all 13).

MASON GREENWOOD

Mason Greenwood has found form at an ideal time as he aims to be a part of Southgate's England squad for the rescheduled Euro 2020.

And fantasy football fans perhaps should be looking to make room for a player who has scored four goals across his most recent three top-flight appearances for Manchester United.

Not since Francis Jeffers in the year 2000 has a teenager managed to score in four consecutive Premier League games. Can Leeds United stop the Red Devils' own fox in the box?

WILFRIED ZAHA

Crystal Palace have beaten Leicester City eight times in the Premier League, earning more wins than they have achieved against any other side, while their four away victories against the Foxes is also a joint-high for them in the competition (also four at Everton).

Leicester are also a side who Eagles dangerman Wilfried Zaha has traditionally flourished against, so a trip to the King Power Stadium could be up his street on Monday.

The tricky forward has been involved in six goals in his last six appearances against Leicester (five goals, one assist). Palace won three of those games with Zaha scoring in each.

JAMIE VARDY

On the flip side, Leicester have their own reasons to be optimistic against Roy Hodgson's men.

Jamie Vardy's record against Palace is very favourable, with the experienced striker involved in six goals in his previous nine versus the Eagles (five goals, one assist).

David Moyes has urged West Ham to attack their dream of finishing in the Premier League top four, an achievement he feels would be his best as a manager.

West Ham are fourth in the Premier League ahead of hosting third-place Leicester City in a huge encounter on Sunday.

According to reports, Michail Antonio could miss the rest of the season and Moyes has confirmed the forward has a hamstring strain.

Declan Rice is also ruled out for West Ham, who face massive stakes in their eight-game run-in, which starts with the key clash against the Foxes.

Leicester were the last non 'big six' team to finish in the top four in 2016, ending an 11-year wait after Moyes was in charge of the previous team do it (Everton in 2005).

But Moyes thinks reaching the top four with West Ham would top that.

"I think it would be [even greater]," he said to Sky Sports.

"I'd been at Everton for three years by then so that would mean it would be a bigger achievement given we're already competing. 

"[European football] would not be something new for the club, but it would be new in the modern era of West Ham.

"I still feel the Premier League has an established order - there's a lot of teams knocking at the door to see if they can get in.

"A few of the big teams are worried about it because we see that in other situations and developments with talk of a new [breakaway] league.

"We are having a really good season at the moment, we are trying to stick with it and we are not hiding from the fact we believe we are outsiders. 

"But we also believe we have got a great opportunity so why do not we try to attack it full on?

"This time last year, we had to win games in order to stay in the Premier League so we're actually all feeling very light and not heavy.

"We'll try to take a few risks, try to go for it and see if we can win them. The aim is to try to finish around the top end.

"I think most people will not expect us to make Champions League, so I hope we can try to do something very similar to what Leicester did when they went on to win the league. 

"Nobody thought they could win it."

West Ham are winless in five home matches with Leicester (D2 L3), losing 2-1 last season.

Ahead of the game, Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers backed striker Jamie Vardy to emerge from a goalscoring slump that has seen him score just once in 17 matches.

"The team has still been winning," Rodgers said. "What's most important for Jamie is you have to continue to work, make runs and sometimes you just need that bit of luck.

"He has created a number of opportunities for us. We know his threat and he can score any time.

"Jamie has just been very unfortunate, between keepers making saves and blocks on the line and some chances that, maybe, he would have put away.

"He is always going to be there. He is such a threat, his sharpness and speed, he is such an important player for us."

West Ham are looking to record their first Premier League double over Leicester since the 1999-00 season under Harry Redknapp.

The Hammers have the second-best home record in the Premier League (28 points), while Leicester have the second-best away record so far this term (34 points). 

League leaders Manchester City are the team at the top in both categories.

Manchester City will be looking to stretch their record winning run to 20 matches when they welcome fellow in-form side West Ham to the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League this weekend.

Pep Guardiola's men are 10 points clear at the summit and two of their players feature among our Opta-fuelled fantasy picks, along with a couple of Everton men on the back of last week's long-awaited derby win at Liverpool.

Manchester United, Tottenham and Leicester City players are also selected ahead of games against Chelsea, Burnley and Arsenal respectively.

 

EDERSON

There are many factors behind the leaders' winning run - not least an incredible defensive record, with goalkeeper Ederson more than playing his part.

The Brazil international has kept 15 clean sheets from 24 Premier League games this term, averaging one every 1.6 matches.

Only two keepers to have played at least 10 times have averaged fewer games per clean sheet across an entire season - Chelsea's Petr Cech (24 in 35 apps in 2004-05) and former Manchester United stopper Edwin van der Sar (21 in 33 apps in 2008-09).

JOAO CANCELO

Simply keeping out the opposition is not enough in the life of a modern day full-back, best epitomised by Cancelo at Man City.

On top of helping City to that formidable defensive record, he has also created the most chances (34) from open play among fellow Premier League defenders this season.

Cancelo may only have set up two goals in the top flight this season, but he has the highest number of expected assists (4.28) among defenders, just ahead of Manchester United's Luke Shaw (4.04).

 

LUCAS DIGNE

Carlo Ancelotti was delighted with the news Digne had signed a new long-term deal with Everton this week and little wonder given the full-back's impact on the side.

No Premier League defender has more assists than the 27-year-old's six this season - level with West Ham's Aaron Cresswell and one more than Andy Robertson and Shaw.

Since Digne's debut for Everton in August 2018, only Liverpool pair Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold (28) have assisted more goals than the Frenchman (17).

GYLFI SIGURDSSON

There was a point when Sigurdsson's time at Everton appeared to be up not so long ago, but the creative midfielder has more than proved his worth to the side of late.

He was been involved in six Premier League goals in 23 appearances this term - four goals and two assists - which is one more than he managed in 35 games last season.

That is a tally he will be confident of building on this gameweek, as the Iceland international has only scored more Premier League goals against Chelsea (six) than he has versus opponents Southampton (five).

 

MARCUS RASHFORD

In the week he celebrates the five-year anniversary since scoring twice on his United debut, Rashford takes on his favourite opponents in Chelsea.

The United academy product has scored five times against the Blues in all competitions and registered a couple of assists.

Only against Leicester City has he found the net as many times, while only against Newcastle United and West Ham (both seven) has he been directly involved in more goals.

HARRY KANE

If Rashford enjoys playing against Chelsea, the same is true of Kane against Tottenham's next opponents Burnley.

The England skipper has been directly involved in 10 goals in nine Premier League appearances against the Clarets, finding the net seven times and laying on three assists.

Burnley's defenders will not look forward to coming up against Kane, with Riyad Mahrez the only player to score against them more often (eight times) in their Premier League history.

 

JAMIE VARDY

Vardy's scoring record against the division's traditional top four is well known by now, particularly when it comes to facing Arsenal.

The Leicester striker has scored 11 goals in 12 previous Premier League appearances against the Gunners, including a late winner in the reverse fixture.

Those 11 strikes place Vardy behind only Wayne Rooney for goals scored against Arsenal in the competition, the United legend netting 12 times against the London club in his career.

Leicester City scored three goals in the space of seven minutes to stun Liverpool as the Premier League champions slipped to a 3-1 defeat in Jurgen Klopp's 300th match in charge. 

Mohamed Salah's carefully placed finish gave the visitors a 67th-minute lead at the King Power Stadium, yet from a position of strength they suffered a dramatic collapse to slip to a third successive loss. 

James Maddison equalised with a free-kick from a tight angle – the strike was initially ruled out for offside prior to a VAR check – before a calamitous moment between Alisson, at fault for two goals in last Sunday's 4-1 loss to Manchester City, and debutant Ozan Kabak gifted Jamie Vardy his first goal of 2021. 

With Liverpool still reeling, Harvey Barnes wrapped up a first win for Brendan Rodgers over his former employers since the end of his Anfield reign – and moved his current club six points clear of them in the table. 

Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy will be out for "a few weeks" as he needs a hernia operation, manager Brendan Rodgers has revealed.

The 34-year-old has scored 11 goals in 18 Premier League appearances this season, with only Son Heung-min, Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah above him in the scoring charts.

Vardy has averaged a league goal approximately every 134 minutes, a rate that only six players can better this term, although he has not found the net in any of his past five appearances.

Rodgers is therefore confident Leicester's season will not be badly impacted by the loss of Vardy as they prepare for a run of matches that includes meetings with Everton, Leeds United, Wolves and Liverpool before the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie with Slavia Prague.

"Jamie Vardy will be out for a few weeks," Rodgers said on Friday. "As you know, we've been managing him over this last number of months, and he's been absolutely fantastic.

"We have a window now that allows him to have a minor operation on his hernia and then he'll be back within a few weeks. He'll be out for that period.

"It's one that doesn't keep him [Vardy] out for too long, but it's just a repair in and round that hernia area. It's one we feel he can't really put it off much longer.

"We were hoping to do it a few weeks back, but this is a window where we can get it done and that will obviously leave him with a good part of the season where he can be really influential for us."

Leicester, who are two points behind league leaders Manchester United, travel to Brentford in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday.

A familiar pairing helped Tottenham return to winning ways in the Premier League this weekend. 

Harry Kane and Son Heung-min were both on target as Jose Mourinho's side ended a four-match winless streak in the competition with a comfortable 3-0 triumph over Leeds United. 

Their rapport has been one of the defining stories of the season but, away from north London, several other games produced some interesting statistics.

With the help of Opta data, we take a look at some of the quirkiest stats from the weekend's action, with Leicester City's win at Newcastle United a source of a couple of fascinating facts.

 

Kane and Son combine again

Harry Kane and Son Heung-min's almost telepathic understanding was on show again in Tottenham's defeat of Leeds.

The South Korea international swept in Kane's pass to become the 18th Spurs player to score 100 goals for the club in all competitions on what was his 253rd appearance.

Kane has now assisted nine goals for Son in the Premier League, while the South Korean has laid on four for the England captain in the 2020-21 season – no two players have linked up more in a single season in the competition.

They have plenty of time left to leapfrog Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, who combined 13 times during Blackburn Rovers' 1994-95 title-winning season. 

Evergreen Vardy keeps on going

Jamie Vardy might be 33 but the Leicester striker is showing no signs of slowing down. 

His assist for James Maddison's opener in the 2-1 win over Newcastle at the weekend means he has been directly involved in 98 Premier League goals since turning 30 (80 goals and 18 assists). 

He leapfrogged Paolo Di Canio to move joint-sixth with Manchester United icon Ryan Giggs in the all-time list for most Premier League goal involvements aged 30-plus. 

He is now within touching distance of Gianfranco Zola (101) and Shearer (102), with Ian Wright in third with 110 involvements. 

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard is second with 118, while Teddy Sheringham leads the way with 127 (77 goals and 50 assists).

Tierney waves tartan flag for Gunners

Arsenal do not have a rich lineage of Scottish players during the Premier League era, but left-back Kieran Tierney is doing his best to change that.

The former Celtic man became the first Scottish player to score an away Premier League goal for the Gunners in their thumping of West Brom and the first to do so in the top flight since Charlie Nicholas in March 1986. 

The 23-year-old cut inside from the left flank and curled a brilliant finish beyond Sam Johnstone to open the scoring, before then going on to tee up Alexandre Lacazette's second goal in the rout of Sam Allardyce's woeful Baggies.

Tierney – who has been tipped as a future Arsenal captain by boss Mikel Arteta – only needs one more goal to join Paul Dickov (three) as the Gunners' top-scoring Scottish player in the Premier League.

Carroll ends lengthy wait for Magpies goal

Newcastle tasted defeat against the Foxes but they could at least toast a return to the scoresheet after an almighty break for Andy Carroll. 

Only Wayne Rooney has had a longer gap between Premier League goals for the same club than Carroll, who netted for the first time of his second Magpies spell.

Carroll's goal was his first for Newcastle since he re-joined the club in 2019-20. The former Liverpool and West Ham forward had last netted for the Magpies on Boxing Day 2010, in a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City.

With a gap of 10 years and eight days between his strikes for Newcastle, Carroll is behind only Rooney for the largest stretch of time between two goals for the same club in the Premier League.

Rooney scored on the opening day of the 2017-18 season for Everton, 13 years and 121 days after his last goal for the Toffees in the 2003-04 season.

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