Brendan Rodgers and his Leicester City team needed a positive result – nay, an emphatic one – during the holiday fixtures. A season rife with injuries and inconsistency had driven the Foxes down to 10th in the table, and hope for a successful 2021-22 campaign appeared bleak.
But Rodgers’ side earned what they so sorely needed in a 1-0 triumph over Liverpool on Wednesday, with the title-chasing Reds humbled in front of a fervent King Power Stadium crowd. These fans hadn’t seen their team play like this for a long time. Nobody had. This was more like it from a Foxes side that has made a habit of punching above its weight in recent years.
The achievements of Leicester City under Rodgers have been considerable. Despite having a mid-table budget, the Foxes have challenged for a place in the top four and Champions League qualification in each of the last two seasons, with Rodgers’ team only fading each in the final stages of the 2019/20 and 2020/21 campaigns.
Many have labelled Leicester City the best-run club in the Premier League. While they have sold a number of key players in recent years, like Riyad Mahrez, Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell, the Foxes have a scouting network and recruitment department that keeps them competitive at the elite level of English soccer.
At least, that was the case until this season. Victory over Liverpool was impressive, but it only lifted Leicester City up to ninth place in the Premier League table. Indeed, the Foxes are a long way from the top four, where they have made themselves regular fixtures in the last two seasons, with Rodgers facing a number of questions over his management.
Most of those questions revolve around Leicester City’s pitiful defensive record this season. They might have kept a clean sheet against Liverpool, but this was only their third in 19 Premier League fixtures. On top of this, only four Premier League teams (Leeds United, Watford, Newcastle United and Norwich City) have conceded more goals than the Foxes this season.
Injuries have been a factor in this with a number of first team defenders sidelined, but Rodgers had failed to adapt until the win over Liverpool. While most managers would have compromised with a more conservative approach, the Northern Irishman refused to do this, instead relying on a depleted group of players to perform in the same way.
In the first half of the recent away match against Manchester City, the flaws in this approach were brutally exposed as the Premier League champions racked up a 4-0 scoreline by the interval. However, this prompted in a change in mindset from Rodgers, and in his team. This may prove to be a turning point in the Foxes’ season.
A switch to a back five saw Leicester City absorb pressure, get closer to the opposition and hit out on the rapid counter attack with the likes of James Maddison and Kelechi Iheanacho causing real problems on the break. Three quick-fire goals saw the Foxes mount a comeback before Manchester City ultimately pulled away with a 6-3 victory.
Rodgers learned lessons from this match, though, and applied them against Liverpool just two days later. The Reds couldn’t capitalise at the King Power Stadium and found themselves exposed on the break as Ademola Lookman scored the winner. This could provide Rodgers with a template for the rest of the season, at least until a number of his injured players return to action.
Idealism has made Rodgers one of the best coaches in the Premier League. The former Celtic and Liverpool man professes principled soccer, with his teams playing a dynamic and modern style of the game. However, he isn’t always the quickest to adapt to adverse circumstances. This was evident in the way he wanted Liverpool to play in the same manner after losing Luis Suarez. It was also clear in the way Rodgers set up his Celtic for matches against Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain just as he did for matches against Kilmarnock and St Mirren.
It might now be the case that Rodgers has recognised the need to compromise. His Leicester City team aren’t just suffering from a series of injuries, they are in the midst of a generational transition. Players like Jonny Evans and Jamie Vardy, who have been key figures for the Foxes for years, are at the point of being phased out. This is another reason why Rodgers will have to compromise for the time being.
Leicester City might find it difficult to keep up with the standard being set at the top of the Premier League. The competition to finish in the top four has never been stiffer, but the Foxes can fight again. Rodgers can still turn around his team’s season, but only if he continues to apply the lessons he has learned.