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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Spotlight falls on Brendan Rodgers ahead of pivotal period to turn Leicester’s faltering season

Brendan Rodgers will cost £20 million in compensation if any of the Premier League’s established ‘Big-Six’ want to appoint him.

It is a huge transfer fee for a manager who has recently been linked with Manchester United, Tottenham and Newcastle and has unquestionably transformed Leicester since his appointment in February 2019.

Yet the current mood around the King Power Stadium is somewhat fractious, and supporters appear divided over where the problems lie in what is proving a difficult third full season for Rodgers and his staff.

Ahead of Leicester’s crucial Europa League tie against Legia Warsaw, fears are growing over the malaise which has seen inconsistent results and the first genuine signs of mutiny from the stands.

Some senior figures at the club are rumoured to also share the concerns of fans, and feel the drop-off extends long beyond this season.

Rodgers will point to a number of reasons behind the extended slump: injuries to key players including Wesley Fofana, James Justin, Ricardo Pereira and now Youri Tielemans, poor individual performances and the destabilising effects of those links to other clubs.

Last week Rodgers felt compelled to hold talks with Leicester’s ‘leadership group’ – which consists of Jamie Vardy, Kasper Schmeichel, Jonny Evans and Tielemans – to reiterate his commitment to the club, and desire to build on their progress.

Scrutiny could be considered harsh, after he delivered the first FA Cup in the club’s history, a return to European football and two successive fifth-place finishes. 

He has been linked to other clubs for a reason because he has proved himself as one of the best British coaches in the Premier League. 

The £20 million figure required would make him the second most expensive manager in football history, only just behind Julian Nagelsmann who moved to Bayern Munich from RB Leipzig for £21.7 million earlier this year.

But the boos at the end of each half in the 3-0 defeat by Chelsea on Saturday, which Rodgers admitted were “disappointing”, only underlined that frustration is building at his current club.

Leicester have not managed a clean sheet at home since the opening day and appear susceptible to conceding goals in every game. Zonal marking and set-pieces are clear issues, and the form of Caglar Soyuncu, for example, has dropped off a cliff. Summer signing Jannik Vestergaard has struggled and has not started a league game since October 3. 

But more worryingly, the dominant, possession-based style of play Leicester are renowned for has become ponderous and ineffective.

The form of James Maddison and Harvey Barnes has fluctuated, and there remains a dilemma over whether Vardy still operates better alone or in a front-two with Kelechi Iheanacho, who was undroppable for his performances at the end of last season.

This was the summer where Leicester avoided a major player sale, but perhaps that has actually helped provide fresh impetus in the past.

Tielemans’ future at the club has also gone from appearing secure after the FA Cup final to uncertain, with no apparent progress over new contract talks.

Leicester return to European competition on Thursday and that campaign has also been chaotic: they have thrown away a two-goal lead against Napoli, lost in Warsaw, and twice recovered after falling behind in games against Spartak Moscow.

They now need to beat Legia to set up a tantalising final group game at Napoli, to ensure progress to the knockout stage.

It promises to be a pivotal moment in the season for Rodgers, with the return of title winner Claudio Ranieri also looming this weekend.

He said: “In the period that we’ve been here the consistency in the main has been very good. The brutal honesty is that we’ve a squad with talented players but we certainly weren’t near that top-end in terms of squads in the Premier League.

“We had that collective mentality to absolutely rinse everything out of the players that were here and that allowed us to be up there challenging the hierarchy of the league. At the moment the confidence isn’t quite at the level we would want it to be but I’ve got no doubts it will return. It’s about finding that edge to our game.”

Ayoze Perez, the forward, revealed there had been “honest” discussions this week following the Chelsea defeat.

He also admitted that the jeers from supporters last Saturday did affect the squad.

“We’ve got to be honest, it’s not a good feeling,” he said. “The fans are there to express what they feel. We always try our best and sometimes it doesn’t go the way we want. 

“In this situation we know we are struggling in terms of results and even performing but we are focused on what we can change to get the results we all want. We’re not thinking of anything else but a positive result on Thursday night.” 

Predicted Leicester line-up (3-4-2-1): Schmeichel; Amartey, Evans, Soyuncu; Castagne, Soumare, Ndidi, Thomas; Maddison, Barnes; Vardy.

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