Leicester City: How far can Brendan Rodgers' team go this season?


Jamie Vardy scored 24 league goals in 2015-16 when Leicester won the Premier League title

When Jamie Vardy raced on to Ben Chilwell’s ball over the top and instinctively lobbed in the opener against Bournemouth before trotting off to celebrate, there were shades of the 2015-16 season as the joyous Foxes fans rattled their hand-clappers and chanted his name.

That campaign, of course, saw their miraculous Premier League title triumph under Claudio Ranieri, spearheaded by their mercurial frontman Vardy.

Leicester have finished 12th and ninth twice in their subsequent campaigns, but an excellent start this term under Brendan Rodgers has brought optimism of further glory.

So what evidence is there that Leicester could rise up the table this season and break up the top-six monopoly once more?

An impressive start

It is very early days but Leicester already find themselves in third position behind last season’s runaway top two, Liverpool and Manchester City.

They fired a blank in their season opener against Wolves and held Chelsea 1-1 – a match they should have won – but have been highly impressive in victories at Sheffield United last weekend and over Bournemouth on Saturday.

Though the Cherries levelled at 1-1, Leicester maintained their composure, sticking to their gameplan and responding with two further goals for a 3-1 victory.

Despite his own team’s poor performance, Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe paid high praise to the opponents when I asked him what they could achieve this season.

“Leicester have started very well,” he said. “They are a very good team with good players. They have a great manager and will have a great season.”

Rodgers’ winning mentality

Manager Rodgers came close to Premier League title triumph himself with Liverpool but fell agonisingly short in the 2013-14 season.

He headed to Scotland and achieved unparalleled success with Celtic, but there was always a feeling that he had unfinished business south of the border.

The temptation of making a comeback to England proved too much when Leicester came calling in March and Saturday saw him take charge of his 500th career game as a manager.

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The Northern Irishman has implemented a style of play which is easy on the eye, but he also showed the nous to tweak it tactically like he did against Bournemouth with a more direct approach.

So what has changed in the five months since the departure of Frenchman Claude Puel?

“The feel you get from people is that the intensity has increased markedly,” club legend Matt Elliott, who scored twice in the 2000 League Cup final win over Tranmere, told me.

“Brendan is much more specific in training and there is plenty of repetition in game practice and game-related situations.

“On the field, when you see the performances, it is about the slickness, the quickness and movement of the players. He also wants the players to press and win the ball high up the pitch.

“Neither of those elements were particularly prevalent under Claude Puel. This is a different approach but the players have adapted very well to what he has tried to introduced.”

Leicester’s eight-point start mimics the beginning of their Premier League title-winning season

They showed their bond at the final whistle when Rodgers brought the players into a huddle on the pitch. Asked what he had told the players, Rodgers replied: “It’s private what we do.

“It’s a show of togetherness, I asked them to not just play with their talent – it’s the third game of the week – but their heart and we definitely showed that.”

No European football

Leicester progressed into the Carabao Cup third round by beating Newcastle on penalties during the week, with that competition, the Premier League and FA Cup their only focus for silverware.

It is here where they hold a huge advantage over their possible rivals in the race for the top six.

Assuming Liverpool, City and Tottenham snatch the top three places, Chelsea face a struggle to finish in the top four again under new manager Frank Lampard with a youthful squad who have Champions League football to contend with and without the services of talisman Eden Hazard.

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The Blues showed their fragility on Saturday by surrendering a 2-0 lead against Sheffield United to draw 2-2.

Arsenal’s defensive vulnerabilities came to the fore in the 3-1 loss at Liverpool last weekend and they have a testing Europa League group to contend with, but it is Manchester United who may be under the biggest threat.

The Red Devils have failed to win their last three games with a squad that looks light in midfield and up front. To make matters worse, a nightmare Europa League draw will see a 6,000-mile round-trip to face Astana in Kazakhstan, as well as a hostile trip to Partizan Belgrade.

Wolves’ season started back on 25 July and they also have Europa League, while Everton, who spent big to try and achieve a European spot, look light of a proven goalscorer.

All this falls in Leicester’s favour, as they sit at home and watch on as the rest of the sides battle it out.

Turkey international Caglar Soyuncu was a £19m acquisition from Freiburg in August 2018

Harry who? A quality squad

Leicester’s run to their tremendous title victory was based on a settled team, boss Ranieri rarely needing to make changes to his side.

But Rodgers has numerous options available at his disposal, with players coming in possessing the same qualities as those going out.

Many suggested that the decision not to sign a replacement for defender Harry Maguire – sold to Manchester United for £80m – could prove costly but Rodgers has given an opportunity to Caglar Soyuncu who does not look out of place.

The Turkey international joined last summer for £19m from Freiburg but played just six league games, yet he has started all four this term. A tall, elegant centre-back with flowing hair, Soyuncu breeds confidence with his composure on the ball and ability to stay calm under pressure.

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England international Chilwell returned to the starting line-up against Bournemouth after three games out, replacing the experienced Christian Fuchs, who played such a vital role in the title-winning season.

England U21 international Hamza Choudhury dropped out despite an excellent start to the season with the destructive Wilfred Ndidi coming in alongside Belgian Youri Tielemans, whose range of passing is a joy to watch.

Dennis Praet, the £18m summer signing from Sampdoria, has not been given a mention yet, a box-to-box midfielder who was linked with a move to Arsenal.

A nice headache for a manager to have.

X-factor players

And to round it off for Leicester, their two key players in the final third of the pitch have been in scintillating form so far.

Playmaker James Maddison deservedly got a call-up to the England squad during the week and is in line to earn his first cap.

Maddison’s air of confidence, almost smug arrogance, is of a man who knows everyone is looking at him and not too dissimilar to Cristiano Ronaldo.

His free-kick against Newcastle in midweek drew parallels, albeit via a deflection, and not to mention the self-belief with his cheeky dinked ‘Panenka’ spot-kick in the shootout.

Jamie Vardy and James Maddison are fan favourites at the King Power Stadium

The former Norwich player showed his maturity with his defensive work against Bournemouth, winning the ball back eight times, but it was Vardy who stole the show.

The evergreen striker put in an all-action display with two goals and an assist in the 3-1 win, with Rodgers declaring afterwards that he is “a dream to work with”.

He added: “For a manager and a coach it’s amazing. He showed his quality, not just in his goals but if you look how hard he works, how he sets the team off and his hunger – everyone follows behind him.”

Should Leicester continue in this vain, it may be that many of the Premier League teams will be following them behind.



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