A new decade approaches for Leicester City football club, and with it, the sense of promise that a new managerial regime brings. While his tenure at Leicester began with defeat, Brendan Rodgers has already proven able to follow up positively after an early setback. He has done so in emphatic fashion, with two straight wins, the second of which was, by and large, attained with just ten men.
Rodgers tactical genius?
Overcoming an ‘early setback’ was the exact task Brendan Rodgers faced after losing Harry Maguire, just four minutes into Leicester’s victorious trip to Burnley on 16 March.
The nature of the changes Rodgers made thereafter were indicative of his intention to mix the refined with the combative to great effect throughout 2019/20.
Shorn of his best defender, Rodgers knew that the optimal way to combat Burnley was to beat them at their own game, snuffing them out in the centre of the park, and utilising Leicester’s superior pressing abilities to restore control of proceedings.
Wes Morgan’s introduction was inevitable after Maguire’s red card, but Rodgers’ decision to sacrifice Demarai Gray was a bold move, and one which showed full intent of keeping the sharp end of Leicester’s attack intact. James Maddison’s opener ensured full vindication of Rodgers’ decision, and he thrived as a more focal point in attack.
Despite equalising and having a man advantage, Burnley continued to look second-best to the Foxes, and Leicester’s late winner was fully deserved under the circumstances. However, that display of Rodgers’ tactical flexibility was nothing new, and it was a notably common theme in his near title-winning 2013/14 season with Liverpool.
At the occasional cost of consistency in the natural positioning of his charges, Rodgers’ emphasis has always been on dominating the midfield, and ensuring that his men win the ball back at the nearest opportunity after losing it.
In that respect, Wilfred Ndidi was accomplished in the holding midfield role behind James Maddison and Youri Tielemans, and the latter man adapted particularly well to the tactical shift from Rodgers.
Forced into playing in a more compact way in front of Ndidi, Tielemans was a great beneficiary from the Nigerian’s stopping ability in the win over Burnley, and was afforded more time to make the most telling runs into areas that the Clarets saw fit to go criminally under-marked.
What to expect in 2019/20?
With Leicester now safe, Rodgers has license to experiment and make mistakes. There will undoubtedly be a few of those along the way, and while a seventh-placed finish is improbable this season, it should be an absolute minimum come next year.
Even if they finish around 11th or 12th on this occasion, the ‘Foxes’ will be comfortably in the top three – along, perhaps, with Everton and Newcastle – to finish as the ‘best of the rest’ in 2019/20, behind a top six that appears immovable from its hallowed mantle in current Premier League outrights on SportingIndex.com.
However, as evidenced by a draw at Liverpool and a win at Chelsea in recent times, Leicester do not inherently ‘fear’ any opponent, and Rodgers undoubtedly has the strength in man-management to make the most of that.
With the Northern Irishman also appearing to value long-term legacies as much as short-term solutions – especially in the middle of the park – those feeling optimistic are conspicuous in their majority over the doubters.
Old hands & new faces
With Rodgers yet to have his first transfer window as Leicester boss, there is every chance that he may yet change the complexion of the Leicester line-up.
On instinct alone, Rodgers is likely to consider the ranks of his former employees as a good initial hunting ground.
For an impressive addition to the Leicester defence from Celtic, and one who looks well equipped for the Premier League, Rodgers should look no further than Kieran Tierney.
The Scotsman’s ability to cover a lot of ground in the wide areas would add a degree of dynamic play seldom seen under Claude Puel, or even since the end of Riyadh Mahrez’ first season at the King Power Stadium.
With Ben Chilwell already making a great impact on the left flank, Rodgers could easily make that Leicester’s strongest area of the pitch. Given that Tierney has equal strength in defence and attack, his potential deployment in front of Chilwell will already be giving Rodgers food for thought.
There is also central midfielder Callum McGregor for Rodgers to consider, with Andy King, Adrien Silva and (possibly) Daniel Amartey being prime candidates to follow Vicente Iborra out of the exit door in the summer.
Next to Maddison and Tielemans, McGregor and Ndidi would give Rodgers greater options, especially when it comes to deploying a midfield stopper, enabling him to fulfil his urgency-fuelled gameplans more effectively.
While greater tests than Burnley lie ahead, a clear vision for the future, in terms of tactics and personnel, is as good a foundation as any on which to build a potential dynasty.