Brendan Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers has Leicester City whirring

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Leicester City is a top Premier League club.

Say it again with me. We’re doing this Good Will Hunting style, until you truly believe the words you are repeating.

Leicester City is a top Premier League club.

Four years after winning the title against astronomical odds in one of the most historic seasons in sports history, Brendan Rodgers has cemented Leicester City as anything but a fluke. This club is for real.

[ MORE: Leicester City tops Aston Villa ]

After three mid-table finished that allowed the club to institute a sustainable model of player acquisition, talent development, and asset maximization, the Foxes are back near the top of the table and look a club that has the ability to secure itself as a leading force in the English top flight.

This summer, the club put the finishing touches on two critical components of the plan, two moments that may prove defining decisions in the club’s history. The first was selling Harry Maguire and replacing him with young Caglar Soyuncu, a move which not only netted the club a massive sum of money, but also cemented Leicester City as a talent development hub capable of producing talent, offloading for a huge profit, and not losing a step on the pitch.

The second was replacing Claude Puel with Brendan Rodgers. Puel, in charge of Leicester City for two years, was caught in between instituting his preferred possessional style of play and changing the culture of the squad, a hesitation which cost the Frenchman his job. Last season, Leicester City was seventh in the league in passes per game but fifth in accurate long-balls per game, a testament to his inability to decide the squad’s identity. This season, Leicester City is fourth in passes per game behind Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool, and fourth in total shots per game, all while sitting ninth in accurate long-balls (for what it’s worth, Liverpool is 1st in that category while Man City is third, largely down to their exorbitant possessional advantages). This team has completed the transformation Puel wanted but never achieved – they are a dominant Premier League side that wants to dominate its opponents.

Even deeper, the numbers agree. Jamie Vardy is scoring at otherworldly levels, especially for a player at 32 years old. His 16 goals lead the league by six, and even with his outrageous finishing ability (he has a +5.47 differential between actual goals scored and expected goals scored, nearly double anyone else – Harry Kane and Teemu Pukki are second at +2.92), he is still second in the league in total xG behind Marcus Rashford.

James Maddison, Ricardo Pereira, and Wilfried Ndidi are all among the top 5 in WhoScored player rating this season, while Vardy sits seventh. Soyuncu ranks sixth by in the league by WhoScored among central defenders in his first full Premier League season at just 23 years old, while his center-back partner Jonny Evans is eighth in his 13th campaign in the English top flight. Pereira is a tackling machine who gets far less screen time than new Manchester United signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka, owner of a reputation for that exact skill which earned him a big-money move. Ndidi, meanwhile, continues to rise in prominence as he leads the Premier League in tackles and ranks third in interceptions.

Sure, Rodgers inherited a fantastic squad, but the list of players falls well short of screaming “second in the table” and the former Liverpool manager has metamorphosed them from budding talents to world-class players. He has mixed young talent with veteran experience flawlessly, making sure to keep title veterans Wes Morgan, Cristian Fuchs, and Marc Albrighton involved despite their declining roles.

The club has also found itself the beneficiary of a few unique circumstances. Most notably, they have avoided significant injury to this point in the season. A large part of that has been Vardy’s international retirement which (at least, for the time being) has kept him fresher than most, whereas double duty has weighed down other top goalscorers in the league. Only Matthew James is currently sidelined for the Foxes who remain one of the healthiest teams in the league. They also don’t have European play to worry about, a proven ingredient for domestic success.

Still, Rodgers is the source of much of their continued improvement. The Foxes have conceded just nine total goals all year, the least of any English top flight side, and are the only team in the league not to have conceded from a set-piece this Premier League season, a testament to their rigid and well-drilled discipline. And they have scored gobs of late goals under the current boss – they scored 10 goals inside the final 15 minutes of his first eight games in charge of the club, and this season they lead the league with five goals inside the final five minutes (even with Manchester City). Against Aston Villa he managed to pair Vardy with Kelechi Iheanacho up front, a prospect that left Puel utterly baffled.

It’s a shame this team isn’t among those competing in Europe this campaign, as they could surely challenge the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich for a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals, but they will almost certainly get the chance next season. They get a chance to play with the Premier League big boys soon during the holiday season, with back-to-back matches against Liverpool and Man City just after Christmas Day.

Claude Puel just couldn’t get it right. Vardy said earlier this season that Puel’s training sessions were “too slow” to the point where it was consequently “difficult for us to be fast and aggressive in matches.” That’s not a problem any longer. Brendan Rodgers has this team absolutely soaring at breakneck speeds towards a long-term place among the Premier League’s elite. The Foxes’ transformation from one-hit wonder to sustainable elite-level success should be a case study for other clubs looking to is still in progress, but has reached the final phase.

Eight games in a row they have won now, the most in team history. Brendan Rodgers called Sunday’s win “a historic day for the club,” but the picture is much bigger than that.

“Leicester City is a top Premier League club.” Say it again until you believe the words you are reciting. Know that they are true.

Rodgers: ‘Historic day’ as Leicester City extends win streak

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Of course it’s early, but it looks like Leicester City is the Premier League’s lone bright hope of challenging Liverpool for the title.

And yeah, that’s a big deal, even after the Foxes claimed the most inexplicable title in top flight history just four seasons ago.

[ RECAP: Villa 1-4 Leicester City ]

But the Foxes remain leery about embracing their title credentials, even after setting a club record by winning their eight-straight via a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday.

“I thought they were amazing,” said Brendan Rodgers. “It is a historical day for the club and the performance warranted that. It really does mean something special, it puts the team in the history books of Leicester City.”

Okay, but… just a little bit about the title fight, Brendan? No?

Perhaps goal scoring defender Jonny Evans would take the bait.

“We are up there and it shows we are playing well. Our performance was good, against one of the best Villa teams I faced in years. It shows we are capable of coming away and getting results. It is nice people are talking about us, we’re enjoying it and there’s great spirit in the club.”

Leicester is eight points back of first, the only team within 10 points of Liverpool. Man City is 14 back and Chelsea 17.

The Foxes host Norwich City before its next stretch of proving ground arrives via a League Cup quarterfinal at Everton prefaces league matches versus Man City and Liverpool.

PL Sunday preview: Leicester, Newcastle, Sheffield Utd, Wolves in action

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There will be no shortage of action and subplots during Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures, as Aston Villa host in-form Leicester City; Newcastle look to continue their winning ways against an improving Southampton side; Norwich City look for a way out of the relegation zone as they take on Sheffield United; and Wolverhampton Wanderers aim to continue their spectacular, unbeaten run against Brighton.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Aston Villa vs. Leicester City — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

December is upon us, and the team putting some form of pressure on top-of-the-table Liverpool is second-best Leicester City. Who would have thought?

In similar fashion to what the masses thought of the Foxes prior to the start of the 2015/16 season, the answer is that not many were sold on the notion that Brendan Rodgers and his team were going to be a flat-out success this season, especially after dealing out Harry Maguire to Manchester United.

Whether the onlookers believed or didn’t believe is a conversation that surely doesn’t bother the majority associated with the once-Premier League champions. The Foxes are on a seven-game winning streak and Rodgers was rewarded for his accomplishments thus far, signing a new contract on Friday that keeps him at the helm until 2025.

Aston Villa’s Dean Smith recognized that his opponents on Sunday are in stellar shape but also cautioned that playing his team at Villa Park will not be a walk in the park, despite only being a point above the red line.

“They are on a fantastic run of form but there aren’t many teams who will come away from Villa Park and think they’ve had an easy game,” Dean Smith said.

It’s not the blockbuster game that will freeze the soccer community, but from the sounds of it, Leicester’s visit to Birmingham will be an authentic battle between two teams that are on the opposite sides of the spectrum.

INJURIES: Aston Villa — OUT: Keinan Davis (hamstring), Jed Steer (achilles)| Leicester City — OUT: Matty James (calf) 

Newcastle vs. Southampton — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Southampton haven’t won three consecutive league matches since May of 2016.

That can change on Sunday at St. James Park, mostly if Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s gamble of starting the same lineup for a third straight game over the span of eight days pays off. But just as it can pay off, it can certainly backfire at the hands of a slowly-but-surely improving Newcastle side.

“It’s a huge month for us,” Steve Bruce said about his Magpies ahead of the match. “It’s season defining, I think it is for every team because there are so many games.

“I have always said that a few results along the way helps everybody, so we’ve given ourselves a nice platform going into the busy Christmas period.

“The spirit among the players, and their attitude and the way they are playing has delighted me.”

That said, as expected, Hasenhuttl likes his side’s chances after demonstrating to him that they’re more than willing to follow order and fight for the crest at all costs.

“In the last three games… the team [has been] playing much more committed,” he said. “When we play like this we create chances, we don’t give the opponents chances, we are defending higher and then keep the opponent far away from our goal and this is more our style we want to play.”

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Lascelles (Knee), Ritchie (ankle) | Southampton — OUT: Armstrong (calf)

Norwich City vs. Sheffield United — 9:00 a.m ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Just a couple of months ago, Daniel Farke and his players were touching the clouds.

A 3-2 win against the defending champions Manchester City was the root cause of that state of hysteria that is now nowhere to be found. With one win in their last 10 matches, the Canaries have been grounded and more. In fact, Farke’s rhetoric on his team and their future in the league says it all.

“We are a newly-promoted side who have not spent any money, so in each and every second at this level we must be at our best,” he said leading up to Sunday’s match. “We told everyone before the season this would be a difficult challenge.”

Promoted with them last season, Sheffield United, too, didn’t let lavish spendings over the summer do the talking. But even then, Chris Wilder‘s men have done a lot with a little, putting together formidable, team-oriented performances. The Blades have surprised many with their 19 points after 15 matches.

Sunday presents itself as a game in which Sheffield has the upper hand, but Wilder knows Norwich far too well. In fact, it’s a team they were constantly chasing in England’s second division this time last year.

“They were the outstanding team in the Championship last season,” he said. “I was delighted to get as close as we did to them.”

INJURIES: Norwich City — OUT: Hanley (groin), Drmic (hamstring), Timm Klose (knee) | Sheffield United — OUT: None

Brighton Hove and Albion vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers  — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Very few teams in the league have overcome adversity this season like Wolves.

A team that surprised many last season, started the season off in a way that was unlike anything Nuno Espirito Santo had put forward before: a sluggish, disjointed brand of play. Wolves have been participating in European competition for the first time since 1980, however, and have 28 games under their belts this season.

Riding a 10-game unbeaten streak (the best active streak in the league), Espirito Santo decided to give his players a rare Thursday off from all training ahead of Sunday’s showdown against a hungry Brighton.

“I hope [the players] enjoyed their day off [on Thursday],” the Portuguese manager said. “It was well deserved and they needed it. It was important they understand it’s a day to rest, recover, stay at home and be with family and join us today to be ready for Sunday.”

Coming off an emphatic win at the Emirates, Brighton are aware of the tough task that will be defeating a red-hot Wolves. But as Graham Potter says and just experienced against Arsenal, anything and everything goes in the Premier League.

“Anything is possible in this league, that’s the way you have to think or else it becomes boring,” Potter said. “We have to keep working towards what we’re trying to achieve and maintain the spirit around the group.”

INJURIES: Brighton  OUT: Izquierdo (knee) | Wolves  OUT: Boly (leg), Gibbs-White (back), Shabani (knee)

Red-hot Vardy leads Leicester past Watford

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Leicester City secured a seventh-straight Premier League win to remain in second place in the table, as Jamie Vardy‘s penalty kick and James Maddison‘s late goal beat Watford at the King Power Stadium.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Vardy smacked home a penalty kick in the second half to keep the Foxes fine run going as Brendan Rodgers‘ side remain eight points off league leaders Liverpool, with Maddison putting the seal on a deserved win.

With the win Leicester have 35 points, while Watford remain bottom on eight points.

3 things we learned

1. Jamie Vardy is on fire: He was at it again as he set up Ayoze Perez in the first half, should have won a penalty kick and scored a penalty of his own to win it. Vardy has now scored in seven straight games to take his tally to this season to 13, and Watford were terrified of his runs on the last shoulder of their defense.

2. Watford solid, but unspectacular: Hayden Mullins, the caretaker boss of Watford, set his team up to be solid and they were, but going forward they showed little to suggest they can get themselves out of trouble. Troy Deeney started up top but had little support and Watford can take solace that they held their own at Leicester. They need to do more than that to push themselves off the bottom of the table.

3. Foxes grinding it out: This wasn’t vintage Leicester. Far from it. But just like they did against Everton last time out, they dug deep, kept working and did what they had to do to get all three points. They remain in the title race and although their silky attacking play got them there, dogged defensive displays will keep them there.

Man of the Match: Jamie Vardy – England fans will want him to return to international action and Vardy was a menace all game long. He is a player reborn and aside from his pace and finishing, he continues to create chances for his teammates. A superb overall display.


The Foxes almost took the lead early on as Jamie Vardy was played in down the wing and picked out Ayoze Perez but the Spaniard slid as he slammed over from 12 yards out. The offside flag had gone up but the replays showed Vardy was onside and the goal would have stood if Perez had finished.

Perez then fluffed his lines again soon after as the Spaniard was finding some gaps in the Watford defense.

Harvey Barnes then had a decent chance for Leicester as he was found on the edge of the box but he slammed his effort into the side-netting at the near post.

To their credit Watford dug deep as caretaker boss Hayden Mullins set his team up in a solid defensive unit and Leicester struggled to break them down. The Hornets did become more adventurous as the game wore on and gave a very good account of themselves in the first half.

Barnes was denied by Ben Foster just before the break as the Foxes continued to knock at the door. Vardy then went down in the box and was booked for diving but VAR checked the call and although it looked like Adrian Mariappa caught him, no penalty was awarded.

Leicester continued to push Watford back and had penalty shouts, one of which was given after Adam Masina was adjudged to have fouled Jonny Evans.

VAR was used and the penalty was given as Vardy slotted home to keep his run going of scoring in each of his last seven games, with nine goals in that run, as the Foxes dominated.

Caglar Soyuncu went close and Vardy then dinked over Foster but somehow Watford’s Masina cleared on the line.

Watford pushed for a late equalizer but were then caught by Maddison who sealed the win in style.

Rodgers happy at Leicester, not interested in Arsenal

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When Brendan Rodgers looks back on his coaching career someday he will regard this as one of his smarter decisions.

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The Leicester City manager has rubbished talk of him taking over at Arsenal, as Rodgers is the bookmakers favorite to replace Unai Emery at the Emirates Stadium.

Following Leicester’s dramatic late win against Everton on Sunday, Rodgers was a little noncommittal when asked about his future and instead admitted he has a release clause of $18 million in his Leicester contract.

Speaking ahead of Leicester’s clash against Watford on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) the former Liverpool and Celtic manager put all of the speculation to bed.

“Yeah, the message is clear and it has been and probably I’ll get asked again until they appoint someone, but it’s very simple. I’m very happy here,” Rodgers explained. “I made a choice nine months ago to come here for a purpose. The purpose was very clear in that I wanted to help this club move forward out of where it was when I came in, and looking to lead it forward with a group I feel has huge potential. Why would I want to move from that?

“OK, I moved after nearly three years at Celtic and people may look at me thinking: ‘Right, because a club like Arsenal, with the great institution and size, and all of that …’ But it’s all about happiness and I couldn’t be happier here. My contract is until 2022 and the club haven’t said they want to release me from that.”

Rodgers would be best served to stay at Leicester City until the end of this season.

If he leads the Foxes to a top four finish this season, which looks highly likely, he will gain huge plaudits and be one of the first names on the list for the top jobs in Europe, not just the Arsenal job, next summer.

Arsenal wanted him before they hired Emery and it is clear that his style of play and ability to get the best out of young talent is very attractive to many clubs, but specifically the Gunners. When it comes to Rodgers, he has built up a reputation of being a manager who will jump ship quickly after his move from Swansea to Liverpool and then Celtic to Leicester, but in both of those situations it was a no-brainer.

Given all of the uncertainty behind-the-scenes at Arsenal and the obvious flaws in the playing squad, Rodgers would be mad to leave this Leicester side behind to take charge of the Gunners. Right now he’s managing the only club which looks likely to sustain a title challenge with Liverpool this season.

Rodgers is a man who likes the spotlight and eventually it would make sense for him to move to Arsenal, or Chelsea or even a club like Man City if Pep Guardiola departs. But until then, Leicester is the perfect fit for him and he knows it.

The fact that Rodgers is best served to remain at Leicester instead of joining Arsenal says as much about his fine work with the Foxes as it does about Arsenal’s recent demise.