Brendan Rodgers

Leicester City manager Rodgers reacts to draw
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Leicester’s Rodgers: Slow start ‘my fault,’ credits Choudhury for revival

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Leicester City’s Wembley status is far from settled after the Foxes struggled to break down Aston Villa on Wednesday.

The Foxes drew Villa 1-1 at the King Power Stadium and will have to win at Villa Park on Jan. 28 to earn a place in the March 1 final.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers said the performance was rough, but that the tie is “set up perfectly” for the Foxes.

“It was all a bit slow,” said Rodgers, via the BBC. “We didn’t press the game enough. The goal we conceded we have to be stronger. But we stayed calm and speeded up the game, made more runs off the ball. Second half we were very good, they made some great blocks to stop us winning the game. Credit to them, they made it very difficult.”

The Foxes had their excuses for a rough night. Portions of the match were played in a downpour, and one of the club’s ever-present forces missed out.

Wilfred Ndidi missed the match for Leicester City and will be absent for the next month. Rodgers said he made the wrong move in adjusting to life without Ndidi. He rectified that at halftime, pulling Dennis Praet for an enforcer.

Hamza Choudhury made a huge difference, it’s my fault that I didn’t start him tonight,” Rodgers said, via the BBC. “We could see that we needed him and he gave us our identity back. Wilfred Ndidi is so good for us, he’s colossal, and we were too slow and not aggressive without him or Hamza.”

Choudhury should prepare to be busy, and his 22 years should allow him to deputize for most if not all of Ndidi’s absence.

The Foxes have a soft January which includes Southampton, Burnley, and West Ham in league play and a second leg against Villa.

Influential Leicester City midfielder Ndidi out until February

Wilfred Ndidi injury
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Leicester City will have to play January without one of its most influential performers.

Wilfred Ndidi missed Wednesday’s League Cup semifinal first leg versus Aston Villa and is out the rest of the month.

The Nigerian may require surgery for “a knock” suffered in training this week.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 23-year-old Ndidi has gone 90 minutes in 19 of 21 Premier League matches this season, missing one and coming off the bench in another.

He’s one of two PL players with 80-plus tackles this season, recording 85. Teammate Ricardo Pereira (83) is the other. Ndidi’s 55 interceptions also lead the PL.

Brendan Rodgers didn’t go into detail and says it isn’t “overly serious” (hockey coaches would be proud of the vagueness).

From The Leicester Mercury:

“He took a knock in training yesterday,” Rodgers said. “Unfortunately, he might need to have a slight operation tomorrow [Thursday] which will put him out for a few weeks. That’s just unfortunate. … But it’s not overly serious. Hopefully into February, he will be fit and ready to go again.”

It’s a massive loss for Leicester. Fortunately, the Foxes have a soft January which includes Southampton, Burnley, and West Ham in league play and a second leg against Villa.

Rodgers ‘so proud’ of Leicester after making 9 changes, winning

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More than anything else, Leicester City simply needed a bit of a gift from the scheduling gods — to play any side other than Manchester City or Liverpool, their last two opponents — to get back to winning ways after three straight games without a victory.

[ MORE: Mourinho: Spurs keep making “same mistakes match after match” ]

Brendan Rodgers took a calculated, if not forced, risk by making nine changes to the team that was thrashed by the runaway Reds less than 48 hours prior, and it paid off in a big way: a 2-1 victory away to West Ham United on Saturday.

After the game, Demarai Gray, one of the nine players to come into the team and the one who scored the game-winning goal after having a penalty kick saved 45 minutes prior, was delighted for himself and the other members of the “fresh team” who took their chance and made the most of it — quotes from the BBC:

“We were in control for a lot of it. We let them back in it with the goal at the end of the first half but overall we controlled the game. We put out a fresh team, but it paid off.

“I was fine taking the penalty, I’m not really nervous in that situation. Those things happen, but it was important to react properly and I did and I got the goal and I was happy. It always means a lot to score and most importantly we got the three points at the end.

“Anytime you come in if you’re not playing so much you have to try and stamp your mark and get yourself in the team. We knew it was a quick turnaround and we knew we’d need a fresh XI, but it just shows the quality and depth we’ve got in the team.”

“We haven’t spoke about the title race or the top four. We just take each game as it comes and try and get three points and see where we are at the end of the season.”

Thanks to Man City’s loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Friday, Leicester are guaranteed to enter 2020 as the second-place side in the Premier League. They lead the two-time defending champions, who play on Sunday, by four points, though they also trail Liverpool, who also play on Sunday and have an extra game in hand, by 10 points.

Rodgers: Leicester ‘know where we are’ after Liverpool humbling

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From flying high and dreaming of another Premier League title, to quickly sinking and just hoping to hang on for a top-four finish — that’s been life for Leicester City the last 12 days.

[ MORE: Three things we learned: Leicester 0-4 Liverpool ]

When the Foxes kicked off their meeting with then-19th-place Norwich City on Dec. 14, they were second in the PL and only trailed Liverpool by eight points. Fast-forward a dozen days and three games, and here’s where they now stand: 13 points behind Liverpool, who now have a game in hand; and one point ahead of Manchester City, who play on Friday and will go second with a win or draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

[ MORE: Klopp runs out of superlatives as Liverpool go 13 points clear ]

It was fun to dream and play the “what if” game, but manager Brendan Rodgers was very honest following Thursday’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of the Reds, offering only, “We know where we are” in regards to the failed title bid — quotes from the BBC:

We didn’t have enough patience in the first half. We never secured the ball which meant we had to defend for long periods, really.

“The players gave everything. It’s a great learning game for us. Credit to Liverpool they played well. We just didn’t have long enough periods with the ball. When you don’t against a top team — world champions — it becomes difficult for you.

“We are at the halfway point now. We are 19 games in. It is the bigger picture with these guys. We have come a long way in this period. The players have been brilliant and this is another learning game for them, they see the physicality you need to compete.

“People were trying to put us in a race with Liverpool, but we know where we are.”

“They have a great cushion but that can go very quickly. They have the power and strength and now the big thing is the confidence.

“Having won the Champions League, Club World Cup and Super Cup, they have the feeling and the squad is very strong. They will be hard to shift in the second part of the season.”

On the bright side, Leicester still lead fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur (and sixth-place Sheffield United) by 10 points with 19 of 38 games still to play. Champions League qualification is still very much a realistic possibility for the Foxes, assuming they can come out of their current nosedive when they visit West Ham United on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold).

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 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.