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Brendan Rodgers' season defining week to secure Champions League for FA Cup winners Leicester

Published on: 18 May 2021

It had been hanging over Brendan Rodgers like a dark cloud for some time.

Pressure, expectation and a hearty dose of doubt. The three elements had combined as the Northern Irishman continued on his pursuit to finally lift an elite level trophy in English football.

Rodgers' tale is a curious one, given how his three-year tenure at Liverpool flitted from the ridiculous to the downright sublime following a highly frowned-upon appointment from lowly Swansea.

Against all odds Rodgers very nearly steered Liverpool to the most unlikely of title victories, only to fall at the final hurdle and endure the pain that was to follow.

Crashing down in the latter, pressure-filled stages, or simply put 'bottling it' is a term many rival fans have thrown at Rodgers. After missing out with Liverpool, the 48-year-old saw his Leicester side miss out on a top-four finish last season after crumbling in the final weeks of the campaign.

Now, having got the monkey off his back and becoming an FA Cup-winning manager, Rodgers has the chance to set the record straight and propel the Foxes on to the top table of European football.

Two matches remain, in which Leicester can take destiny in their own hands and cement their place as a Champions League club for the coming year.

One slight issue remains however, and that is the small matter of the opponents.

This evening serves up an immediate rematch with Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea, who are likewise battling to nail down a top-four finish. Both teams cannot afford to drop points, given that the late threat of Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool remains very much alive.

Leicester must then conclude the campaign at home to Tottenham, hoping the limited number of fans permitted back inside the King Power can drive them on to victory.

Before then, though, they are tasked to deal with Chelsea to give themselves a fighting chance. Rodgers' must now hold his nerve in the arguably the most defining week of his career.

New beginnings

One thing which Rodgers knew he was always going to be questioned on was his Celtic record.

Or, more specifically, the merits of his Celtic record - after opting to return to management in Scotland following his painful Liverpool sacking.

Rodgers had gone from being on top of the world at Anfield with comparisons to the great Bill Shankly, to a miserable title collapse and an embarrassingly bad follow-up campaign, which saw him bizarrely opt to play a reserve team away to Real Madrid in Europe.

Rodgers needed a reboot, and choosing Celtic was a wise decision.

The Ulsterman's time in Glasgow was one of unprecedented success, transforming Celtic into the unbeatables and making Parkhead a fortress.

He won seven trophies in succession which comprised a famous 'Double Treble' for the first time in Scottish football history, and cultivated his reputation as a innovative, young British manager who could pull off remarkable things when given both time and patience.

Yet not everybody was convinced.

There were growing feelings throughout the football community that Rodgers had taken the easy route by bouncing back from his Liverpool demise with Celtic, a club who routinely win the Scottish title and have vastly superior resources compared to opponents in the league.

During his time in Glasgow, Rodgers found himself linked with replacing Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager, though ultimately distanced himself from the position.

It was understood that, privately, Rodgers looked upon the potential move very favourably but nothing materialised. The Gunners later opted for Unai Emery and the sidestepping of Rodgers appeared to highlight the thinking that he was not ready for a call up to the big time again.

When the Leicester opportunity arose, and a passage back to the Premier League with a well run and sufficiently backed team, he didn't think twice.

Bad omens

It is fair to say things have gone very well for Rodgers at Leicester.

Under the Srivaddhanaprabha ownership, now led solely by 36-year-old Aiyawatt ‘Khun Top’, Rodgers has been given freedom to express himself and construct a side without constant glaring pressure.

After taking over from Claude Puel in 2019, Rodgers concluded the season with the Foxes before facing his first full campaign at the King Power in 2019-20.

In a season which was full of thrills and spills and, of course, completely disrupted by the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, Rodgers kept his side in contention for the top four until the final weeks.

This was particularly impressive given the duel which unfolded between his former club Liverpool and Pep Guardiola's Manchester City.

The Reds surging to the title and City battling them along the way meant only two more Champions League places would be on offer.

Rodgers and Leicester appeared very much on course to snatch one, albeit for a sickening wobble in the final weeks.

Was it a case of bad omens? Rodgers falling at the final hurdle as usual?

In the final two weeks of the campaign Leicester were beaten 3-0 by Tottenham before losing to Manchester United on the final day of the campaign.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men were in direct competition for a top-four finish after emerging from nowhere at the turn of the year and amassing a steady run of victories.

Beating Spurs and United would have sent Leicester to the Champions League at the expense of Chelsea, but it wasn't to be.


There are many ways to analyse what Rodgers must do next but, fundamentally, it boils down to getting two wins ticked off.

Given that Liverpool trail them by a three point margin, and Chelsea sit two behind, the Foxes could confirm themselves in the top four with a draw and a victory.

Ultimately, Rodgers cannot lose at Stamford Bridge tonight or else things do get rather tense indeed.

It's a big ask, of course, to demand his energy-depleted stars get back on the wagon after Saturday's historic Wembley evening for the club and go back up against the side they have just defeated.

Chelsea will naturally be out for revenge, particularly given the painful manner in which former Leicester man Ben Chilwell had a late goal ruled out by the most controversial of VAR decisions.

It will be interesting to see how Rodgers approaches another showdown with the Blues so soon. For Saturday's FA Cup final the Northern Irishman set his side up in 3-4-1-2 formation to nullify Tuchel's rigid structure.

Against United at Old Trafford in the game prior, Rodgers went back to basics with 4-4-2. It shows a flexibility in the system, though it seems a given that he will put full trust in talisman Jamie Vardy to lead the line with the in-form Kelechi Iheanacho.

By setting up his shop with a rigid back three for the final, comprising Caglar Soyuncu, Jonny Evans and Wesley Fofana, Rodgers was able to set a deep back line which resisted and deterred the runs in behind from the pacey Timo Werner and, in the latter stages, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Leicester will also have James Maddison that bit closer to full fitness, meaning the skillful playmaker could be in line to replace Ayoze Perez in sitting behind the front two.

For the Foxes, this could be the lifeline. Absorbing Chelsea pressure is perhaps the best way to go about the Stamford Bridge showdown, while hoping the likes of Maddison can unpick the west Londoners with a key pass in the late stages as the hosts throw the kitchen sink at the tie.

Leicester need to give themselves a chance, but ultimately this may boil down to an arduous war of attrition.

Still, offer that to Rodgers now and it would be snatched clean off the table.

The oldest trophy in football cup competition has already been secured and now this is a career-defining week for one of Britain's most exciting coaches.

This time, Rodgers cannot afford to slip up.


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