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Brendan Rodgers ignores whispers of collapse as Leicester size up Wembley

Paul Doyle
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Justin Setterfield/PA</span>
Photograph: Justin Setterfield/PA

Brendan Rodgers says that the past week brought the lowest point of his mostly uplifting two-year tenure at Leicester. No doubt he felt like swearing when he heard about the illicit get-together at Ayoze Pérez’s house, which led to him omitting players such as the Spaniard and James Maddison from the critical Premier League game against West Ham, which Leicester went on to lose. Now Rodgers knows that defeat by Southampton in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final could trigger widespread use of the C-word.

Failure to win at Wembley against a team who are 20 points below them in the Premier League would lead to accusations that Leicester are on the brink of another late-season collapse.

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That would not be strictly fair – last year’s defeat in the Carabao Cup semi-final owed much to freakish displays by Aston Villa’s goalkeeper Ørjan Nyland and in the league it was not so much about a collapse as a gradual dwindling amid relentless injuries, even if Leicester did not drop out of the top four until the final day. But the gist would have at least some validity if Leicester fall when push comes to shove again. Rodgers knows such forebodings cannot be avoided so he urges his players to interpret the chatter as a compliment, evidence of their progress.

“When you’re deep into the competition, you’re there to be shot at,” says Rodgers. “We could be sitting eighth or ninth in the league and have no semi-final, with the spotlight maybe not on us so much. We’re happy to have the spotlight. I don’t feel any more or less pressure other than wanting to win the game to get to the final. There will also be narratives around the team but we can’t really control that. We just focus on the game, look to play well. If we can bring our A game into the match then we believe we have a chance.”

The belief is well-founded – their quarter-final dismantling of Manchester United was a perfect example, among many this season, of how good Rodgers’ team can be – but the question is how can he make sure that Leicester bring their A game on Sunday or, to put it another way, why have his team occasionally trotted out their B, C or just plain awful game? Why, for instance, were they so flat in February’s Europa League elimination by Slavia Prague or in the first half against West Ham last Sunday? There was no major tactical or technical failing against David Moyes’ team, just a puzzling case of normally fine players being sloppy, resulting in Leicester finding themselves 3-0 down before they woke up.

Leicester&#x002019;s Kelechi Iheanacho celebrates scoring in the 3-1 FA Cup quarter-final win against Manchester United
Leicester’s Kelechi Iheanacho celebrates scoring in the 3-1 FA Cup quarter-final win against Manchester United. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Reuters

It is tempting to say Rodgers practically invited that dozy performance by disrupting the momentum gained from the win over United and using a cautious approach for the next game at home to Manchester City, in which Leicester ceded possession and were emphatically beaten. But if that allegation is to be made then it must be offset by the acknowledgment that one of the best qualities Rodgers has brought to Leicester is versatility, an ability to adapt tactics to a range of opponents and circumstances. The mainstay is ferocity. Except on the rare, ill-timed occasions when it is not there, for some elusive reason that must have something to do with psychology.

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“Listen, I’m not a mind reader, I can’t say,” says Rodgers when asked how he can be sure his players are ready today. “I can only say we will prepare and do everything we possibly can in order to arrive where we want to arrive. Then you have to win the game, it’s as simple as that.

“For us there’s a process to doing that. If you don’t play with the quality that you can do and have done consistently, then you’re not going to get there. But that’s not really in our thinking. Our thinking is: ‘OK, we lost last weekend, let’s look at some remedial work this week, how can we improve?’ And then we can take that into the game. By the time the players come out at the weekend they’ll be super-motivated to reach the final.”