Leicester City have made a habit of defying the odds in their recent history.
For once though, their game against Manchester City on Saturday went exactly as expected, with the Foxes slumping to a 2-0 defeat.
In truth, the visitors’ winning margin could and perhaps should have been more as well. In the first half alone Kevin de Bruyne struck the bar with a wicked free kick and Riyad Mahrez was denied a goal against his former club by Kasper Schmeichel’s right boot.
As well as having the better chances, City also enjoyed periods of comic dominance, not giving Leicester a single touch during one particularly jarring five minute spell. The biggest problem of all for the home side was their lack of efficiency in possession, though.
In their 5-2 victory in the return fixture back in September, they barely wasted a touch, enjoying just 28% possession and registering seven attempts on goal. This ruthlessness was sorely lacking on Sunday with usual tempo setters Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans visibly drained following an intense international break.
Ayoze Perez – operating as the link between midfield and striker pairing Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy – did the best he could with his meagre time on the ball, but with the Spaniard starved of service, feeding the front two on the counter proved difficult.
Of course, there were a few extenuating circumstances that help explain Leicester’s ropey display. The lack of preparation time due to the international break would be bad news against any side, but it was particularly damaging on Saturday as City are such a tactically demanding team to play against.
The late withdrawal of star centre-back Caglar Soyuncu, who continues to self-isolate in Turkey following a positive coronavirus test, was also an irritation. While his replacement Daniel Amartey was solid enough defensively, Soyuncu’s assertiveness and contribution in possession was lost.
Although the result was disappointing, its impact on Leicester’s season could be confined to a footnote if the Foxes can bounce back in the two potentially season defining games to come.
The first of these is against West Ham, another team who have defied expectations this season. Depending on how the Hammers’ trip to Wolves goes on Monday, the pair could go into the game separated by as little as four points and one place.
Last time they met, David Moyes’ side ‘did a Leicester’ on their opponents, registering 30% possession but still coming out well deserved 3-0 winners. It was Rodgers’ side’s worst result and performance of the season and they must avoid a repeat of it on Saturday with the race for the European places heating up to Scotch bonnet levels.
The return of James Maddison – who enjoyed a brief and rusty cameo on Saturday – to the starting lineup could be crucial in turning the tide in Leicester’s favour. West Ham’s stubborn defensive shape is notoriously hard to penetrate and Maddison’s ability to break the lines with both his passing and dribbling will be an invaluable asset.
After facing the Hammers, Leicester set their sat nav for Wembley for their FA Cup semi-final against Southampton. Perhaps the only thing that has been missing from Rodgers’ footballing revolution has been a piece of silverware. The club’s first ever FA Cup triumph would represent exactly that and as they have already beaten the Saints once this campaign, confidence will be high.
Wins in each of their next two games would represent a statement of intent from Leicester. It would be a positive step in challenging the ‘bottlers’ narrative and set them up perfectly for what is set to be a truly mad climax to the season.