“Oh no. It’s happening again, isn’t it?”
– Every Leicester fan last Sunday
The footballing narrative gods were not kind to Leicester City last week.
Less than 72 hours after Slavia Prague booted them out of the Europa League, the Foxes fell to a damaging 3-1 defeat at the hands of Arsenal – the team many are tipping them to replace in the ‘Big Six’ over the next few years.
Even worse, Harvey Barnes suffered a knee injury, which is likely to rule him out for at least six weeks, while Jonny Evans also suffered a knock. This added to their already lengthy list of absentees which includes: Wesley Fofana, Ayoze Perez, James Justin, Dennis Praet, Wes Morgan and James Maddison.
This disastrous few days left Leicester fans with a sickening sense of deja vu. Watching Barnes get stretchered off the field on Sunday, it was impossible for supporters to not get haunting flashbacks to last season, where a combination of injuries and shocking performances saw them win just three of their last 12 Premier League games and drop out of the top four on the final day.
With Champions League qualification through the Thursday night route now impossible, Rodgers will be desperate to avoid a similar capitulation this time around.
If his side are going to achieve that, this is the route they are going to have to take…
Dropping points against relegation fodder killed Leicester during last season’s run-in. In the space of four games, they failed to beat Norwich, Watford and Brighton. Later on in the campaign they were then defeated by lowly Bournemouth – more on that later.
The Foxes have the chance to atone for their sins over the next 11 days when they face a trio of relegation threatened sides. This run begins with a trip to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, before they travel to Brighton away and finally host Sheffield United.
These all all teams that Leicester have beaten confidently already this campaign, albeit with a slightly less cursed injury list, and they continue must be ruthless in these straight forward games. Nine points from these games would be a heroic return and could give them the momentum they need to extinguish the ‘bottlers’ narrative this season.
That Arsenal defeat was bad, but it was a picnic compared to Leicester’s harrowing performance against Bournemouth at the tail end of last season.
For much of the game, things were going to plan with Jamie Vardy opening the scoring in a first half that Leicester had dominated. However, things went downhill quickly after the break. First, a comedy clearance from Kasper Schmeichel led to Wilfred Ndidi conceding a penalty, which Bournemouth converted.
Less than 60 seconds later, Jonny Evans fluffed a routine headed clearance and Dominic Solanke – who had not scored for approximately 300 games prior – capitalised to make it 2-1. To compound matters, in the aftermath to the goal, Caglar Soyuncu was sent off for kicking Callum Wilson in the arse.
It was fully fledged disaster movie and psychologically, the display was the final nail in the coffin for the Foxes’ top four hopes. Rodgers has insisted that his troops are mentally stronger this campaign and they will need to draw on this new found determination to keep errors to a minimum.
This step is easier said than done. With the games continuing to come thick and fast and the squad already decimated with injuries, keeping their remaining stars fit is going to be tough.
Losing either Wilfred Ndidi or Youri Tielemans, both of whom have been superb this season, would be a big blow, while any further fitness problems for Vardy would leave his side with the unconvincing Kelechi Iheanacho leading the line.
One possible way to keep these players fresh is to blood some youngsters. Midfielder Sidnei Tavares and right-back Vontae Daley-Campbell have both enjoyed playing time in the cups this season and Rodgers’ might be tempted to hand them Premier League minutes in order to keep his senior players fresh.
The Foxes’ FA Cup quarter final against Manchester United on 21 March could be used for rotation, although a decent chunk of the Foxes’ absentees should be back in contention by then.
For the second season running, Leicester have been handed a run of tricky games to finish. Last term, they faced Tottenham and then United in their final two matches.
This time around, they will take on those two sides again, as well as contending with a trip to Stamford Bridge to face a resurgent Chelsea. So far this campaign, Leicester’s record against the ‘Big Six’ – particularly away from home – has been superb.
They have defeated Manchester City, Arsenal and Spurs on their travels, as well as securing home victories over Chelsea and drawing with United. In order to keep their place in the top four, continuing this knack for mixing it with the big boys will be key.