Brendan Rodgers has joined Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp in warning of the dangers of over-burdening players during England’s hectic festive period.
Leicester City manager Rodgers saw his players lose on penalties to Liverpool in the EFL Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday, and he will take them to Manchester City on Sunday before tackling Liverpool again in the Premier League on Tuesday.
Three games in seven days would be a strain in normal times, but with COVID-19 spreading rapidly and injuries beginning to bite for many teams, clubs are having it tougher than usual just now.
A third game was pulled from England’s Boxing Day programme on Friday when Everton’s trip to Burnley was called off.
Leicester’s visit to the Etihad Stadium remained on though, and although the Foxes have fond memories of their 5-2 win at Eastlands last season, Rodgers was only confident enough to say his team would be “as competitive as we can”.
Klopp has been firm in his objection to there being so many games in such a short time span, saying his Reds team, hit by injuries and illness, faced an “impossible” task prior to their assignment against Leeds United on Sunday being called off.
City boss Guardiola floated the idea of a strike by players and managers when he spoke on Thursday, as he addressed the issue of player welfare and burden. Guardiola said he doubted that was a realistic option, but merely raising the suggestion was an extraordinary step.
Rodgers agrees too much is being asked of players.
“To be playing Manchester City on Sunday, and then to be playing Liverpool again on Tuesday, it’s not good for the players,” said the Leicester boss. “Certainly for the health and welfare of them it’s not ideal, but obviously it has been said that we have to play on for another two weeks, and then we take it from there.
“So if that’s the case we’ll just look to be as competitive as we can. We were competitive [against Liverpool]. That’s how we’ll always try to approach it going forward.”
Guardiola’s City have won eight games in a row to sweep to the top of the Premier League and open a three-point lead over second-placed Liverpool, while Leicester sit ninth after an unsteady start to their campaign.
There was a hint of envy about Rodgers as he pointed out the Manchester giants had a free midweek, having already been knocked out of the EFL Cup, with the intimation that gave their already formidable team an extra advantage over Leicester.
“They’re a brilliant side,” Rodgers added. “They’ve got technical players, world-class players and, and they’re used to winning. But we’ve done OK against them. So it’s going to be a big challenge for us.
“We went there last season and got a fantastic win. You know the challenge that you’re playing against: they dominate the ball, you’ve got to be good in transition, and you’ve got to obviously have the confidence to play so that’ll be a challenge for the weekend.”
— Leicester City (@LCFC) December 24, 2021
The fixture is an intriguing one, despite Manchester City having won eight of their last 10 Premier League games against Leicester (L2), including a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
Leicester’s win in Manchester was spectacular last season and featured a Jamie Vardy hat-trick, his second treble against City in the Premier League. Vardy has eight Premier League goals against the Light Blues, with only Alan Shearer (11) and Wayne Rooney (nine) having ever netted more Premier League goals against City than Vardy.
Yet Vardy, who scored twice in the 3-3 thriller against Liverpool on Wednesday before the Reds beat Leicester in a penalty shoot-out, has never scored in six Premier League appearances on Boxing Day. That makes him one of just three players to score over 100 goals in the competition but fail to find the net on Boxing Day, along with Sergio Aguero and Les Ferdinand.
Leicester won three league games in a row away against City between 1995 and 2003, but they have not won back-to-back league wins at City’s home since that streak.
The signs point to a likely victory for Guardiola’s men, given they are unbeaten in eight home league games on Boxing Day (W6 D2), winning each of the last six in a row. Their last such defeat came in 1996-97 against Port Vale in the second tier (1-0).
Leicester have a rotten recent record, winning just one of their last 11 Premier League games on Boxing Day (D2 L8), though the exception in that run was a 2-1 victory over City on December 26 three years ago.
Rodgers will hope James Maddison can sparkle, with the playmaker having scored in five of his last seven games after a dip in output. In the Premier League alone, Maddison has had six goal involvements (three goals, three assists) in his last four games – as many as in his previous 26 appearances.
“I think he sees that he’s a real threat,” said Rodgers. “He’s starting to get back to the levels and producing, which is what he has to do: create goals, score goals, work hard. And he’s doing all of that.”