Leicester continue to plot their course as a growing force in English football with one of the most comfortable unlikely top four bids you could imagine.
The Foxes have sat unthreatened in third for the majority of the 2019/20 season and that looks set to continue in the final stretch.
Brendan Rodgers has implemented a tailor-made formation and style that extracts the best from each of his stars and will be richly rewarded for it by the season’s end.
The second half of the Foxes campaign hasn’t all been plain sailing, but the five-point cushion over Chelsea means the pressure remains on ‘low’ for the time being. A couple of quick-fire wins from their opening Premier League fixtures would almost certainly secure a terrific finish.
We bring you everything you need to know from the season so far and games to come, and we chatted exclusively to former Foxes winger Matt Piper for the lowdown.
Check out your complete guide to Leicester’s 2019/20 season ahead of the Premier League restart.
Leicester in 2019/20
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Top scorer: Jamie Vardy (19 goals)
Most assists: James Maddison (6 assists)
Check out our full list of Leicester fixtures 2019/20.
If Vardy doesn’t get you, Harvey Barnes will. If Barnes doesn’t get you, James Maddison will. If Maddison doesn’t get you, Ayoze Perez will.
Leicester’s attacking options can be truly terrifying on their day, and if one isn’t quite feeling it, there’s always another chomping at the bit ready to strike.
However, much of the credit needs to be attributed to Wilfried Ndidi, without whom the Foxes have actually come up short on several occasions.
His heatseeking defensive role behind the attack-minded midfield four is pivotal to the team. Ndidi will break down attacks and recycle the ball as well as any combative star in the Premier League, and his reassuring presence affords Leicester’s lock-pickers and match-winners the freedom to do their work.
Superstar full-back Ben Chilwell appeared to have gone slightly off the boil post-Christmas, but a rest will have massively benefitted Leicester – more than most teams – given the sheer athleticism required to enact their style. Expect big things upon the return.
Matt Piper says…
Q: What do you make of Leicester’s season so far?
MP: People say it’s taken everyone by shock – and this is me not patting myself on the back – but before the season actually started, and before we kicked a ball, on the radio I was asked, ‘What are your predictions for the season?’ And I said top four. That’s just because of what happened towards the end of last season. Rodgers came in, he got Vardy firing again, and James Maddison was at the top of his game, and Tielemans was playing well, and Ndidi and Ricardo and Chilwell – it was sort of a young, vibrant side, and now under good management from Rodgers, who had some good ideas, and he was starting to implement them at the end of the previous season.
And at the minute, I’m still grasping onto that. They’re in third. They’re doing well. But who knows? With the coronavirus coming around, what is it going to be like playing in these empty stadiums, and shortening the league down to such a confined period of time? Will they get through it? I hope they do, because they deserve it.
Q: Which players have impressed you most?
MP: James Maddison. I think he’s been probably one of Leicester’s best players. I mean, Leicester, they are third in the table, but they’ve got some tremendous football players. Obviously there’s the well-known ones in Jamie Vardy, who’s done it for years in the Premier League, and Ndidi, who’s been huge and is still very young. But the ones that stand out for me are Söyüncü, who’s coming into the side. We got a lot of Leicester fans, after a month of him being in the team, sort of saying, ‘Harry Maguire who?’ He’s been massive.
Ricardo Pereira. It’s a real shame he got injured, because, for me, this season and parts of last season, he’s shown that the only right back, I feel – and this is not me being biased – who is in front of him in the Premier League is probably Alexander-Arnold. Other than that, you wouldn’t get a better right back than Ricardo. It’s a shame that he got injured, but he’s been huge.
But the main one for me, because of the talent he possesses, and the fact that he’s the link – Rodgers has made him the link from a really strong, defensive unit, and going into the midfield unit and to Vardy, Maddison has become that man. He’s been unbelievable.
Q: Which players have disappointed? Who has a point to prove?
MP: Looking through Leicester’s squad, there’s no one who’s played really poorly. Iheanacho was strolling towards the start of the season and the back-end of last season. Rodgers came out in the press and backed him, and I think that confidence from his manager did him, you know, no end of good. Suddenly, he scored a few goals in the cup – in the League Cup – and it is honestly a miraculous turnaround because I thought his time at the football club was over. He was sort of getting booed by his own fans. When he was coming on as a substitute, you could hear the murmurs in the crowd: ‘Oh my God, what are we bringing him on for?’
But he stuck with it. He started to score goals. He looks a real threat. And even when Vardy’s been out of the team, he’s been the main focal point of the team. He’s not let anyone down. He’s really turned it around for himself, and I’m so pleased for him.
Albrighton can feel a little hard done by. I think he’s a good pro, Marc Albrighton. And obviously he was a massive part of that Premier League-winning side. And he’s not got too many opportunities this year.
The only one really we could talk about is Demarai Gray because he’s got so much talent, and he was given numerous amounts of opportunities by Claude Puel. Rodgers has had a look at him at times, and brought him into the side, and even started him in a few games. He’s not really delivering yet on that stage.
But I do feel sorry for him at the same time, because he’s one of them guys – I was very similar when I played – you need a lot of games to gain that confidence to feel comfortable playing regular Premier League football. And if you don’t get it, it’s very difficult to find that form. Unfortunately that’s what’s happened with him.
Q: What effect will lockdown have on the team?
MP: It’s a difficult one because I can see pros and cons for both situations. Most of the squad is young, and I follow most of them on social media. The level of fitness they’ve kept themselves at in isolation has been superb. That goes in their favour massively. The other thing that goes in their favour – there were a couple of niggles coming in, towards those last eight or nine games of the season. Just before we went into lockdown, Vardy was struggling. A calf; a hamstring; a gluteal industry. Sort of niggling injuries were coming in to some of these older professionals. Wes Morgan was the same. Johnny Evans started to get a few niggles. So that time off could have been really good for those guys to regenerate and recuperate and be ready for these last nine games.
The cons are: it is a young, kind of inexperienced side. Yes, they’ve got experience through the team, but a lot of the positions are young players that have gathered a bit of momentum this season. That’s stopped. And then starting and playing in front of an empty stadium – how will they cope with it? We can only make guesses and predictions. But the good thing is, they’ll be fit, they’ll be strong, and they’ll be ready.
Q: How do you rate Brendan Rodgers this season?
MP: Everything that he says, and that he talks about, and his philosophy about football – I actually put him in the category of a ‘developmental manager’. He doesn’t go in and just try to win straight away, which is obviously important in the Premier League. But he is trying to build something for the future. He’s giving youth a chance – which I’ll give Puel credit for as well. He really did bring a lot of youth into the side: Hamza Choudhury, Ben Chilwell, Harvey Barnes. He was the first guy that sort of trusted those guys and brought them in. I think Leicester’s biggest problem will be doing so well this season. If they do finish in the Champions League spot, which I think they should do, and the football that they play – Rodgers is going to be on the radar of a lot of big sides, I think, not just in England but in Europe.
Q: Where will Leicester finish in the Premier League this season?
MP: I think it has to be third. They’re five points ahead of Chelsea, same games played; eight points ahead of Manchester United; five points behind Manchester City – that would be a stretch, to try to finish in second but the kind of guy Brendan Rogers is, and what he’s already been saying to the press…
I’m quite close to a few of the players so sometimes they speak to me about what he’s talking about behind the scenes – he’s putting it in their minds that he wants them to push for second, because of, obviously, what I’ve spoken about earlier on: you never know. Man City might come back and the players feel uncomfortable playing in front of empty stadiums. It could be a very difficult time for teams. And I think you are going to see some weird results. All of a sudden, if Man City lose the first two – they’ve got a tough one against Arsenal in their opener – they lose that then all of a sudden the door opens a little bit.
I think we push for second. If we get there, great. But if we finish in third, it will have been a magnificent season.
Looking for all the remaining Premier League matches and how to watch them? Check out our Premier League fixtures guide.