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Can Liverpool pile more pressure on Rodgers – and stop ‘one-man wrecking ball’?

Leicester head to Anfield fresh off the back of a shocking weekend defeat, but how much pressure does Brendan Rodgers find himself under?

The Reds returned to action in winning fashion on Sunday, seeing off Cardiff with ease in the FA Cup fourth round.

It was a different story for Leicester, however, who were thumped 4-1 away to local rivals Nottingham Forest, in arguably Rodgers’ worst day in the job.

On Thursday, the Foxes head to Anfield for a Premier League clash, as Jurgen Klopp‘s side look to stay in touch with leaders Man City.

Rodgers’ men beat Liverpool 1-0 in the corresponding fixture just after Christmas, so revenge will hopefully be in the air on Merseyside.

With kickoff fast approaching, we spoke to Leicester and regular TIA contributor Jamie Thorpe (@thorpie54) to hear about Rodgers’ reputation, the Reds’ title chances and more.

 

How do you assess Leicester’s season so far?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 28, 2021: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (R) and Leicester City's Jamie Vardy during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. Leicester City won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With a real sense of deja vu. This season is beginning to feel remarkably similar to the dark days under Claude Puel in that you suspect that there are issues behind the scenes affecting the performances on the pitch.

Key players are reported to want out, which is nothing new for Leicester, but while the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Harry Maguire largely managed to maintain their performance levels despite angling for moves elsewhere, players such as Caglar Soyuncu have dropped off completely.

This, combined with speculation regarding both players and Brendan Rodgers’ futures, and a truly horrific injury record, has added up to create a hugely underwhelming season.

Of course, we are still somehow in the top-half with games in hand, but we need a big uptick in performances if we are to salvage our season.

 

How bad was Sunday?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 1, 2019: Leicester City's Youri Tielemans during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Everton FC at the King Power Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Horrific. Absolutely horrific.

Current holders, going out with little more than a whimper against lower league opposition who just happen to be East Midlands rivals is far from an ideal situation.

What worries me the most is that we maintained control of the game for the first 20 minutes, creating chances, defending well and looking for all intents and purposes that we were the top-class opposition doing a professional job against a smaller team.

Yet, the moment Nottingham Forest produced a chance of note we completely and utterly capitulated.

The mentality on display was one of panic, uncertainty and a lack of belief – for a team out of form this is a recipe for disaster and, frankly, the performance echoed this.

 

Is it time to part ways with Rodgers?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 22, 2021: Leicester City's manager Brendan Rodgers during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Not yet, but having said that, I can certainly see how a compelling case can be made for it, as crucially, it appears that Rodgers is starting to lose the dressing room – something that eventually saw the end of his predecessors.

His post-match comments following Sunday’s loss speak volumes – he was hugely critical about the player’s attitudes, their work rate and suggested that some have ideas above their station.

While this is probably fair, and he is correct in saying that several have indeed dropped off markedly, Rodgers’ lack of accountability is a concern.

One or two players out of form, that’s their fault, but an entire squad out of form means the finger of blame is pointed firmly at the manager, too.

To an extent, I really sympathize. We have been able to play the same back-four in consecutive matches just once this year, and even then, it feels cobbled together.

Losing key players such as Jonny Evans, Jamie Vardy, Welsey Fofana and Wilfred Ndidi for sustained periods would hurt any side, not to mention the squad and backup players who were also unavailable.

This excuse can only be used so far, though.

Rodgers still has credit in the bank, but you feel that it is not just the players who have to use his “have to fight like hell for the rest of the season to prove they’re good enough” comments, but the manager himself.

 

Who have been Leicester’s three best players this season?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 22, 2021: Leicester City's James Maddison celebrates after scoring his side's second penalty of the shoot-out during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 5-4 on penalties after a 3-3 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s a tough question to answer, as no player has really maintained consistent performance levels.

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall has been something of a revelation in his maiden Premier League season. Full of energy, desire and aggression, it is easy to see why he endears himself to fans, but he also possesses quality on the ball that is clear to see.

He has done incredibly well to force himself into Rodgers’ reckoning and I believe he has more than enough about him to get to the top of the pecking order.

James Maddison has been on his best run of form in a Leicester shirt, to the point that his name was, quite rightly, back in the reckoning for England.

When fit and given the ball in the correct areas, he is a nightmare to play against and you can see the development in his game across the season.

Maddison’s challenge is to turn this from temporary form into permanent class, and to do that, he needs a bit of help from those around him.

Luke Thomas may be a name that raises some eyebrows to Leicester fans reading this, but I have been impressed with the way he has coped with the expectation.

The 20-year-old has played much more regularly than expected this season, largely due to injuries, and has done so alongside a constantly changing back-line.

While he has struggled in some games, in the majority of his performances, he has played maturely, bravely and looked assured on the ball in one of the toughest leagues in the world.

A special mention to Daniel Amartey, too, who has become something of a cult hero in the Foxes side.

 

Which individuals have struggled?

The entire defence really, but Soyuncu, in particular.

Across the last two seasons, he had been excellent, and while talk of him being an upgrade on Maguire was tongue in cheek, it was not as far from the truth as you may think.

This season he has been a shadow of that player, though.

Possibly lacking the guidance of the injured Evans and struggling after a dismal Euros, he has been rash, out of position and sloppy in possession. If we had any viable replacements he would be nowhere near the side.

Talk of Soyuncu wanting out is rife, but without an upturn in his performances, many clubs would certainly think twice before signing him.

Jannik Vestergaard was a curious signing. Part of the defence that was dismantled 9-0 by us only a year before, I was unsure about how he fit the profile of our current squad.

Sure, he arrived with the reputation of being good on the ball, but his lack of pace was no secret and for a team that plays with a relatively high line in the majority of matches, this seemed a strange choice.

Unfortunately, all our fears have come to fruition and Vestergaard now finds himself behind midfielders in the pecking order.

Finally, our set-piece coach!

When it came to light that we had indeed been employing a specialist coach to oversee set-pieces, the general reaction was one of complete disbelief.

Our record at both ends of the pitch is horrific and seeing the ball go out for a corner brings the exact same reaction from all Leicester fans – “here we go again.”

 

How do you rate Liverpool’s title chances?

2022 vs Brentford Fabinho of Liverpool (C) celebrates scoring (Image: Darren Staples/Sportimage)

It’s been an interesting battle at the top this year, with the momentum changing on several occasions.

Of course, it is Man City’s to lose, and ironically the loss to Leicester looks to have damaged Liverpool’s hopes somewhat.

There are a lot of games to be played, however, and with both clubs competing on multiple fronts it will be interesting to see how each squad handles the pressure.

Nine points with a game in hand may seem too big a gap to some, but with Mo Salah in form, Liverpool still have a chance.

 

Where do you see the key battles taking place?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, December 16, 2021: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Ndidi needs to have a stormer. His role at the base of our midfield is absolutely crucial to how we play and in protecting a fragile defence.

If he can perform at his best – i.e. be a one-man wrecking ball – then we have a glimmer of hope.

Maddison and Youri Tielemans are hugely important going the other way, too, and simply have to make much, much better use of the ball than in previous games.

We have looked massively suspect at dealing with crosses into the back post – maybe captain Trent Alexander-Arnold in your fantasy team! – so the full-back battle is key.

 

Finally, what’s your prediction?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 6th, 2022: Liverpool's Harvey Elliott celebrates after scoring the third goal during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Liverpool FC and Cardiff City FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool 3-1 Leicester.

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