Leicester are proving this season that they possess both the quality and squad depth to be genuinely considered one of the Premier League’s top clubs, having shown with a ruthless win over Liverpool why they are unlikely to fall away this time.
Since winning the Premier League against all odds in 2015/16, Leicester have been searching for a way back into the party that they so unexpectedly gatecrashed once before. Now, under Brendan Rodgers, in his second full season at King Power Stadium, they have found the door.
The squad had become bloated with too much deadwood accumulated in the wake of that title win and the Foxes weren’t satisfied with mid-table finishes. Leicester are now streamlined and focused, with Rodgers moulding a side that has become stronger regardless of selling automatic starters Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell for big money in consecutive summers.
After beating Liverpool with a performance that was far more clinical than it was dominant, it would be easy to diminish their achievements by pointing that Liverpool are drowning in an injury crisis, while other top clubs are pedal to the metal with congested fixture lists.
But that would ignore what Leicester have had to contend with to get into this position.
It is certainly not as if Leicester have been able to sneak in because others are stretched and they could focus solely on the Premier League. They were playing every midweek in the Europa League before Christmas and reached the knockout rounds that start next week.
They are also still in the FA Cup and will face Manchester United in the quarter-finals next month.
The demands on the Leicester squad have been no less than the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea, the latter of whom were a prime example of an expensively assembled team performing at less than the sum of its constituent parts under sacked manager Frank Lampard.
Sure, Liverpool have been ravaged by injuries. But Leicester haven’t exactly skipped through to this stage of the season with a clean bill of health either.
It was a patched up defence against Liverpool because the Foxes were without Wesley Fofana, Timothy Castagne and James Justin. Daniel Amartey was drafted in at right-back for only his fourth league start of the season, with Ricardo Pereira pushed over to the left side, himself only relatively recently back in action following an ACL layoff. It is a squad game and Leicester have the depth.
Wilfred Ndidi had to fill in at centre-back earlier in the season, taking his influence out of midfield, which is precisely what Liverpool have been complaining about with Jordan Henderson and Fabinho. The Nigerian has also missed games through injury and the win against the champions was his first league start since coming off before half-time in a game against Everton in January.
Dennis Praet is also injured at the moment and Ayoze Perez is another key squad player who has been sidelined on occasion.
“We’ve got a lot of injuries and it doesn’t really get talked about because we’re not the ‘Big Six’. But we’re utilising the squad brilliantly at the minute and we’re right up there. That is where we want to be and we’re not up there by fluke,” James Maddison told BT Sport after the Liverpool win.
Bigger clubs struggling with the demands of this season might like to kid themselves that Leicester are in the mix by fluke, but that only seeks to poorly mask their own deficiencies.
Leicester are doing things the right way and are at no more of an advantage.
“We’re taking it game by game. We know we’ve got the quality. We’ve got so much quality in the squad, especially in front areas and midfield. And we’re solid at the back,” Maddison said.
“We’ll keep working and grinding out results against big teams like Liverpool. We had to [grind it out] because they had a lot of the ball and we probably weren’t at our best, to be honest. It’s about big moments and big players come along in big moments, and we scored some good goals.”
Source : 90min