Leicester City are still evolving as a team under Brendan Rodgers | Football News

Brendan Rodgers is still finding ways to make Leicester City better

Brendan Rodgers is still finding ways to make Leicester City better

There was a moment in Brendan Rodgers’ press conference after seeing his Leicester City side dismantle Aston Villa at Villa Park when he referred to a caption that had appeared on his television screen while watching the Manchester derby the previous evening. The graphic had displayed the gap in points between Liverpool and Manchester City.

It did not mention there was a team between them.

Rodgers was quick to stress this had not irked him. “It’s just natural,” he added. “Manchester City and Liverpool are both incredible teams.”

Nevertheless, it was interesting he noted it. There is a growing feeling Rodgers himself is beginning to fashion an incredible team of his own over in the East Midlands.

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leicester’s 4-1 win over Aston Villa

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leicester’s 4-1 win over Aston Villa

Leicester were sensational on Sunday. One moment they were carving open the Aston Villa defence to produce clear-cut openings for James Maddison and substitute Harvey Barnes, the next they were forcing Tom Heaton into a spectacular save to deny Caglar Soyuncu.

And those were just the ones that did not go in.

Even Villa boss Dean Smith admitted Leicester could have had eight. The four goals they did score showed just what a complete team they are becoming under Rodgers.

Jamie Vardy scored twice on the counter-attack, Kelechi Iheanacho capped off a wonderful team goal that had begun inside their own half, while Jonny Evans netted from a corner.

“That was the beauty of today,” said Rodgers. “We showed different ways to score goals.”

Rodgers was thrilled to break Leicester’s record for consecutive top-flight wins

Rodgers was thrilled to break Leicester’s record for consecutive top-flight wins

Leicester showed they could play in a slightly different way too. Not content with fusing the best bits of the club’s counter-attacking style from their title-winning season with a passing game reminiscent of the richest teams in the land, Rodgers is now dabbling with the formation too. He changed the shape and went with a diamond against Aston Villa.

Barnes made way for Dennis Praet, playing tucked in on the right, with Youri Tielemans mirroring his compatriot’s role on the left. Iheanacho partnered Vardy in attack. Those tweaks might have seemed an unnecessary gamble for a team coming into the game having won their previous seven Premier League matches, but there were few signs of uncertainty.

Indeed, this was always part of the plan.

“I said when I first came in that having tactical flexibility is so important,” Rodgers said. “The style will always stay the same, how we want to build the game, how we want to play. But having that ability to change systems and give teams different problems is how we want to work.

“We did it in pre-season in our preparation phase so that we could lay in some principles for that. We felt we have never really had to use it until this point, but the players carried it out ever so well. The players were so good in how they coped with it.”

Jamie Vardy added two more goals to his tally against Aston Villa

Jamie Vardy added two more goals to his tally against Aston Villa

Rodgers had spotted something in Villa’s setup he could exploit.

“Sometimes you come away from home against a good attacking team like Aston Villa where the full-backs will go and the midfield is very strong,” he explained. “I just felt having four in there would give us the extra man. When you are playing a team at home that is going to commit the full-backs, that gives us two versus two against the centre-halves.

“I will always back our two against the two centre-halves.”

Iheanacho seized his opportunity, for sure.

While Evans rejected the theory his team had been outmanoeuvred by Leicester’s tactics, the space the striker had in which to work made for a dream first Premier League start of the calendar year. Iheanacho has had to be patient. This was his reward.

Having scored in each of his three previous appearances this season, including that late winner against Everton, he made it four out of four with his most complete performance yet. As well as the goal, a lovely near-post flick to double Leicester’s lead, he set up Vardy for the opener and showed off his pace, awareness and technique throughout.

“I thought he was great, he played the role how we wanted him to play it,” said Rodgers. “He has been absolutely first class in his training. You have seen it in the cup games when he comes in and scores. It is just a case of him coming in with confidence. Today, I thought he was very good. His hold-up play, his link up with the midfield. He was excellent.”

That it was Praet who produced the expertly lofted pass that found Vardy for Leicester’s fourth and final goal seemed to sum it all up. The performances of the newcomers to the line-up underlined the fact Leicester have strength in depth. No wonder Rodgers gave a one-word reply when asked what had pleased him about the afternoon’s work.

“Everything,” he said.

Rodgers celebrates with Ben Chilwell and captain Kasper Schmeichel

Rodgers celebrates with Ben Chilwell and captain Kasper Schmeichel

Liverpool’s own excellence this season means they have the luxury of not having to worry too much about anyone else. But the teams below Leicester? They have every reason to be concerned about the improvements Rodgers continues to coax from this squad. Those rivals for the Champions League places are playing catch-up against an improving team.

Not only are Leicester a young side with huge scope to improve as individuals, they are developing together too. They do not have the distraction of European competition either, something Rodgers himself used to great effect during his best season at Liverpool.

“We know we have the mentality and the stamina to keep going,” he said.

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Extra time to cover. Extra time to coach. That could be enough to elevate Leicester above just about everyone else in this Premier League. “We just get on with our work, get on with trying to play and improve our performance level and just keep developing as a team,” added Rodgers. “I don’t think anyone expects us to be anywhere near the top.”

But that’s not quite true. Not any longer. The suggestion this is a false position in which Leicester find themselves has long since been debunked. They have the top scorer in the Premier League and they have the best defensive record in the Premier League.

They have a young team playing with confidence and they have a coach who the rest of the country have belatedly come to realise is one of the best in the business. Do not expect Leicester to fall away. In fact, everything points to them getting better and better.

Maybe the time has come to include them on those title-race graphics.

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