Brendan Rodgers could be forgiven this week for looking back at how Leicester’s season unravelled 12 months ago in order to find a roadmap for the future.
It was the final Premier League match before the season was halted by the Covid pandemic and Rodgers and his players had time to pause and plot a way through the final nine games of the season to book Champions League football.
Leicester have suffered back-to-back defeats in the Premier League and Europa League
With a lot of injuries and tough fixtures, the Foxes could miss out on Champions League again
LEICESTER’S REMAINING PREMIER LEAGUE FIXTURES
Burnley (A) – March 3
Brighton (A) – March 6
Sheffield United (H) – March 14
Manchester City (H) – April 3
West Ham (A) – April 10
West Brom (H) – April 17
Crystal Palace (H) – April 24
Southampton (A) – May 1
Newcastle (H) – May 8
Manchester United (A) – May 11
Chelsea (A) – May 15
Tottenham (H) – May 23
But when Project Restart finally got up and running in the summer, any chance of Leicester finishing in the top four collapsed as they won just two of their final nine games of the season.
It was an astonishing drop in results and performance levels.
Among those defeats was a 4-1 loss at relegated Bournemouth, a 3-0 reverse at Tottenham and, crucially, Manchester United won at the King Power Stadium on the final day of the season to secure fourth place.
But there were problems already on the horizon going into the enforced break.
Before the win over Villa, Leicester had picked up just two wins in their past eight league games and two points in their past four matches.
They had also lost their Carabao Cup semi-final against Aston Villa at the end of January 2020 and it was thought that setback had an impact on morale in the camp heading into the run in.
After the humbling defeat at Bournemouth, a furious Rodgers said his side were ‘not good enough to get too comfortable’ and they would have to put Champions League ambitions to one side and ‘worry about playing well’.
During the bad run, he added: ‘At the moment, since we came back (after Project Restart) we have been playing for 45 minutes in games and that’s not enough.
‘We will finish where we deserve to. If you think about what is at stake you have lost your focus.’
Leicester were in a strong position last season until the returned to action in Project Restart
Bruno Fernandes scores as Manchester United beat Leicester to secure a top-four finish
After a first-half collapse at Tottenham where Leicester let in three goals, Rodgers admitted his side were ‘distraught’.
The atmosphere around the club is quickly turning that way again.
Last week’s Europa League exit to Slavia Prague and the home loss to Arsenal just a few days later will have worried Leicester fans. They will be desperately hoping the dip in results is rectified quickly and doesn’t grow into another collapse.
Is it going to happen again? Will months of hard work be destroyed in the closing weeks of the season?
At present, Leicester sit five points clear of Chelsea in fifth place so the margin for error is smaller this time around, while the number of clubs angling for Champions League positions is bigger too.
Leicester, Chelsea and United were battling for two places last season with Liverpool and Manchester City way ahead of the rest.
But this time around Liverpool, West Ham and Everton are also in the mix with Leicester, United and Chelsea for just three places. You probably cannot rule out Tottenham and Aston Villa completely, either.
Harvey Barnes will need knee surgery in the latest blow to Leicester’s growing injury crisis
Leicester are a favourite with the neutrals because of their ambition to play adventurous, high-possession and intensity football with a batch of talented, young players.
Harvey Barnes and James Maddison are candidates to get into Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Euro 2020 while James Justin was one of the season’s standout performers before his ACL injury.
But perhaps their style needs to be adapted going into the final few weeks of the season in order to be tighter at the back and more conservative.
They have conceded seven goals in their last five games and with tough tests on the horizons they need to quickly tighten things up. Sitting deeper and pressing from a lower starting position will also reduce the distance players are covering.
With an array of attacking talent out injured at the moment, dropping slightly deeper and playing on the counter could offer a short-term solution and offer another option for Rodgers in the Champions League’s big games next season if they qualify.
Jamie Vardy looks less than 100 per cent fit while James Maddison is also sidelined at present
Injuries are making things an awful lot tougher for Rodgers and he faces a dilemma going into Wednesday night’s game at Burnley. Do you rest players or stick with the same team and hope nobody picks up a knock?
Defenders Wesley Fofana, Wes Morgan, James Justin are all injured while Jonny Evans is due to have a calf injury picked up against Arsenal assessed.
Harvey Barnes needs surgery on a knee problem while James Maddison, Ayoze Perez and Dennis Praet are all missing.
Jamie Vardy is also not 100 per cent fit and could be seen grappling with a groin injury throughout the Arsenal defeat.
Three games in 11 days against Burnley, Brighton and Sheffield United mean Rodgers cannot even rest those players who are injury free at the moment.
So it is a fine balancing act for Rodgers in the coming weeks as he enters a period of the season where he has suffered plenty of disappointment in the past.
Last season’s collapse aside, Leicester won just one of their last five league games in 2018-19 when Rodgers had arrived just a few months before.
Rodgers’ most high-profile end of season collapse was with Liverpool back in 2013-14
There was also the miserable end to the 2013-14 season at Liverpool when Rodgers was so close to ending their wait for a Premier League title. Another opportunity slipped from his grasp when the Reds were beaten by Chelsea and threw away a lead at Crystal Palace as Manchester City pounced.
In 2014-15, Liverpool won just one of their final six games as they fell away in the race for Champions League football. Rodgers was gone just months later and Jurgen Klopp installed at Anfield.
So history would suggest Rodgers and Leicester are in for a rocky few months as they try to return to Europe’s top table for the first time since 2016-17.
They still have an unenviable fixture list to get through too, with games against Manchester City, West Ham, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham to come.
But if Leicester can hit back immediately with a win at Burnley and their injury woes ease slightly, Rodgers is in a fantastic position to finish in the top four and win the club’s first-ever FA Cup title.
Progress under Rodgers has been impressive and Leicester are making a serious dent in the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ group. But how they handle the next few months will determine just how much room they still have to improve.