(Reuters) – Leicester City’s rebirth since Brendan Rodgers took charge in February has turned the tables in the Premier League, with the in-form Foxes sitting second in the standings.
Tasked with breaking the dominance of the ‘Big Six’, Rodgers has not only taken advantage of Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur losing their way but his side are three points ahead of Manchester City with the league’s best goal difference.
Leicester have won 10 of their 14 league games this season and have 32 points — three points more than they had at this stage of their remarkable 2015-16 title-winning season.
With the Foxes winning their last six matches in a row after a last-gasp 2-1 success at home to Everton on Sunday, it is no wonder Rodgers has been linked some top jobs but, by his own admission, he has unfinished business at Leicester.
“My main focus is very much with Leicester. They’ve been first class with me,” he said after Sunday’s game when he confirmed he has a release clause in his contract.
“I left a club (Celtic) eight months ago and now there’s a huge challenge for us which is finishing in the top six. We have more work to do and I am excited about that.”
Leciester’s former manager Claudio Ranieri used a high tempo, counter-attacking style to beat title odds of 5,000-1 and Rodgers has tweaked the out-of-fashion 4-4-2 formation into a 4-1-4-1 with Jamie Vardy continuing to spearhead the attack.
With 13 goals and three assists, 32-year-old Vardy’s renaissance under Rodgers after he stagnated under Claude Puel is the biggest contributing factor to their run, even leading to questions about a possible return to the England set-up.
Leicester also have the best defence in the league, conceding nine goals and enjoying six clean sheets with a centre back pairing of the veteran Jonny Evans and 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu — the latter proving to be the biggest surprise.
Having lost defensive lynchpin Harry Maguire for around 80 million pounds ($102.64 million) to Manchester United, his understudy Soyuncu has seamlessly slotted into the back line and has played every minute in the league this season.
Full backs Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira have contributed to seven goals between them too, but the man holding it all together has been Wilfred Ndidi sitting behind creators Youri Tielemans and James Maddison in central midfield.
Time will tell if the industrious Ndidi is the next N’Golo Kante but the 22-year-old already leads Europe’s major leagues in tackles and interceptions, giving the defence more room to breathe and prepare for dangerous situations.
Talk of a title challenge this season may be premature, with leaders Liverpool eight points clear of the Foxes, but Rodgers’ miserly defence has laid the foundations for a top-four finish.
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(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)