Could Leicester City yet miss out on the Champions League?

Gary Lineker described Leicester’s dismal display against Brighton as their worst under Brendan Rodgers… so with their form in freefall and rivals catching up, could they yet surrender that coveted top-four spot?

  • Leicester put in another uninspired performance as they drew 0-0 with Brighton
  • Their record of just two Premier League wins from 10 has become troubling
  • If their slump continues, they could yet miss out on a Champions League place
  • Brendan Rodgers’ exciting side looked nailed-on for the top four in January
  • But a series of drab displays and surprise results have them glancing behind 
  • Leicester must yet face Tottenham, Sheffield United and Man United in run-in 

The year started wonderfully. Leicester swept aside Newcastle 3-0 on New Year’s Day with a performance of crushing intensity and ruthless finishing.

At that point, as they sat handsomely in second position in the Premier League table, a point above Manchester City and, more importantly, 14 ahead of Manchester United in fifth, everything was positive.

The only teams that had beaten Leicester to that point were Liverpool, City and United, with Champions League qualification a certainty as Brendan Rodgers spoke glowingly of his team’s potential.

Leicester turned in another under-powered performance as Brighton held them to a drab draw 

Manager Brendan Rodgers watches on as his Leicester side struggled to break Brighton down

Gary Lineker gave his opinion that it was Leicester’s worst performance under Rodgers

Certainly nobody foresaw the dramatic slump that has seen Leicester win just two of 10 league matches since New Year’s Day and exit the Carabao Cup semi-finals in disappointing fashion to Aston Villa.

While earlier in the season it was only the very best teams that could outwit and outwork Rodgers’ side, they have lost to Southampton, Burnley and Norwich in 2020.

And even though Tuesday night’s home fixture with Brighton would end goalless, a second consecutive draw since the restart, Leicester’s performance marked a troubling low point.

As Gary Lineker tweeted: ‘Blimey, this is horrendous. Worst I’ve seen @LCFC play under Rodgers.’

It was a display of much perspiration in sweltering temperatures but precious little inspiration as Leicester mustered just two shots on target against relegation-threatened opposition.

In the end, they were indebted to the uniquely impressive penalty-saving skills of their keeper Kasper Schmeichel to even get a point after he repelled Neal Maupay’s first-half spot-kick.

Leicester still have a nine-point cushion to fifth place but rivals are quickly closing in

James Maddison reacts at the final whistle as Leicester only took a point from Brighton

Jamie Vardy struggled for service as Leicester mustered just two shots on target on Tuesday

Leicester’s poor run 

Leicester won 3-0 at Newcastle on New Year’s Day but since then their league form has suffered.

January 11 Southampton (H) 1-2

January 19 Burnley (A) 1-2

January 22 West Ham (H) 4-1

February 1 Chelsea (H) 2-2

February 14 Wolves (A) 0-0

February 22 Man City (H) 0-1

February 28 Norwich (A) 0-1

March 9 Aston Villa (H) 4-0

June 20 Watford (A) 1-1

June 23 Brighton (H) 0-0

Before Tuesday’s game, Rodgers reminded his players that ‘we can still write our own history’ and they are still well-placed to finish in the top four.

But after another curiously flat performance, there is growing evidence the momentum has gone from Leicester’s season and it has nothing to do with having to start all over again post-lockdown.

They’ve won just twice in the league since that masterclass at Newcastle – against lowly West Ham and Villa – and failed to score in four of their last six either side of the three-month break.

Their under-powered showings throughout February and March were often put down to the absence of influential midfielder Wilfred Ndidi with a knee injury.

But he’s back to full fitness now and results haven’t picked up, pointing to broader problems that must have Rodgers scratching his head.

All of a sudden, that Champions League place that seemed to certain at the turn of the year isn’t looking as secure.

The conversation around Leicester has shifted from potential title challengers alongside Liverpool at the beginning of the season to nailed-on for the top four to glancing anxiously over their shoulder.

They retain a nine-point cushion to United in fifth but this will be cut to six points if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team beat Sheffield United on Wednesday.

Influential midfielder Wilfried Ndidi has returned to Leicester’s team but results remain poor

Ben Chilwell rues a missed opportunity as Leicester struggled to break Brighton down

In the end, they were indebted to Kasper Schmeichel, who saved Neal Maupay’s penalty

United also have the more favourable run-in and with Leicester still to play Sheffield United and Tottenham before a potentially crucial home fixture against United on the final day, that gap could quickly vanish.

They must also face Everton and Crystal Palace in the more immediate future. 

Perhaps Leicester were guilty of a little bit of complacency, though Rodgers would insist otherwise.

Even by the time of that win at Newcastle, it was clear they couldn’t keep pace with Liverpool but also clear they’d make the Champions League.

It’s possible the comfort of their situation affected performances. How else to explain their 2-1 home defeat to Southampton in January, having obliterated the same opposition 9-0 in October?

And could it be that key performers Ben Chilwell and James Maddison have been affected by constant transfer speculation in the past few months?

Leicester celebrate as Hamza Choudhury (second left) puts them 3-0 up against Newcastle

Jamie Vardy scored a hat-trick as Leicester thrashed Southampton 9-0 back in October

But it was a different story in February as Southampton won 2-1 at the King Power Stadium

Leicester’s run-in 

Leicester host Chelsea in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup this Sunday before returning to league action

July 1 Everton (A)

July 4 Crystal Palace (H)

July 7 Arsenal (A)

July 12 Bournemouth (A)

July 15 Sheffield United (H)

July 18 Tottenham (A)

July 26 Man United (H)

Dates subject to change

In fairness to England left-back Chilwell, his goal at Watford on Saturday, which should have been enough to seal three points, was absolutely glorious.

But he has been playing with a £75million price tag hanging round his neck all season with Chelsea the apparent front-runners.

Maddison has been linked with Man United for some time though things seem to have cooled as the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has sharpened focus on transfer targets.

Unfortunately this is the reality when provincial clubs, even ones who have won the Premier League before, enjoy very good seasons.

Better resourced and more prestigious rivals will come knocking for Leicester’s best players, even if they’re currently below them in the table.

Regardless, it’s difficult to explain the flat and laboured performance against Brighton, a team that Leicester surely would have rolled over a few months ago.

There wasn’t a single shot on target after half-time as entertainment levels suffered and had it not been for Schmeichel’s penalty save, things would look a lot more troubling.

Chilwell’s excellent strike against Watford has been the highlight of Leicester’s return so far

What is for certain is that Leicester need to hit their stride again and it’s also true this season could yet be a historic one for them.

They have a good chance in the FA Cup, with a home quarter-final tie against Chelsea this Sunday, and a win or two from their next few league games should secure that top four finish.

But a repeat of Tuesday night’s dismal showing could see all their brilliant work of earlier in the season come to count for nothing.

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