t’s take two for Brendan Rodgers, who has his first home match in charge of Leicester City on Saturday when the Foxes welcome relegation-threatened Fulham to King Power Stadium.
Leicester City (10-5-14) are comfortably mid-table but plotted a course for the future in prying Rodgers from Celtic. The one-time Liverpool and Swansea City manager oversaw a 2-1 loss at Watford in his Premier League return, with the Foxes suffering their sixth loss in eight league matches (1-1-6) on Andre Gray’s stoppage-time goal for the Hornets.
The most notable switch from predecessor Claude Puel was Rodgers’ decision to go to a three-man back while allowing Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira freedom to go forward on the flanks. Playmaker James Maddison was paired with Harvey Barnes underneath lone striker Jamie Vardy, who nearly stole a point for Leicester with his 75th-minute equaliser.
The veteran endured after a heavy first-half collision with Watford keeper Ben Foster, not leaving until the 83rd minute, but Rodgers said the one-time England international and Foxes all-time leading Premier League scorer should be good to go for this encounter.
“”He’s fine, he took a bad knock, he needed a couple of stitches in his tongue, which was part of the collision,” Rodgers said at his Thursday news conference. “He’s trained very well and, although we’ve got over 24 hours to go, he’ll be fine for the weekend. It hasn’t stopped him talking, mind!”
It was the first full week of practice under Rodgers since his arrival in the Midlands, and while he noted to The Times after the loss to Watford that “there’s talent, but it needs structure and it needs focus,” he has liked what he’s seen early on as Leicester look to build a foundation for next season.
“I’ve found a bunch of players that want to get better and improve. Training is intense, they’ve coped with it well and they’re only going to get better,” the gaffer noted. “We work on the process every day and the players have been absolutely fantastic with their focus and their willingness to learn.
“We want to help and improve them and see where we’re at by the end of the season.”
On their third manager of the season, Fulham (4-5-20) are running out of road to prevent a return to the Championship following their promotion last term. The Cottagers are second-bottom of the table and 10 points from safety with nine matches remaining.
Fulham showed purpose in their first match under caretaker manager Scott Parker, promoted from coaching the club’s youth side, but it was not enough in an entertaining 2-1 derby loss at home to Chelsea on Sunday. Playing more forward similar to their run in the Championship, Fulham gave the London rivals fits for a half-hour and had a deserved equaliser through Calum Chambers.
But as has been the case so often for Fulham, their defence was breached as the deadlock lasted four minutes before Eden Hazard set up Jorginho on 31 minutes for what proved to be the match-winner and Fulham’s fifth loss on the spin.
“When you’re in the position we’re in, every game is a must win game. We understand that every game is tough, we know the challenges and the predicament we are in,” Parker said at his Thursday press conference. “There was a real focus to try and unite the club and bring the fans closer to the players. We understand we are in a job to win games. I’d be lying if I said it was easy. Whilst it’s realistic to at least try and stay up we will still give it everything.
“The heart and determination against Chelsea was excellent. That was a foundation we need to build upon. At this moment in time it’s a role for nine games that I’ve been put in charge of. Every decision I make will be in the best interest of Fulham Football Club which will hopefully improve them. I never doubted that we would get the reaction we did. The tough job is backing that up with another similar performance.”
One of Parker’s tasks down the stretch will be to keep the confidence of starlet Ryan Sessegnon high. Predecessor Claudio Ranieri never found a comfort zone using the England international, and his desire to keep the club out of the drop resulted in defence-first lineups that often left the teenager starting on the bench.
Sessegnon had a potential late equaliser correctly chalked off for offsides, and it has been a steep learning curve for the 18-year-old with just two goals in 29 matches in all competitions after totaling 16 in helping Fulham win promotion last term.
“For someone at such a young age to do what he did last year, and even now for someone at such a young age to be in the top league which is the best in the world is amazing,” Parker recently noted to football.london. “Like anything, when you’re a young boy, you have moments when you have little dips. When you’re young, sometimes it’s harder to deal with than when you’re older and have past experience.”
The teams played to a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture at Craven Cottage in December, with Maddison’s goal on 74 minutes canceling Aboubakar Kamara’s late first-half marker. Leicester City are winless in five Premier League matches (0-3-2) versus Fulham, with Maddison’s goal the lone strike in 450 top-flight minutes.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Leicester City 3, Fulham 1.