Soccer

Can Leicester City Pull Off an Upset in Brendan Rodgers Return to Liverpool?

Returning to the sight of a previous failure can go one of two ways: it can either open up painful memories or be a proud indicator of personal growth. This weekend, Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers will be hoping for the latter as he takes his Foxes to Liverpool.

Four years after the Merseyside club sacked Rodgers, he’s returning to Anfield looking to make a statement. But can his Leicester squad really upset the European Champions at home?

Rodgers’ time at Liverpool

After two strong seasons with Swansea City, Brendan Rodgers was hired by Liverpool to take over from Kenny Dalglish. While the Reds didn’t do anything amazing during his first season in charge, things would change in 2013-14.

Behind a career year from striker Luis Suarez, Liverpool rattled off an 11 game unbeaten run, landing them in pole position for the Premier League title. They had a five-point cushion with only three matches to play, but the unthinkable happened. An infamous slip from Steven Gerrard cost Liverpool the game against Chelsea, and a draw against Crystal Palace proved to be a death blow. Rodgers was named Manager of the Year, but that award was no consolation for the league title that slipped through his hands.

After that season, Suarez departed for Barcelona; Liverpool was never the same without their mercurial striker. The club would finish in sixth place in 2014-15, and Rodgers would be sacked 10 games into the next campaign.

Liverpool’s Current Dominance

Rodgers was replaced by Jurgen Klopp, who has transformed Liverpool into an offensive juggernaut. Despite their potential going forward, however, the team excels in all three areas of the pitch.

Everything starts with the front trio of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah. Firmino nominally plays as a central striker, but frequently withdraws into more of a false-nine role, giving his two pacy wingers space to attack the goal; the front three also press exceptionally well, forcing turnovers that quickly turn into Liverpool attacks.

The midfield, usually consisting of Jordan Henderson, Fahinho, and Georginio Wijnaldum, is full of athleticism and mops up loose balls to keep Liverpool on the front foot. Fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson act almost as wingers, whipping in crosses, while Virgil van Dijk serves as the team’s deepest cover.

As European champions and Premier League runners up, Liverpool are one of the world’s best club sides; Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City squad, however, won’t be intimidated.

Leicester City’s top four aspirations

Despite selling center-back Harry Maguire in the summer, Leicester City look like a strong side. Their defense hasn’t looked particularly troubled—Caglar Soyuncu has filled Maguire’s role admirably and the Foxes boast two promising full backs—but the team’s real promise lies higher up the pitch.

Wilfred Ndidi anchors the midfield, giving James Maddison room to push forward; in his second year in the Premier League, the young Englishman is establishing himself a promising attacking talent. The Foxes have plenty of other exciting young players, like Youri Tielemans and Harvey Barnes, but Rodgers rarely deploys them all together, preferring to err on the side of caution.

Can Leicester pull off the upset?

Going to Anfield is never easy, but Leicester should have enough talent to put up a fight. While their defense might not be able to hold out against the trio of Firmini, Mane, and Salah, the Foxes will enter the match feeling they can score; Liverpool’s defense seems to be a bit weaker than last year and Jamie Vardy, for all of his detractors, is a pure finisher.

Fittingly, the deciding factor in this match may be Rodgers, himself. The manager is known for his conservative approach and may return to Anfield with a bit of an inferiority complex. If Leicester tries to absorb pressure, it will be a long 90 minutes but, if Rodgers sets his young players free, they could put the entire league on notice.