When the dust settles on Leicester City’s 2021-22 season and Brendan Rodgers has time to reflect, he’ll likely be hit with an idea of what could have been.
In many ways, it was a season of missed opportunities.
Leicester dropped points which could have seen them mount a stronger challenge for European qualification via the Premier League, notably when they conspired to allow substitute Steven Bergwijn to score twice in injury time to somehow turn a 2-1 win over Tottenham in January. in a 3-2 loss.
Rodgers is still puzzled as to how they managed to do this to each other.
Leicester were leading that night with the game clock showing 94:51. It was the last time a team won a Premier League game only to lose in the competition’s 30 years. This club set records in their time, but this is one they won’t cherish.
“I made it clear to the guys afterwards – you can’t lose this game,” Rodgers said. ” You come from can not lose that.
There have been other such punches. Craig Dawson’s late equalizer for West Ham United at the King Power Stadium three weeks after Tottenham’s debacle and Takumi Minamino’s final leveler when Leicester were on the verge of knocking out eventual Carabao Cup winners just before Christmas.
They also had progress in the Europa League knockout stage within reach and let it slip away.
Leicester should have controlled Group C, but they hoped they could still fight their way through it while prioritizing their Premier League campaign. Even when trailing 3-2 at Napoli, they would have advanced had Legia Warsaw’s Tomas Pekhart converted a 98th-minute penalty in the other group final that would have knocked out Spartak Moscow instead. So close and yet so far.
Even last Thursday, after dropping to the Europa League Round of 16 instead, Leicester had the opportunity to put a marker on Roma and take the lead for the second leg of the semi-final at the Stadio. Olimpico this week after dominating the home game but they couldn’t stand it as the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
There has been a huge easing of the upheaval caused by so many injuries and illnesses. There has been very little stability as a result.
Now, however, those issues have eased and Rodgers has almost a full squad to choose from – enough to make eight changes for the rematch with Spurs yesterday.
That’s because Leicester have another great opportunity to make this season as memorable as their FA Cup final victory made the last. It’s a chance they can’t afford to look past. It’s all or nothing – do or die in Rome Thursday night. Aren’t you amused?!
Rodgers has pledged to respect every game, but with the trip to Rome in mind, the squad he sent against Tottenham revealed that while he may think every game is equal, some are more equal that others.
He wasn’t the only one thinking of traveling further than north London.
The 3,038 away supporters tucked into the corner of the new White Hart Lane constantly chanted that they were on their way to Albania – the capital Tirana hosts the final on May 25 – even as they left the stadium after witnessing a sobering 3-1 defeat. . There were no dissenting voices among them that Rodgers had fielded a scratch team on this occasion. Rome is also their priority.
The learning curve was steep for Rodgers’ young team. Some lessons they haven’t learned, like defending from set pieces. There was an air of inevitability that they conceded the game’s first goal from a corner kick. Just as inevitably, it was Harry Kane who marked it. Son Heung-min’s excellent brace also made the result inevitable.
“We haven’t been aggressive in that area (set piece) all season,” admitted Rodgers. “For the second goal, we cannot lose this challenge (Caglar Soyuncu was beaten by Cristian Romero). Weak goals at times have cost us this season.
There were 23 more minutes for Jamie Vardy, who still looks rusty after being out for more than a month with a knee injury, but came close to scoring with a dazzling header, and a superb consolation strike from Kelechi Iheanacho in stoppage time. But in truth, it was an unwelcome distraction from what’s to come on Thursday.
None of the players who entered the team advanced their cause much by getting involved in Roma, although Iheanacho’s strike was the highlight and Patson Daka hit a post and crashed into the floor.
Even as Jon Moss whistled to end proceedings, Rodgers may have already been thinking about how Leicester can only become the fourth team to beat Roma on their own ground all season. Others? Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus.
This plan is clearly already established. Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall and James Maddison will be back. Neither of them even made it to London yesterday on precautionary grounds due to a tight calf and hip problem respectively. Jonny Evans was also wrapped in cotton on his sofa, watching from afar. Only Kasper Schmeichel, Timothy Castagne and Marc Albrighton ventured out of the 11 players who started the first leg.
Ricardo Pereira was also left at home, while James Justin was an unused substitute. Could it be that Rodgers is watching these two work in tandem on the right flank in Rome, given Albrighton played the entire game against Spurs? It would provide extra security but Leicester need the win so will it be a two wing attack involving both Harvey Barnes and Ademola Lookman, two others who have been on the bench throughout of yesterday’s defeat?
“In other circumstances, we could have been very strong today and Thursday, but the nature of our season, riddled with injuries, players coming back, I can’t afford to risk them three times in one week,” Rodgers explained. “Thursday’s game could also go to extra time, so I was aware of that.
“It’s good to be able to do that (make changes) and still be competitive. Going forward next year, if we can keep the team fit and add one or two, we could be there again. -high.
After all the troubled waters Rodgers and Leicester have navigated this season, they are still dreaming of a historic end.
Rome is their season on a plate. They just have to try their luck this time.
(Photo: Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)