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Thursday 23 January 2020

Six days to make or break a season

Rodgers' side are not getting respect they deserve as title challengers

Brendan Rodgers expects his Leicester side to be even better in the second half of the season
Brendan Rodgers expects his Leicester side to be even better in the second half of the season

It's not quite Six Days That Changed The World, but nevertheless Leicester City and Brendan Rodgers have a chance to shape history.

The Northern Irishman, who took charge at the King Power Stadium in February, should not be underestimated.

Rodgers has brought what appeared to be a struggling team to second in the table without any great fuss.

Yet a perception still exists that the Foxes are a mid-table team who got lucky and inadvertently slipped into the upper echelons of the league due to misfortune on the part of Manchester City, Spurs and Chelsea.

It's as if the club's 2016 League triumph was a freak result.

When Leicester went to Villa Park earlier this month and handed Dean Smith's side a comprehensive 4-1 drubbing, manager Rodgers noted, "After Manchester United won at Manchester City, a caption came up after the game about how far Manchester City are away from Liverpool."

It stung that, despite being ahead of City, Leicester were being overlooked.

"I don't think anybody expects us to be anywhere near the top," he shrugged, adding: "We just get on with our job, trying to improve our performance levels."

Rodgers' players can make their own statement at the Etihad tomorrow.

A Leicester win against the champions would be the football equivalent of "the shot that was heard around the world."

Not only would the Foxes extend their lead over Man City to seven points, but Rodgers would have further damaged what has been regarded as an aura of invincibility around the highly decorated Pep Guardiola.

At this stage in the season, Leicester under Rodgers have earned more points than they did with Claudio Ranieri the season they were crowned Premier League champions.

While it's a case of 'one game at a time', Leicester supporters know that following their match against City tomorrow, the next contest will be against visiting league leaders Liverpool on Thursday.

Rodgers is no fresh-faced newbie so he wasn't giving hostages to fortune last week when he acknowledged, "Manchester City and Liverpool are both incredible teams and have shown last year how good they were. For us, we know that we are constantly trying to improve and looking to close the gap."

They can do that by consistently winning.

Rodgers, a former Liverpool and Glasgow Celtic manager, is committed to building something permanent at Leicester.

He recently signed a contract extension which will see him with the club until 2025.

He indicated both his ambition and the challenge when he said, "We don't have the finances of a top-six club, so it's about whether we can do it another way, a different way."

Leicester have enjoyed important big wins, both at home and abroad, over the decades. But in his relatively short time with the club, Rodgers (46) has already added to the club's mythology.

The history books won't forget the astonishing 9-0 win over Southampton away in October, a result that was the biggest ever away win in top-tier English football.

Both Jamie Vardy and Ayoze Perez scored hat-tricks that day.

With 16 goals in 17 games, Vardy is currently the Premier League's leading goalscorer, five ahead of Chelsea's Tammy Abraham.

That Vardy was denied a score, and Leicester had to settle for a single point, against second-from-last Norwich may be of concern ahead of tomorrow's clash with Guardiola's City.

But on Wednesday, Rodgers' team displayed a determination to win when edging past Everton on penalties to make the Carabao Cup semi-finals.

Might their exertions at Goodison take an edge off their performance tomorrow?

While City boss Pep Guardiola has been fielding questions about the loss of his assistant Mikel Arteta to Arsenal, the subject of his team's inconsistency has remained on the agenda.

But that demoralising 2-1 defeat by cross-town rivals Manchester United was followed by a 4-1 Champions League win against Dinamo Zagreb and a ruthless 3-0 away defeat of Arsenal last Sunday.

They also enjoyed a 3-1 Carabao Cup win against League One side Oxford on Wednesday.

There's much more than bragging rights at stake tomorrow when the two teams which are most likely to pose a threat to Liverpool's quest for a first league title in 30 years meet.

We haven't reached the half-way stage in the competition and both teams will want to be in a position to capitalise if Jurgen Klopp's side should experience a dip in form.

Tomorrow, Liverpool play Brazil's Flemengo in the FIFA World Club Cup final in Qatar and Klopp expects "a really tough game."

After their semi-final win against Mexican side Monterrey, Mo Salah said: "They were very aggressive against us and all of us were complaining about our legs."

On Thursday, when Liverpool travel to meet their closest rivals in the league, they'll get a sharp reminder of just what's at stake.

Jurgen Klopp would be wise to heed remarks made by Brendan Rodgers when he signed his Leicester contract extension.

"There's a busy period with a lot of points to play for," noted Rodgers. "And then we've the second half of the season to look forward to, which is when my teams normally improve."

"That's because they understand my methods even more," he explained. "So hopefully we can do that this time."

Six days. And two big defining games for Rodgers and Leicester.

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