Football News

Brendan Rodgers could match Kenny Dalglish’s top-four record with win over Chelsea

By Ben Green

Published: 13:02, 18 May 2021 | Updated: 10:55, 16 September 2022

Leicester City face Chelsea in another season-defining match on Tuesday night, just three days after their FA Cup final showdown.

Brendan Rodgers masterminded a first-ever FA Cup triumph for the Foxes, outwitting Thomas Tuchel 1-0 at Wembley on Saturday through a world-class Youri Tielemans strike.

It was a cagey affair in the capital, with chances proving a rare commodity and fans awaiting one moment of genius to separate the sides, which came through Tielemans’ ‘worldie’, before the East Midlands club survived a late scare as VAR ruled out Wes Morgan’s own goal.

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With domestic cup matters now decided for 2020/21, attention quickly returns to the Premier League top-four race, in which both Chelsea and Leicester are vying for a slot in next season’s Champions League.

Recent results have blown the pursuit of a top-four finish wide open, with Liverpool now clinging to the coattails of both Leicester in third and Chelsea in fourth with just two games to go, and Jurgen Klopp’s side could leapfrog either club depending on the result at Stamford Bridge.

In what is a proverbial six-pointer, if Chelsea fail to win and Liverpool beat a mathematically-safe Burnley on Wednesday evening, then they will climb above them, while defeat for the Foxes would offer a similar path to the elite continental table for Klopp.

However, Rodgers will feel confident of getting a result given how Saturday’s Wembley showpiece played out, and he could confirm Leicester’s place in next season’s Champions League with maximum reward back in the capital in midweek.

Should Rodgers once again outfox his German coeval, then he will become only the second British manager to finish in the top four of the Premier League with two different clubs after Kenny Dalglish (Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United).

The Northern Irish tactician famously came close to breaking Liverpool’s Premier League title duck in 2013/14, finishing a close second to Manchester City after that infamous 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace in what is now colloquially known as ‘Crystanbul’ scuppered their hopes of silverware.

However, that second-placed finish was still enough to end Liverpool’s five-year exile from the Champions League, and now he can produce similar heroics and keep the Foxes fairytale alive, ending their four-year absence from UEFA’s flagship competition.

Unfortunately the omens don’t point favourably in Leicester’s direction; not only have they surprisingly failed to win their final away league game in any of the last six seasons (two draws, four defeats), losing each of the last four in a row, but Chelsea have also not lost their final home league game in any of the last 18 seasons.

The Blues’ last final home defeat came in the 2001/02 campaign, in which Claudio Ranieri’s side came up short 3-1 to Aston Villa in the season’s curtain-closer, with goals from Peter Crouch, Darius Vassell and Dion Dublin cancelling out Eidur Gudjohnsen’s second-half penalty.

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Iheanacho’s ‘Tuesday’ concern

Few players have encapsulated the scintillating form of Leicester this season more than Kelechi Iheanacho, who has started 2021 like a house on fire and given Rodgers’ side a real adrenaline shot since the turn of the year.

Such has been the Nigerian’s form post-festive period, that only Harry Kane (13) has netted more goals than him in the Premier League (11) in 2021, while his two additional assists makes him the second-most productive player this year.

However, if Iheanacho is going to trade Thursday night football for Tuesday nights, such is the Champions League schedule, then he will need to start hitting his midweek stride for Leicester.

As it stands, Iheanacho has scored a Premier League goal on six different days of the week, with Tuesday being the only day in which he has so far failed to deliver.

Should he score in this game, then he’ll be the first player in Premier League history to score on all seven days of the week within a single season.

And that is a scenario not beyond the realms of possibility. The marksman had a quiet afternoon against Chelsea at the weekend, but former Scotland striker Ally McCoist believes the 24-year-old is an ‘instinctive finisher’ unlike Timo Werner, who he will face once against in midweek.

“I can see him thinking about the chance,” McCoist said of Werner last month, “whereas Iheanacho doesn’t think about it, if he’s on a run. Iheanacho just comes in and doesn’t think about it.”