Sunday 19 May 2019

Paul Hayward: 'Rodgers can't fulfil role of kingmaker as City's rock keeps them rolling to title'


Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers. Photo: Getty Images
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Hayward

Brendan Rodgers did his best to win the Premier League title at Liverpool.

Then he had a second go at making Anfield the home of the champions - as manager of Leicester City.

Even at this late stage - especially at this late stage - external threats can mess with a title race in which all eyes have been on Liverpool and Manchester City.

As they would be, after the pair traded 20 consecutive league wins to get to this point.

Liverpool's good fortune and gamesmanship at Newcastle on Saturday night was followed by a stiff test for City against a side revived by Rodgers, whose very good Liverpool team went slipping and sliding on the run-in.

Advance, Vincent Kompany, with a spectacular goal that affirmed his place alongside Sergio Aguero as a rock of the modern Manchester City.

Of all the people, of all the audacious hits to lift 70 minutes of stress.

Oh for a quiet night, City must have thought. All they wanted was a nice trip to the Sussex seaside on Sunday with their noses in front.

Pep Guardiola's men are hardly faint of heart. But they would not have legislated for the ninth-placed team in the table causing them so many problems in the final 180 minutes of a campaign which they hope to end with a domestic treble.

On Sunday by 5pm, one of two mighty Premier League sides will be told all their talent and commitment were in vain.

There will be no disgrace for whichever club that fate befalls.

But this is the time of turning points, when small errors are magnified.

Guardiola makes few, but starting with Phil Foden ahead of Leroy Sane against Leicester must be regarded as one.

Life happens fast. Three years ago this month, Leicester were being crowned as English champions in a tale that was told around the world.

The top tier's ultimate underdog romance seems an age ago.

Three seasons later, Leicester were potential kingmakers, in a season of remarkable recovery.

Autumn brought a fireball to the King Power Stadium when the owner's helicopter crashed at night in a car park at the back of a ground that was a provincial backwater until Claudio Ranieri's team turned it into Hollywood.

Managerial turmoil has gripped them for much of the last three years. But Rodgers - and some good recruitment - turned them back into "influencers".

And the backdrop to City's 37th league outing was the spiralling of Manchester United, who used to own football in this metropolis - or thought they did, even after Sheikh Mansour bought the lesser of the two clubs.

Naturally, the last club to defend a Premier League title were United, with their hat-trick from 2007-2009, but the balance of power has shifted.

By the time this game kicked off, Jamie Vardy had been built into a destroyer of dreams. It was all very 2016, the year Vardy led the charge, buzzing on to balls over the top of centre-backs and crashing them into the net.

And Vardy, we know, is a man for the big occasion, with 10 goals in nine league games since Claude Puel was sacked and 31 against top-six sides in his Premier League career.

As it turned out, Leicester's midfield were a bigger problem.

After one former Liverpool manager, Rafa Benitez, failed to do his old club a favour on Saturday night, it fell to another, Rodgers, to blow a hole in City's title defence with six days of the season left.

Or so our media narrative ran. Ex-managers are not consumed with visions of making their former employers look good.

The real reason Rodgers re-emerged as a factor in this title race is that he has inspired Leicester's players to work and run and enjoy playing again.

Past associations had nothing to do with it. City had racked up 12 consecutive league wins, scoring 27 goals and conceding only three, but in the first half, those numbers were no defence against Leicester's enthusiasm and energy.

One short of a 100th home goal in all competitions, City were led in their quest to reach Brighton on Sunday in front by Bernardo Silva, who set a standard few of his team-mates could match.

Tactical fouling of a desperate hue was in evidence when City lost the ball.

But then up stepped old Vinny, the ancient centre-back, to crash one in, and grab the limelight back off Virgil van Dijk. He also showed the team's artists how to do it. Just one more victory needed.

© The Daily Telegraph, London

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