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13th Sep 2019

Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester transformation highlights harsh truths for Solskjaer

Wayne Farry

It hasn’t taken long for him to get Leicester purring

Brendan Rodgers has been manager of Leicester City since February 2019. His decision to leave Celtic for the Foxes was immediately questioned – particularly by supporters at Parkhead – over a perceived lack of ambition.

Why leave Celtic – a massive club who at the time were on the verge of an historic ‘treble treble’ – for a mid-table team in the Premier League? Why not see the season through and potentially wait for a bigger job?

Just over six months later, there is no more confusion or questions over the ‘why’ of the move. It makes total sense and Rodgers has been entirely justified.

That’s because in the space of six months the former Liverpool and Swansea manager has managed to turn a group of players that had stagnated under their previous coach into a well-oiled machine.

Going into their Premier League match at the weekend against Manchester United as one of only three unbeaten sides in the league this season, Leicester will be acutely aware of the sweeping generalisations that will follow the result of the game.

The Foxes have been earmarked as one of a number of teams who could supplant United in the top six of the league thanks to a summer which saw them lose just one key player (to United in Harry Maguire) and reinforce impressively.

That may well happen, but going into Saturday afternoon’s game it will be the speed with which Leicester’s players have bought into Rodgers philosophy, as well as the success of his signings, that will likely be on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s mind, as he continues to struggle to put an imprint on his own team’s style.

Plenty of football managers attempt to make out that changing a team’s style of play and improving their fortunes is a monumental and difficult task. This is often true, but some managers make it look more easy than others.

Rodgers has done it in less than 20 games with Leicester, and he has done so by playing to his team’s strengths.

This is a side that won the league playing fast-paced counter-attacking football that moved at speed and resulted in the ball being put on a plate for Jamie Vardy.

Despite many of that league-winning squad now gone, that is still their strong suit. Claude Puel tried in vain to get them to play a more considered, methodical and slow form of the game, and it would be his undoing. Rodgers recognised quickly that success would come quicker if they played a certain way, and has carried that through.

He’s combined this with a focus on youth development – both internal and external – which has seen the likes of Youri Tielemans, Harvey Barnes, Hamza Choudhury, Çağlar Söyüncü and James Maddison become integral this season.

It has been a no fuss, quietly solid job – one conducted without the same level of pressure felt at Old Trafford, but it is by no means pressure free.

Leicester, both fans and the club itself, consider themselves a top Premier League team and will feel – after their seasons of lull following that title win – that this is the perfect opportunity to shake things up among the league’s elite.

For all of the bluster and David Brent-style rhetoric, Rodgers is proving – as he did at Swansea and Liverpool before – that he is a tactician to be reckoned with.

It seems hard to imagine now, but Solskjaer appeared to have figured out the formula instantly after he joined United last season, defeating all before him during a blistering run that saw him heralded a hero yet again.

That didn’t last, and the club have been on a seemingly unstoppable decline since March.

The Norwegian’s only apparent remedy for this seems to be talk about going back to basics, scoring “dirty goals” and uttering more platitudes that don’t really mean anything – and nearly a year on from his appointment as interim manager he seems no closer to figuring out either what style his team should have or what players are best suited to certain roles.

That talk, and his inability to arrest the team’s slide, has raised serious concerns that Solskjaer is little more than a cheerleader, always on hand to give a quote about the club’s illustrious history, but unable to give a clear vision of how a future under his stewardship would be anywhere near as successful.

When Solskjaer peers into the opposition dugout on Saturday, he’ll be looking at a manager and a team under no illusions over what they intend to do on the day, who are confident in their abilities and who possess a bright future.

That reality will remain out of reach for Solskjaer until he learns a lesson that Rodgers learned a long time ago: actions speak considerably louder than words.