It’s been excellent, particularly because they’ve managed to negotiate the Europa League as well. I think a drop-off was expected because of those extra games but they managed to win their group and also do well in the Premier League and challenge for the top four again, as they did for the majority of last season. I think there’s a feeling that it could perhaps have been even better because of some of the results they’ve had; they’ve had a few really big away wins but then some really disappointing home defeats. They’ve beaten Arsenal, Man City and Spurs away from home, which were really big results that they weren’t expecting to get in games they’ve traditionally struggled in, but they’ve also lost at home to West Ham, Aston Villa, Fulham and Everton, games that, coming into the season, they’d have looked at and expected 10-12 points from. On the whole, though, it’s been very pleasing.
As you mentioned, the Foxes are through to the knockout stages of the Europa League and, perhaps more importantly, are right in the hunt for a second Premier League title. How much of a priority is the FA Cup this term?
That’s an interesting one. I thought, because being in Europe is such a rare thing for Leicester, it would be a case that they are in the FA Cup every year, that’s not going to change, so if that takes a backseat this year, it’s not a problem because they’ve got the Europa League and the Premier League and there’s something else to compete for. That doesn’t seem to be the case at all. The game against Stoke in the third round was one where they could have rotated but they only made two changes, which were both enforced because of injuries, so, essentially, as strong a team as possible was put out, which, I think, suggests how they are approaching it. It’s still a huge competition for Leicester because they’ve been in the final four times and lost each one, so it’s a big thing for the fanbase and I think Brendan Rodgers appreciates that. Whether he’ll be able to field the strongest possible team for the Brentford game is slightly tricky because it falls between two midweek Premier League games against Chelsea and Everton. I know he rotated a fair bit for the tie last season and I could see something similar just because of where it’s falling in the schedule.
Other than the handful of players who’ve been loaned out this month, are Leicester looking to complete any business before the end of the transfer window?
No, I don’t think so because, like most clubs, finances are pretty tight at the minute and also January is never a particularly good time to do business because clubs don’t want to lose their players and certainly not their best players. Leicester are now at a level where any other clubs’ out-of-favour players, who they might be able to get for a cheaper price, are not good enough; they would need to buy from a club who are doing really well and, of course, those players cost a little bit more money. I think there might be a few outgoings, possibly was Islam Slimani, Demarai Gray and maybe Hamza Choudhury as well; players who’ve been on the fringes a little bit and whose opportunities for game time are likely to be even fewer in the second half of the season, with the club unlikely to rotate as often for the Europa League now they are in the knockout stages.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Saturday?
It’s easy to say the obvious ones but I’m sure they’ll all know about Jamie Vardy and James Maddison! Leicester fans, at the minute, would probably say James Justin (pictured above). He was bought from Luton when they’d just been promoted from League One but he’d not played at Championship level before and he came in last season as a back-up full-back to both Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell and played every now and again. He looked a little bit raw, as you might expect of a young player coming from League One, but Pereira has now been injured since March and Justin has blossomed into a really key player for Leicester. He’s played more football than any other player in the team and, as of right now, has played 18 straight games of 90 minutes, a run going back to October, in all competitions. He’s been really solid defensively and he’s been improving in attack as well. He’s been a really important player for Leicester and I think lots of fans would say he’s a contender for Player of the Season, even though, if you’re ranking players by how big of a name they are, he’s some way down the list. His form over the last few months shows he’s got a very big future ahead of him and I think there’s even starting to be some England talk now. Whether he’ll be too influential I don’t know, but he’s certainly one to watch out for in general.
How is Brendan Rodgers likely to set up his side in west London?
They’ve experimented with a back three at times this season but I don’t think they’ll go for that. I think they’ll stick with a 4-2-3-1. As for the players in it, that’s slightly more difficult to predict because of the Premier League games either side. You’d expect to see Kelechi Iheanacho – who scored the winner last season – to start up front, while we might see a change of centre-backs, with Caglar Soyuncu – who was in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year last season but has struggled with injuries this season – potentially given a game, maybe even Pereira, too. Even if Leicester do rotate, they’ll be bringing a few really big names into the team, just because of how injuries have left the team for much of the season.
It’s two days short of a year since Kelechi Iheanacho’s goal settled last season’s FA Cup fourth round clash at Griffin Park. What’s your score prediction this time around?
I think Brentford are a terrific team and I was hoping they got promoted last season. I know they aren’t top of the Championship at the moment but it does feel like they are the most difficult Championship side to face. I’ll say 1-1 in regular time and Leicester to win on penalties, because they’ve got a good recent record in shootouts.
Sunday's game is exclusively live on BT Sport One.
You will not be able to watch live on iFollow Brentford but there will be live commentary from the Brentford Community Stadium with Mark Burridge and the team.
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