Following last season’s ninth place finish, Leicester have kicked on again this term and are locked in an engaging battle for second with Manchester City at the moment. How would you summarise what you’ve seen so far?
At the moment they are on a tiny bit of a downturn in form, but on the whole, they’ve been excellent across the whole season. Brendan Rodgers has got the team playing very well; they look fluid going forward, defensively they’ve looked very strong and for a long period of this season, until Christmas, they had the best defence in the division. In both attack and defence they’ve been very strong, and they’ve set up a, potentially, very exciting second half of the season.
How serious are Leicester likely to take the FA Cup this season?
I would say very, it’s just unfortunate that this game falls between two midweek fixtures. Rodgers has often talked about the importance of domestic cups and if you look at his record in them, it makes for good reading; the draw against Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg was the first domestic cup game that he’d not won in 31. He really does take them seriously and everything he’s said suggests Leicester will take it seriously this season.
Also, it’s the one trophy Leicester have never won. They’ve got this record of reaching the final four times and never winning it, which is the most times a team has been runners-up in the competition’s history. For the club the FA Cup has always been a big thing, yet it’s difficult this time around because they’ve got a Premier League game the Wednesday before and the second leg against Villa. They’ve not been to a cup final in 20 years, so I think the latter will probably take precedence.
The end of the transfer window is fast-approaching - are the Foxes looking to strengthen in any particular area?
Yes, they want a centre-back. After selling Harry Maguire to Manchester United in the summer they tried to bring somebody in but couldn’t, so they promoted from within; they are a very well-run club, so they brought in centre-backs the season before in preparation of potential departures. Caglar Soyuncu has stepped up and has done very well but that hasn’t diminished the desire for a centre-back, so that’s something they are working on.
One of their targets was Merih Demiral at Juventus, but he recently ruptured his ACL and is no longer on their radar. I imagine they’ll try their hardest and may end up getting somebody in on loan, just to give them a bit of strength in depth, because Rodgers likes to experiment and occasionally plays with a back three. In general, the message is that if they don’t bring anybody in, it’s fine because this squad has got them to third in the league, to the semi-final of the Carabao Cup and the fourth round of the FA Cup. I don’t think there’s any desperate need for players.
If the season were to end today, who would you choose as your Player of the Year?
I think you could argue Soyuncu for exceeding expectations. Coming into the season knowing he was going to have to step up to replace Maguire, he was seen as possibly the weak point of the team, but he’s done exceptionally well. He’s been really strong and seems to have cut out the occasional rushed decisions that he made last season. Next to him, Jonny Evans has been very, very good. He’s just clearly an excellent defender who reads the game superbly, organises the defence very well and if Leicester’s defensive record ends up sealing a Champions League spot, that’s largely down to him.
But then there’s Jamie Vardy and he’s never won Leicester’s Player of the Season award, believe it or not. He should have won it the season before last when Maguire won it, though. Rodgers has certainly helped his game in the sense that he no longer has to chase full-backs around - he is an out-and-out striker. I still think he’s slightly underrated and it’s maybe assumed by outsiders that he’s just very quick, gets onto the last defender and scores, but actually his first touch is very good, his movement in the box is excellent, his link-up play has improved so much since he signed from Fleetwood. He has improved in all those areas, so if I had to pick one, I’d say Vardy.
Brendan Rodgers shook things up a little bit, in terms of team selection, for the third-round tie against Wigan three weeks ago. Is he likely to do so again at Griffin Park?
I think so, just because of the fixture congestion at the moment. I think you’ll see a second string of sorts and Leicester fans are a little bit worried about that because Brentford are going so well in the Championship. So you’ll see the likes of James Justin, a full-back they signed from Luton in the summer, title-winning left-back Christian Fuchs and Kelechi Iheanacho, who’s done really well when he’s been called upon over the last and has a pretty good goalscoring record.
It’s a little bit tricky in midfield as they are a little bit short on midfielders, but maybe Papy Mendy and Dennis Praet might play. It’ll probably be a mix of second-string players and regular first team players, with around eight or nine changes from the Premier League game against West Ham.
In the last FA Cup meeting between these two sides, back in February 1949, Leicester ran out 2-0 winners, but what’s your score prediction for this one?
This is the most excited Leicester fans have been for a cup draw in a long time, just because it feels like they are going to be playing a new team. Even though Leicester will make changes, they still have a lot of talent. I don’t want to be too negative, but I’m going to sit on the fence and say it’ll finish 1-1 and it will go to a replay that both sides would probably rather avoid!