At the time of writing, Leicester are lingering in the middle of the Premier League table following a very mixed start across the board. What have you made of what you have seen so far?
It could have been worse, but compared to how they started the last two seasons under Brendan Rodgers, they have certainly been short of their best form. During those two previous seasons, everything seemed to click and they played very well – that just hasn’t happened this season; the defence has looked wobbly and the attack has looked short on creativity, but they have managed to get results because of the fine form of Jamie Vardy, who is defying his years once again and is among the leading scorers in the Premier League. So they have managed to pick up points, perhaps in some games, where they haven’t deserved any. It has been a difficult start because this wasn’t expected of Leicester. They do have important players out injured: Wesley Fofana – who was one of their best players last season – broke his leg in pre-season and Jonny Evans hasn’t started a game yet this season either. But they have had injuries over the past few years and have always managed to cope, produce decent performances and get wins on the board. They have looked vulnerable in defence and that is spreading throughout the team; though they have had a decent amount of possession in the games they have played, they haven’t made good use of that.
Given their fifth-place finishes over the past two seasons, is there any worry that they have already been beaten by West Ham and Brighton and held to a draw by Crystal Palace – three teams who will no doubt have designs on top 10 finishes?
In a sense, there is that feeling already. At the start of the season, Leicester would have been wanting to look up to the top four to try and break into that, but I think already now it will be a case of wanting to defend their position from the last couple of seasons against those teams that have started pretty well. If you look at the gap between Leicester and the top four and Leicester and the teams that finished behind them, it’s clear that the latter have caught up and the top four have moved away a little bit. In terms of those games, I wouldn’t say the results were too much of a surprise, it has just been the performances overall that have been the concern so far. They have been the sorts of performances that indicate further poor results are on the horizon, not the sorts of performances where you can say they have been unlucky.
The Foxes are back in the Europa League this term where they have drawn with Napoli, been narrowly beaten by Legia Warsaw and – by the time of this game – will have faced Spartak Moscow, too. After exiting in the round of 32 last season, how eager are they to get things back on track in that competition?
I think it would have been a key thing, certainly for the players, because this is the reward for their achievements. There was the disappointment at missing out on a Champions League spot at the end of the last two seasons, but, really, they did overachieve to finish fifth. If you look at the budget and the expenditure, you would probably say Leicester should be finishing around eighth, so this is their reward and I think they would want to do well. They breezed through the group stage last season, but ended up being knocked out in the first knockout round, which came in a period where they had a lot of injuries. It will be a bigger deal to maybe go further this time now they have won the FA Cup, which they hadn’t done before, and winning a European trophy is not something they have done before so from that point of view, you could say they may have made that their focus. The group stage hasn’t started as well as they would have wanted, though, and it means they probably can’t afford to rotate as much as they would have liked in the latter games in the group. With the introduction of the Europa Conference League, the pool of teams in the Europa League does feel a lot stronger and Leicester have got Napoli in their group, who have been flying in Serie A, the Polish champions in Legia - who, to reach the group stage, knocked out Slavia Prague, who had knocked out Leicester last season – and Spartak Moscow, the most successful club in Russian history. It feels on par with the level of difficulty they faced in the Champions League five years ago, when they were up against Porto, FC Copenhagen and Club Brugge.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Sunday?
The easy answer is Vardy. I think there was a feeling towards the end of last season that maybe it was the beginning of the end for him. After Christmas, he scored two goals from open play in all competitions, and it felt like this was a player whose form was starting to come down, which will happen at some point because he is 34. He started this season with six goals in seven Premier League games and he looks very sharp. His movement is very good and he has changed his game because the Vardy who won the title was very quick and scared defences by running at them. Now he is a really good fox in the box, if you like; he knows where the ball is going to be and he has been finishing extremely well. It’s testament to the team that they have managed to keep a player performing so well even at an age where most players do have a drop in form. It’s not often that 34-year-old strikers are the leading strikers for a team as high as Leicester in the league.
How is Brendan Rodgers likely to set up his side in west London?
Previously, that would have been easy, but because of the way the start has gone, it’s slightly more difficult. Before the international break, Rodgers said he would have to look at the way he sets up the team because it isn’t working at the minute, so essentially, he is still experimenting to try and find the best option to solve their dilemmas. The formation they have started more regularly with this season is a 4-2-3-1, with forward-thinking full-backs. It’s almost asymmetrical in that the right-back – whether that is Timothy Castagne or Ricardo Pereira – will be expected to push on and play as a winger or certainly a wing-back and the left-back – which has tended to be Ryan Bertrand – drops in and forms a back three with the centre-backs. Then there will be two central midfielders, one of whom is likely to be Youri Tielemans and two wide players in Harvey Barnes and Ademola Lookman. It is still a team with a hell of a lot of talent, it just isn’t clicking for them at the moment.
The last two meetings have come in the FA Cup over the past two years, with Leicester unbeaten against Brentford in the last eight, stretching all the way back to 1953. What’s your score prediction for this one?
With the way Brentford have been playing and the results they have been picking up, I think Leicester are now in a position where they would be happy with a draw. I will say 1-1, with Leicester taking the lead and Brentford replying.