Leicester City “could achieve something fantastic” and “quite easily” finish inside the top four of the Premier League this season, says ex-Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher.
The Foxes, who were surprise champions under Claudio Ranieri in 2015-16, are third with Brendan Rodgers in charge.
“Leicester have a spine of the team that is experienced – in Jonny Evans, Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel in goal. They have proven winners and young and exciting talent around them,” Fletcher told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“They could achieve something fantastic like breaking into the top four quite easily.”
Only Liverpool (49) and Manchester City (43) have gained more points than the 31 Leicester have collected since the end of February, when Rodgers was appointed to replace the sacked Claude Puel.
The Foxes had lost five of their previous six matches and were 12th at the time, before Rodgers lifted them to ninth, ending the season only five points away from Europa League qualification.
Their upward curve has continued this season with Leicester beating Tottenham and drawing against both Wolves and Chelsea, with a 1-0 loss at Manchester United their only league defeat.
Man-management key for Leicester’s fine form
Fletcher thinks Rodgers’ man-management has been crucial in improving Leicester, who have not finished inside the top eight in any of the three seasons since their title triumph.
“He would’ve seen the players [before taking the job] and thought ‘I can work with the squad and make them better’,” said Fletcher, who helped Manchester United win the Premier League five times.
“He would have thought ‘I can improve all these young players and they will buy into what I want to do’. Not only is he a magnificent tactician, he improves every player tactically and mentally, but he also cares for them.
“Every player I’ve spoken to – I know a lot of them from Celtic and some from Swansea and Liverpool – they said they loved working with him because he cared for them and worked to help them and make them better.
“I met a scout from Leicester and he said it was the first time a manager had come up to them, introduced themselves, spent five minutes with them and asked what he was up to.
“His [Rodgers’] people skills around the place, he is doing all this around the club. Receptionists, as you come into the door, they’re enjoying their job because the manager is taking time to speak to them.”
Striker Vardy only scored eight goals in 25 games in all competitions under Puel in 2018-19, then scored in the one game under caretaker boss Mike Stowell before ending the season with nine goals in 10 matches under Rodgers.
The former England international, whose 24 league goals were crucial in Leicester’s title success three years ago, has netted five times in seven games in this campaign, including twice in the 5-0 thrashing of Newcastle on Sunday. His minutes-per-goal ratio under Rodgers is better than under any of his other permanent Foxes managers, including Ranieri.
“Leicester play on the counter-attack because of Jamie Vardy so he needs to buy into it and he has done that,” said Fletcher.
“Vardy’s pace is invaluable, it stretches the opposition and it allows space for James Maddison, Ayoze Perez and Youri Tielemans and they have the quality for Vardy to finish it.”
|Jamie Vardy’s Premier League record with Leicester under their various managers|
|Manager||Time||Games||Minutes||Goals||Mins per goal||Assists|
|Nigel Pearson||Aug 14 – June 15||34||2,245||5||449.0||8|
|Claudio Ranieri||July 15 – Feb 17||58||4,841||29||166.9||8|
|Craig Shakespeare||Feb 17 – Oct 17||21||1,803||13||138.7||3|
|Michael Appleton||Oct 17||1||90||0||–||0|
|Claude Puel||Oct 17 – Feb 19||51||4,216||23||183.3||4|
|Mike Stowell||Feb 19||1||89||1||89.0||0|
|Brendan Rodgers||Feb 19 – present||17||1,521||14||108.6||2|
Former England striker Dion Dublin, also speaking on 5 Live, added: “Leicester won the league by playing incredibly simple football, to their strengths, not playing from the back or over-thinking it, quick attacks, surprising opponents, get it over the top and Brendan has gone back to ‘do your job in your position and we will be OK’.
“He has got them positive in the whole dressing room and everyone is pulling the same way. I was born in Leicester and my family still lives there and they say the city is bouncing – everyone believes he is doing the right things.
“He is making the players happy and smile and enjoy their jobs. If you give responsibility to the seniors then the kids will follow.”
‘Manchester United would be envious’
Fletcher and Dublin were talking before Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal, a result that left United in 10th, five points behind the Foxes, and the Gunners fourth, with two fewer points than Rodgers’ side.
Both pundits felt players from those two clubs would struggle to get into the current Leicester system.
“Manchester United is the biggest club in the world and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is trying to create what Leicester have got – a young, exciting, attacking squad that can grow together,” said Fletcher.
“It’s not right saying Manchester United would be looking at Leicester, but they [United] would be envious.”
Dublin added: “If you are choosing players now it’s very difficult with the way Leicester are playing to say ‘I would take him out and put that Manchester United or Arsenal player in’.
“Leicester at the moment have players that are more in form. [Youri] Tielemans is better than anybody [from United or Arsenal] on current form, [James] Maddison definitely, [Wilfried] Ndidi, as a defensive midfielder, is better than anything seen in these teams this season.”