FA Cup final: Leicester look to 'create an incredible legacy' against Chelsea
Leicester have the unwanted distinction of playing four finals and no wins
Gary Lineker was an eight-year-old supporter who cried on his way back to the Midlands. It was 1969 and his boyhood club’s fourth FA Cup final. And, until now, their last.
Leicester were beaten by Manchester City then and while Lineker’s career brought him a Golden Boot in the World Cup, it did not produce silverware with his hometown club.
Leicester have the unwanted distinction of being alone in playing at least four FA Cup finals and winning none. Even as the 2016 Premier League title was a historic achievement, they are eyeing another. This is their final frontier.
“To be able to lead Leicester City out [in an FA Cup final] for the first time in over 50 years, it’s a privilege,” said Brendan Rodgers. “It’s a special game to look forward to. This is a game where you can create an incredible legacy. You create your own stories.”
The motivations are many. “I’d love to win it for Khun Vichai and his family,” added Rodgers. “His spirit will be there with us on the day.”
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Leicester’s late owner, died in a helicopter crash at the King Power Stadium in 2018. He appointed Claudio Ranieri, the mastermind behind the title win, and Rodgers.
The Northern Irishman has rebuffed talk of Tottenham, just as he expressed no interest in the Arsenal job before Mikel Arteta was appointed. He has been loyal to Leicester; he is tantalisingly near to twin feats that would reward that, with his side closing in on Champions League qualification.
Yet while he was a serial winner with Celtic in Scotland, his search for a first major trophy in England has been a lengthy affair. He has lost an FA Cup semi-final with Liverpool and in the last four of the League Cup with Leicester. His Liverpool side was agonisingly close to winning the 2014 title.
“I’ve been fortunate in my coaching career, but this is something tangible to show for your work,” he said. “You can be a fantastic coach but you may not have the opportunity to win trophies.”
That chance came in part because of Saturday's opponents. Rodgers took charge of Chelsea’s academy and then their reserve team before moving into management. “I will be eternally grateful for my experiences there,” he said. “Going to Chelsea took me to another level.”
Now he looks to take Leicester to another level. Progress will have to come the hard way. They are the interlopers in the elite and have the rare achievement of beating each of the big six this season.
They go to Wembley above Chelsea in the league table, but with most deeming them underdogs. “Chelsea are Champions League finalists and they have depth in the squad, so most people would look at them as favourites,” Rodgers said. “It’s not something I consider myself.”
Leicester have rarely shown an inferiority complex this season. For Rodgers, it is about balancing objectives, of being both excited and calm.
He has decisions to make that will affect both Leicester’s attacking and defensive play. James Maddison was benched when Leicester won 2-1 against Manchester United on Tuesday. The creator-in-chief is not guaranteed to return.
“There are a number of things to consider in a game of this magnitude,” Rodgers said. “There is probably not a manager in the country who rates Maddison as highly as I do.”
The questions about Jonny Evans are not tactical but physical. Leicester’s premier centre-back has missed their last two games with a heel injury. He will undergo a fitness test.
“He’s a warrior, and even if he’s not 100 percent, he’ll be out there,” Rodgers said. “It’s a showpiece, so of course he will want to play. He has been immense. It would be a loss for us It’s a huge game, a physical game, so we need physicality and if that’s hindered for him, we’ll have to consider.
Thomas Tuchel has confirmed that Kepa Arrizabalaga will play in goal for Chelsea. It is the first of two meetings in four days, with a reunion in the league on Tuesday. That could seal a top-four finish for Leicester. But Saturday offers the chance to make a more indelible piece of history if Leicester, founded in 1884, win a first FA Cup in 2021.
Published: May 14, 2021 08:57 AM