Leicester City live up to Brendan Rodgers' character trademark with late win over Burnley
Reduced to 10 men after just four minutes, Leicester claimed all three points with a winner in the 90th minute
Brendan Rodgers tends to detect character in his teams. Indeed, his use of the word has been so frequent it has been mocked. Yet, as Leicester City played for longer with 10 men than any Premier League side in four years, their determination was undeniable as they registered back-to-back wins.
If the motto of Leicester’s title-winning campaign was ‘Foxes Never Quit’, they wilted under Claude Puel. “You don’t win a league if you are shrinking violets,” argued Rodgers. “It is a group where a lot of them have personality.”
It may have been Leicester’s defining characteristic, together with a staying power than enabled them to turn a draw into a victory with late goals for the second successive week.
If Rodgers was hired for his purist principles, this was a triumph of pragmatism. “When you come to Burnley style alone won’t get you points,” he rationalised. “You need to have steel.”
He also needed to be adaptable. Circumstances forced a rapid rethink. His various rejigs worked. Leicester got a first away win since New Year’s Day.
“A point would have been a very good result,” Rodgers said. Instead, Leicester got all three. He had replaced first the goalscorer James Maddison and then Harvey Barnes with more defensive players.
Instead, his substitute centre-back Wes Morgan rose highest to head in Youri Tielemans’ cross. Rodgers dropped his captain after his first game, but is eager to offer him a new contract. It is, once again, the result of character.
“He won’t play as much but his influence in the changing room is very good,” he said. “He is a very humble boy. He got a round of applause in the changing room after which he deserved as it was a fantastic header."
It was a game bookended by dramatic contributions by defenders. For Harry Maguire, the earliest red card in the Premier League since 2015, brandished after 191 seconds. Morgan had been primed to come on if Peter Crouch did; instead, he was brought on in the sixth minute.
Leicester had a habit of making wretched starts under Puel. This was a variant on a theme; instead of going a goal down, they lost a player. Maguire was the last man when he tripped Johann Berg Gudmundsson.
“I think he [referee Michael Oliver] made the right call,” Rodgers accepted. If Leicester had too high a defensive line then, they retreated once the slower Morgan replaced the winger Demarai Gray.
They led courtesy of James Maddison, who both won and scored a wonderful free kick. He has created more chances than anyone else in the Premier League and his sixth goal of a maiden top-flight campaign was a reminder of Rodgers’ rich inheritance.
They have amassed a group of gifted attacking midfielders – although the classy Tielemans is only on loan – and if the broader analysis is that they now have a coach who can ally possession with purpose, forging together the quick counter-attacking that propelled them to the Premier League crown with a greater ability to keep the ball, this was a day for earthier qualities.
It is rare that Burnley have 62 percent of the ball, but they did too little with it. “We didn’t find the really good moments of quality to win the game,” their manager, Sean Dyche said. “It can play with you psychologically when someone gets sent off so early.”
His side levelled with an angled drive from Dwight McNeil, much their brightest player on the day, but they found themselves frustrated as Rodgers borrowed a tactic from Dyche’s handbook and configured Leicester with two banks of four. A fourth consecutive defeat equalled Burnley’s worst run in the Premier League and left Dyche “frustrated but disappointed.”
Rodgers had very different emotions. “We showed a wonderful persistence,” he added. “It was an outstanding mental game. I read a lot about this group but I found a really, really good bunch who care.”
Published: March 16, 2019 10:10 PM