How Leicester find themselves in serious danger of missing out on Champions League spot

The new mid-half drinks break should be advantageous to Premier League managers. It’s another opportunity to impart instructions, give praise or issue a timely wake-up call to a player not in the game.

But these benefits are negated when you’re already two goals down by the time your players trudge in for their liquid refreshment from individually-labelled bottles.

Such was the situation Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers found himself in at Goodison Park on Wednesday night.

Brendan Rodgers doesn’t hold back during the first-half drinks break in their defeat at Everton

Leicester's manager was heard saying 'enough is enough' with his players two goals behind

Leicester’s manager was heard saying ‘enough is enough’ with his players two goals behind

Early goals from Everton’s Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson – the second the result of a contentious VAR penalty decision – resulted in Rodgers blasting his players with a snarling expression and a jabbing finger.

In the empty and echoing stadium, he was heard to tell his players ‘enough is enough’ as they sipped gingerly from their Lucozade bottles.

Enough was enough. Leicester improved but ultimately lost 2-1 and further questions are being asked of Rodgers as not only Chelsea but also Manchester United and Wolves appear poised to dump them out of the Champions League places.

The Foxes have spent only one weekend outside the top four since August 24 but after a dreadful return of just 13 points from a possible 36 since the turn of the year, it’s panic stations.

Rodgers spoke of his team needing a ‘reset mentally’ but that should have occurred during their enforced three months off.

But despite Leicester rallying the damage had been done as they lost 2-1 at Goodison Park

But despite Leicester rallying the damage had been done as they lost 2-1 at Goodison Park

It was another performance to leave Rodgers scratching his head as their slump continued

It was another performance to leave Rodgers scratching his head as their slump continued

They’ve come back and looked a pale imitation of themselves, drawing against lowly Watford and Brighton, losing to Chelsea in the FA Cup and then at Everton. They’re at home to Crystal Palace next, on Saturday,a game that has very quickly become a must-win.

Gary Lineker put it humorously and topically on Twitter: ‘Things are not happening for @LCFC who, like the city, remain in lockdown. Time to grow a pair and make things happen or a wonderful season will be wasted.’

Leicester’s fans, meanwhile, have started to question Rodgers’ tactics, something that would have been unthinkable during that eight-match winning run before Christmas.

Many asked why James Maddison was stationed on the left side rather than his usual central role when brought on for the awful Dennis Praet at half-time.

It came after Maddison played in a similar position and was ineffectual in last week’s goalless draw with Brighton.

The result left Leicester in serious danger of losing their Champions League spot as Chelsea, Manchester United and Wolves make up ground behind them

The result left Leicester in serious danger of losing their Champions League spot as Chelsea, Manchester United and Wolves make up ground behind them

Gary Lineker humorously made a comparison to Leicester's ongoing Covid-19 lockdown

Gary Lineker humorously made a comparison to Leicester’s ongoing Covid-19 lockdown 

Leicester fans have started to ask questions of Rodgers' tactics in recent weeks - this one came after last week's goalless draw at home to Brighton

Leicester fans have started to ask questions of Rodgers’ tactics in recent weeks – this one came after last week’s goalless draw at home to Brighton

Maddison has been played on the left instead of his usual central positions in recent games

Maddison has been played on the left instead of his usual central positions in recent games

This criticism followed the loss at Everton with players forced to work in unfamiliar positions

This criticism followed the loss at Everton with players forced to work in unfamiliar positions

Ayoze Perez is left to reflect on another damaging result for Leicester's European ambitions

Ayoze Perez is left to reflect on another damaging result for Leicester’s European ambitions

Wilfred Ndidi has been unable to carry his usual influence in Leicester's midfield post-restart

Wilfred Ndidi has been unable to carry his usual influence in Leicester’s midfield post-restart

Leicester’s poor run 

Leicester won 3-0 at Newcastle on New Year’s Day but since then their league form has suffered.

January 11 Southampton (H) 1-2

January 19 Burnley (A) 1-2

January 22 West Ham (H) 4-1

February 1 Chelsea (H) 2-2

February 14 Wolves (A) 0-0

February 22 Man City (H) 0-1

February 28 Norwich (A) 0-1

March 9 Aston Villa (H) 4-0

June 20 Watford (A) 1-1

June 23 Brighton (H) 0-0

July 1 Everton (A) 1-2 

In that same game, Rodgers’ decision to play Wilfred Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy together in defensive midfield against opposition fighting relegation also raised eyebrows.

But, in fairness to Rodgers, his introduction of Maddison and Kelechi Iheanacho at half-time at Goodison did at least give Leicester some much-needed impetus. Iheanacho scored six minutes into the second-half but the damage was already done.

The obvious comparison with Leicester’s collapse in form is that of Rodgers’ Liverpool side when chasing the Premier League title in 2014.

But that came much later in the season, at the point of maximum pressure, and after an 11-match winning streak that made it almost certain Liverpool would win the title.

Steven Gerrard’s slip in the 2-0 home defeat by Chelsea followed by Crystanbul – in which Liverpool surrendered a three-goal lead at Selhurst Park – saw the title fall through their fingers.

These setbacks were also combined with a remorseless Manchester City who had games in hand and won their last five having been defeated at Anfield in mid-April.

Leicester’s decline from looking nailed-on Champions League qualifiers – and quite possibly the only team equipped to challenge Liverpool for the title – at Christmas is more sustained and troubling for Rodgers.

They have looked lacklustre and bereft of ideas since the restart, the free-flowing confidence of the autumn having long since drained away.

Perhaps Leicester became too comfortable. It can happen when you know the team above you can’t be caught but you also have a cushion to those outside the top four.

On New Year’s Day, when Leicester rolled Newcastle 3-0, that gap stood at 14 points. Equally, Liverpool were 10 points ahead of them with two games in hand. Did complacency creep in?

Leicester celebrate as Hamza Choudhury (second left) puts them 3-0 up against Newcastle

Leicester celebrate as Hamza Choudhury (second left) puts them 3-0 up against Newcastle

Jamie Vardy scored a hat-trick as Leicester thrashed Southampton 9-0 back in October

Jamie Vardy scored a hat-trick as Leicester thrashed Southampton 9-0 back in October

Leicester’s run-in 

July 4 Crystal Palace (H)

July 7 Arsenal (A)

July 12 Bournemouth (A)

July 15 Sheffield United (H)

July 18 Tottenham (A)

July 26 Man United (H)

Dates subject to change

One of those gaps has widened, the other has narrowed and alarmingly so. The way things are going, Leicester will be in the Europa League next season, the most stinking of consolation prizes.

The high intensity, in-your-face style that had seen Leicester trouble even the best sides has vanished, as seen by post-Christmas losses to Southampton, Burnley and Norwich. Not to mention Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup semi-finals, arguably the most disappointing of the lot.

The fearless approach on their travels which saw Leicester win six of seven away league matches during the autumn has gone, leading to five winless away from the King Power Stadium.

Leading striker Jamie Vardy scored in eight consecutive matches during that brilliant early-season run and 16 in his first 16 games. But his goals have dried up, with just three since December 8.

He remains the leader in the race for the Premier League Golden Boot with 19 goals but has been reeled in by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.  

The goals have dried up for main striker Jamie Vardy, who was excelling before Christmas

The goals have dried up for main striker Jamie Vardy, who was excelling before Christmas 

James Maddison's creative touch has also been missing since the Premier League resumed

James Maddison’s creative touch has also been missing since the Premier League resumed

Likewise the creativity of Maddison, who hasn’t supplied a single assist since that same date and has scored just the once. He was being linked with a summer move to Manchester United – but no longer.

Rodgers was candid after Wednesday night’s loss, saying: ‘If we finish outside it [the Champions League places], then we haven’t been good enough.’

That prospect wasn’t even a topic of conversation before the restart. The good news for Leicester is that their Champions League destiny remains in their own hands, but Rodgers needs to rally them and quick.

The next three games – at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday followed by trips to Arsenal and Bournemouth – are all now in the must-win category. That’s because after that comes tougher games against Sheffield United, Tottenham and Man United.

As Lineker said, Leicester need to burst out of the strange on-field lockdown they find themselves in before all their good work this season counts for nothing.