Sky Sports News reporter Rob Dorsett provides expert analysis and insight following Leicester’s rise to third place after seven Premier League games this season…
Youth policy coming to fruition
Leicester’s recruitment policy predates Brendan Rodgers quite considerably.
When he came to Leicester, the depth of young talent that the club had on their books was a big plus point that convinced him to leave Celtic.
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The position was highly regarded by a lot of managers out there. It was hot property at the time, and it dates back to the time of Steve Walsh, who was head of recruitment when Leicester won the title.
He set up a really big international scouting network, which was looking into different areas to a lot of Premier League clubs at the time. They unearthed N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez from the lower leagues of European football, and we know what they have gone on to achieve.
Even after Walsh left, they appointed Eduardo Macia who did an OK job before being replaced in March by Lee Congerton, who was at Celtic with Brendan Rodgers.
But the one constant through all of that is John Rudkin, the director of football, and he oversees the whole of the recruitment policy. He used to be Leicester’s academy director, so he’s always had an interest in and knowledge of young players up and down the country.
2:56 Highlights from Leicester’s 5-0 home win over Newcastle in the Premier League
He’s very much the force behind it, even now working alongside Congerton, and this has enabled them to unearth some really good talent.
Added to that, you’ve got the academy that Rudkin has put together, which has brought through the likes of Hamza Choudhury, Ben Chilwell and Harvey Barnes and you start to see a production line of talent coming through.
What’s changed is that since Leicester won the title, a lot of the country’s young talent see the club as a really good option because they feel they’re going to get game time when they might not at one of the top six clubs.
That’s enabled them to attract some of the best talent, and actually they’ve got more than they can cope with at present. They signed James Justin from Luton for upwards of £8m but he’s not had a kick in the league this season because Ricardo Pereira is playing so well.
So they’ve got young talent waiting in the wings. One of their challenges moving forward may be keeping them happy by giving them enough game time.
Soyuncu steps up in Maguire’s absence
Rodgers didn’t want to sell Harry Maguire – it’s that simple. But he accepted that the club have always had a strict policy when it comes to the players they want to keep.
They will create an inflated asking price for a player of real talent that they want to use. If a club is prepared to pay that asking price then they will sell, and Brendan was on board with that on Maguire. The Leicester hierarchy felt £80m fell into the category of being a very good deal.
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They worked very hard and were desperate to replace him. But it was very quickly apparent that the prices they were being quoted were extortionate because everyone knew that Leicester had £80m in the bank. They were quoted £50m for James Tarkowski at Burnley. My understanding is that he wanted to come to Leicester.
He hasn’t been selected by England since the summer and that’s largely because Burnley don’t play out from the back an awful lot, which is how Gareth Southgate wants to play. But Leicester felt he was over-priced and any value they gained in selling Maguire for £80m would be lost straightaway by signing Tarkowski at that price.
It was exactly the same with Nathan Ake at Bournemouth, indeed even more so. Bournemouth were looking for £75m for Ake. While Rodgers is a big admirer of him, there’s no way Leicester were prepared to pay that much.
It became apparent late in the window that despite their best efforts, they weren’t going to find a replacement for Maguire, so they stuck with what they had. It meant an opportunity for Filip Benkovic and Caglar Soyuncu.
Benkovic was with Rodgers on loan at Celtic, but my understanding is that he didn’t impress in pre-season and Rodgers didn’t see him as an immediate first-team prospect, whereas Soyuncu stood up to the mark. Rodgers didn’t expect him to be as good as he is, to tell the truth.
His comfort on the ball is a huge plus, and he’s been one of Leicester’s best players this season. Brendan has told me that he felt Soyuncu was trying to do too much in the first few games of the season, and he put himself under too much pressure as he felt this was his big opportunity, but he’s managed to get him to relax more.
Add to that, Jonny Evans has been one of the best defenders in the Premier League this season, as the senior member of that duo, and Leicester have been delighted by the start they’ve made.
Of course, they don’t have a lot of depth behind them. Wes Morgan can’t play a lot of games at the age he’s at, so I would still expect Leicester to be in the market for another centre-back in January or in the summer as they may struggle for depth in that area.
Triumph out of tragedy: Vichai’s legacy lives on
We are approaching the one-year anniversary of the death of the former owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in the helicopter crash.
There was an awful lot of doom and gloom for obvious reasons when that happened. Separate from the personal tragedy, there was a niggling concern over where the squad was going under Claude Puel.
Some felt that the loss of the chairman could act as a blow for the club. But his legacy very much lives on and his son Aiyawatt’s commitment is unwavering. He has continued to invest and wants to do well in his father’s name.
In terms of the football and structure, there is a lot more positivity around the club. It’s been quite an extraordinary turnaround when you consider how many members of staff were directly affected by Vichai’s death.
There were doubts over how the club would recover and 12 months ago it didn’t feel like the position they’re in now would be possible at all.
3:00 Highlights from Leicester’s 2-1 win over Tottenham in the Premier League
Owners will spend if Champions League push is sustained
Rodgers has been told he has money to spend, and between himself and Congerton, they will spend it. But the difficulty that Leicester have got is encouraging some of the top talent to come if they don’t feel they’re going to get a place in the first team.
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They’ve looked at strikers for several windows to act as back-up to Jamie Vardy, but every top striker knows that if they go to Leicester, they’re going to be second choice to Vardy unless he gets injured because they only play with one up top.
I think it’s easier for the traditional top six clubs to persuade talent to go there and be part of a squad.
Agents and players see Leicester as a really good destination now, and I feel that if they are still in the top four come January, the Srivaddhanaprabha family will absolutely fund the resources that are needed to push the side into those Champions League places.
What has surprised some people is how well Leicester have done in the absence of Maguire. It felt like a big blow at the time even though the board were comfortable that they had a good deal for him and that they had enough cover.
They feel that about most of the players they’ve got now if one was to either be sold or be out injured for a long period of time. They have an awful lot of creativity in the side even without James Maddison.
Rodgers feels that in time, signing Ayoze Perez for £20m will prove an absolute snip. Leicester believe he’s full of ability and there’s more to come from him, and likewise Harvey Barnes.
What you saw on Sunday – in the 5-0 win over Newcastle – was that without Maddison, the structure and the tactics that Rodgers deploys suits all the other players down to the ground. So there wasn’t a drop off in creativity.
Rodgers won’t say it publicly, but I feel he’s quietly confident that Leicester can break the top six, while there will be a hope and an ambition to break into the top four this season as well.
They look at Manchester United and Arsenal in transition and the issues at Spurs and feel there’s an opportunity in the same way there was when Leicester won the title in 2016.
There’s a realisation that they’re still a long way behind Liverpool and Manchester City, and that’s why I think Leicester’s bosses will be very intrigued to see how they fare when they visit Anfield this weekend.
Anfield will act as barometer for season
Leicester have already played Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United. If they can still be in the top three having been to Anfield, the belief within the players and at the club as a whole will only grow further that this could be the year they break the top four.
Maddison might have played against Newcastle but Rodgers didn’t want to risk him as he wants him fit for Anfield. I fully expect him to come back in and I feel Leicester will go there and attack. Wilfred Ndidi provides that protective shield and I don’t think they will change too much.
They might play Marc Albrighton out wide to provide a bit more security down the flank to double up with Ricardo on Andrew Robertson. It’ll be interesting to see if the Leicester full-backs will be asked to be more disciplined and more defensive-minded.
Rodgers’ one disappointment this season has been his side’s performance at United. Leicester didn’t perform that day on a very big stage at Old Trafford.
2:59 Highlights from Manchester United’s win over Leicester in the Premier League
It may be that it was a reminder that this is still a very young squad that doesn’t have a lot of experience playing at the very top level on the biggest stage. You do wonder whether Leicester will be slightly over-awed playing at Anfield, but they were the better side in the draw at Chelsea.