After two seasons of magic under Brendan Rodgers, this campaign is proving to be a more mundane affair for Leicester.
Having slipped out of the Europa League on Thursday with a 3-2 defeat to Napoli, slooshing down the slide of disappointment into the gurgling whirlpool of the Europa Conference League, the team seem to have lost some of their staying power. Asked how he felt about sinking down into Europe’s third tier, a deflated Rodgers admitted: “With all due respect to the competition, I’m not sure what it is.”
While a home game against second-bottom Newcastle might seem like the perfect opportunity for Leicester to repair their battered confidence, Eddie Howe’s side have shown signs of improvement in recent weeks. They come into this match on the back of their first win of the season and, while their cagey 1-0 victory over Burnley was only a tentative first step on the way to safety, they certainly look much more functional than they did during the last days of Steve Bruce.
Rodgers is also working with a depleted squad, having seen seven players and three staff members sidelined for the trip to Napoli owing to a combination of Covid and winter lurgy. Kelechi Iheanacho, Ayoze Perez, Ademola Lookman, Jannik Vestergaard, Daniel Amartey, Filip Benkovic and Vontae Daley-Campbell are all expected to miss out with illness, while Ricardo Pereira, Wesley Fofana and James Justin remain injured.
Struggles and setbacks aside, a win for Leicester would propel them from 11th to eighth in the Premier League. They still have time to restore their upwards trajectory this season and, with the top six still just about within their reach, there’s no need to catastrophise even if they urgently need to rediscover their consistency.
Asked where his side need to make improvements ahead of the weekend, Rodgers said: “Our confidence is probably not quite where we would want it to be at the moment, but it’s not rocket science.
“You’ve just got to work hard. Even in the tough times, you’ve got to do the right things every day and eventually it’ll turn for you. You’ve got to have that resilience and that persistence to keep going.
“Offensively, we’ve been good. We’ve looked a threat, we’ve scored goals but, ultimately, to win games consistently you’ve got to defend well. We’ve shown we can do it and we want to return to that level again.”