Leicester City Season Review 2020/21: No Top Four But an FA Cup Dream Come True

Leicester City

In what was a truly memorable season for Leicester City, you got the feeling the wheels had come off the Foxes’ wagon right at the end. It was a case of so near, yet, so far for Brendan Rodgers and his exciting Leicester team as they just could not last the pace in the marathon battle for a top-four finish.

It would be a shame if that fifth-place finish in the Premier League was to define Leicester’s campaign, however. There was so much more to enjoy, as most of their fans would be sure to point out.

As well as dipping their toes in Europa League waters, Rodgers and his team won the club’s first-ever FA Cup on a memorable mid-May evening at Wembley. The jubilant on-pitch scenes that followed the victory reminded football fans everywhere just what a special club Leicester City have become in recent years.

Leicester City Season Review 2020/21

Hitting the Ground Running

Leicester were in great form right from the off when the season began back in September. Starting with two wins in a row and seven goals scored meant they were the early forerunners in the Premier League.

An immediate exit from the League Cup at the hands of Arsenal did not put a dampener on Rodgers’ team’s form. They bounced back with one of their best results and performances in recent years – beating title-favourites Manchester City 5-2 in their own backyard.

Things were looking good for Leicester with Jamie Vardy once again defying his advancing years. The Foxes’ number nine had netted five goals in just three league games. Incredibly, four of those were penalties.

Foxes on the Continent

Leicester then fell to two consecutive home defeats before turning their attentions to the beginning of their Europa League adventure. They won their first three games in Group G, scoring nine and conceding just one.

By mid-November, Rodgers had also led his men to the top of the Premier League with six wins from eight.

They were flying now. Pundits and fans alike were raving about Wesley Fofana and his impact since arriving, which was hard to believe given the fact the central defender was still only due to turn 20 in December.

Fofana arrived from Saint-Étienne for around £31.5 million in the summer and was in Rodgers’ starting line-ups from October onwards.

Belgium international Timothy Castagne also arrived at the King Power Stadium. Signed from Atalanta, he would start 27 league games in his debut season, mainly as a right-wing-back. He also deputised on the left when needed, however, as Ben Chilwell had departed for Chelsea before the season began.

Youri Tielemans was a vital cog in the Leicester midfield machine and, along with talented playmakers like James Maddison and Harvey Barnes, really pushed the Foxes on, providing plenty of support for lone-wolf Vardy in attack.

Top of their Europa League group and flying high domestically, Leicester arrived at Anfield to face defending champions Liverpool on November 22nd. A heavy 3-0 defeat took the wind out of their sails. They went without a victory for four games in all competitions, losing three of those.

Bouncing Back Over the Hectic Winter Schedule

From early December until the end of January, Leicester lost just one fixture out of thirteen. They won nine matches during that spell and had cemented their place in the top four of the Premier League by that stage.

After 20 games, Leicester sat in third, five points behind leaders Manchester City and four ahead of West Ham United who were fifth. Having not been outside the top four all season, Rodgers and his team could be forgiven for dreaming of Champions League qualification at that stage. Those dreams would continue well into May.

Leicester had also begun their remarkable FA Cup journey, winning 4-0 at Stoke in the third round. Further victories over Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion in the following weeks would set up a quarter-final clash with Manchester United at the King Power Stadium in March.

Strength in the Leicester City Spine

Leicester had one of the strongest ‘spines’ throughout their first team in the past season. Experienced players such as goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, defenders Jonny Evans and Çağlar Söyüncü, midfielders Tielemans, Maddison, Nampalys Mendy, and Wilfred Ndidi, as well as veteran striker Vardy, were the foundations that allowed Rodgers to add young talent to the mix.

Exciting youngsters like Luke Thomas were introduced to a solid setup and 23-year-old Harvey Barnes continued to develop his game surrounded by Rodgers’ technically astute squad.

One of the only dark points to the Leicester season was the cruciate ligament injury suffered by right-back Ricardo Pereira in March 2020. It kept the Portugal international out until December, limiting him to just ten Premier League starts this season.

European Exit but Wembley Beckons

Leicester were stronger on the road for most of the season and their struggles at home caused their Europa League exit. They lost 2-0 to Slavia Praha at the King Power Stadium after earning a 0-0 draw in the Czech Republic in the first leg.

The Foxes were still third in the league at the start of March. A top-four finish was now a distinct possibility.

Back in February, striker Kelechi Iheanacho had also decided he wanted a share of the spotlight. The 24-year-old Nigerian would score 12 league goals in the final four months of the 2020/21 campaign.

Iheanacho also bagged a brace as Leicester dumped Manchester United out of the FA Cup in the quarter-finals, winning 3-1 on the day. Now, Rodgers’ side had a semi-final against Southampton to focus on.

Another Iheanacho goal would see The Saints off with a 1-0 scoreline as Leicester booked their place in the final. Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea would be their opponents.

Bittersweet Finish to the Season

In early May, with four league fixtures left to fulfil, Leicester were third in the table, two points above Chelsea and nine clear of seventh-placed Liverpool. The Merseyside club did have a game in hand, however.

On May 15th, Leicester took to the Wembley turf where they faced Chelsea in their quest to be the first players to lift the FA Cup in the club’s history. They did it. Thanks to a wonder-strike from Youri Tielemans in the second half, Rodgers’ men had won the cup.

There were emotional scenes as Leicester shared the success with the thousands of Foxes fans who were present on the day.

Club owner Aiyawatt ‘Top’ Srivaddhanaprabha was also on the pitch, sharing heartfelt moments with Rodgers and his players in the aftermath of the success – no doubt dedicating it to the memory of his father, Vichai.

Unfortunately for Leicester, they would surrender their top-four status in the Premier League right at the end. Three defeats in their final four league games meant an in-form Liverpool side leapfrogged them to finish third with Chelsea grabbing fourth.

Speaking to BBC Sport following their last-day loss to Spurs, Rodgers said: “It’s hugely disappointing for us.

“We fought so hard all season. I always said you’re judged after 38 games, and unfortunately we couldn’t quite make it.

“I have nothing but pride and admiration for the players. They’ve constantly had things go against them with injuries. If you look at the importance of the players out today, we were able to take it down to the last game and the last 15 minutes.

“The ownership have given me amazing support. The players have given me their heart and souls every day. I’m so disappointed for them we couldn’t get over the line.”

Plenty to Look Forward To

The league campaign may not have ended as Leicester fans wanted but a second fifth-placed finish in a row, as well as FA Cup success, means the 2020/21 season had plenty for Foxes fans to cheer.

With one of the more settled squads in the English top-flight, Leicester can be optimistic about what the next season or two has in store for them. Rodgers and his players will have another year of invaluable experience behind them and may well be better prepared for a push at Champions League qualification in 2022.

There’s also the small matter of defending their FA Cup trophy and, once again, venturing across the continent in the Europa League.

Potentially more exciting times beckon for Leicester City in the very near future, that’s for sure.

 

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