Rodgers shows Leicester how to play 'without fear' as Vardy stars vs. Fulham
LEICESTER, England -- There is never a danger that you won't be able to hear Brendan Rodgers.
Claude Puel, Rodgers' predecessor as Leicester City manager, spoke in such a whisper that even the journalists sitting in the front row of his news conferences had to crane their necks and strain their ears in an effort to pick up what he was saying.
The timorousness of Puel's discourse found an echo on the pitch, where a dismal run of seven defeats in nine matches cost him his job at the end of February. In contrast to the Frenchman, Rodgers is a man renowned for his powers of oration -- at his best, a skilfully worded inspirational Instagram post; at his worst, a corporate training manual in human form.
The task of injecting Leicester with some dynamism was sufficiently appetising for Rodgers to break off his engagement with Celtic, despite the Glasgow club being on the brink of a third successive Scottish domestic treble on his watch.
And, after watching his new team beat Fulham 3-1 in his first home game courtesy of Jamie Vardy's 100th and 101st Leicester goals, Rodgers spoke with trademark effusiveness of his pride at the warm reception he had been granted and his encouragement at his side's performance. Although his optimism was tempered with caution.
"I've been received very well," he said. "This is a club that I feel has huge potential and days like today make it really worth that. The players and the supporters have been great, but what you have to do is win games. We won well today and there's lots of improvement to come."
Characteristically, Rodgers sought to set the tone in the match programme, which bore a moodily lit portrait of the man himself on its front page. The match against Fulham, he wrote, was an opportunity to show the fans "our vision for the Football Club." Beneath his name sat a simple, italicised message: "Without fear."
Rodgers ditched the spring-mounted 3-4-2-1 system he had tested in last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Watford for a 4-1-4-1 formation in which Harvey Barnes, James Maddison, Youri Tielemans and Demarai Gray formed a supple midfield quartet behind striker Vardy.
A January loan signing from Monaco, Tielemans has brought some much-needed craft to the Leicester midfield, supplying two assists in his first four appearances, and he opened the scoring in the 21st minute. Wilfred Ndidi robbed Calum Chambers on half-way and freed Vardy, who unselfishly squared the ball for the Belgium midfielder to roll in his first Leicester goal.
Then Fulham equalised in the 51st minute from their first attempt at goal. Ben Chilwell seemed to become transfixed as Havard Nordtveit's raking pass floated towards him, allowing substitute Floyd Ayite to nip past him and score with the aid of a deflection off Harry Maguire.
Rodgers responded with a bold double change, introducing Shinji Okazaki and Rachid Ghezzal for Gray and the tiring Tielemans. His approach got its reward in the 78th minute when Maddison's pass released Vardy to place a low shot past Sergio Rico.
In Leicester's eyes, this was only Vardy's 99th goal in the club's colours, his strike against Manchester United in the 2016 Community Shield not being taken into consideration. But four minutes from time, the former England striker removed all doubt by steering Barnes' low cross past Rico with his left foot. He is only the seventh player to have scored a century of goals for Leicester, and the first since Gary Lineker.
Vardy publicly bemoaned Puel's methodical football, and Rodgers is determined to play to the spiky striker's strengths.
"What was pleasing was the ideas we were trying to implement in terms of our pressing and intensity," he said. "My teams have always had a striker who can press. For me the idea is to get players close to him. You saw that today with the No. 8 [Tielemans] getting in the box to score and James [Maddison] sliding him through [for the third goal]."
Victory took Leicester back into the top half of the table, while second-bottom Fulham now find themselves a yawning 13 points adrift of safety.
Fulham's trip to Leicester should have marked Claudio Ranieri's return to the club he led to sporting immortality with the Premier League title in 2016. Instead it was interim coach Scott Parker in the dugout while Ranieri finds himself gearing up for Roma's Serie A home game against Empoli on Monday. Such is the pace at which modern football's news cycle moves.
Rodgers awoke to unpleasant news headlines on Saturday after it emerged that one of the balaclava-clad burglars who broke into the Glasgow home he shares with his wife, Charlotte, and 6-year-old step-daughter, Lola, on Tuesday night had taken a selfie outside the property.
"To have someone inside your house, while your wife and child are upstairs, it's not nice at all," Rodgers said.
Sunday's sports pages will make for much happier reading.