Leicester to bench European ambition with focus on Tottenham – Brendan Rodgers
Next Thursday the Foxes will play for a place in the Europa Conference League final after a 1-1 draw with Roma in the semi-final first leg.
Brendan Rodgers insisted Leicester would put thoughts of a possible first European final to one side to focus fully on Sunday’s trip to Tottenham in the Premier League.
Next Thursday the Foxes will play for a place in the Europa Conference League final after a 1-1 draw with Jose Mourinho’s Roma in the semi-final first leg this week, a match in which they were disappointed not to take further advantage of the opportunities they created.
It is a tantalising prospect and the Europa League ticket on offer to the tournament winners is Leicester’s only realistic chance of securing European football for next season, but Rodgers now wants all attention to be on facing Antonio Conte’s side this weekend.
“After last night, you watch the game and then you draw a line,” Rodgers said. “Then it’s just a straight line connecting to Tottenham.
“That’s it. I respect every game we play. We’ll fight for the points. We’ll have a lot of supporters travelling down so we have a duty to them to give everything we can and that’s our focus.”
Rodgers said he was looking forward to the challenge of playing in Tottenham’s stadium in front of a full house for the first time and will take that on with confidence after listening to Mourinho’s post-match comments on Thursday night.
The Portuguese, who was Chelsea boss when Rodgers worked in the Blues’ academy, said Leicester were a side who played the same way whether at home or away – remarks Rodgers took as a compliment.
“I took great pride in that,” he said. “I want to develop a team to go and play in any stadium with no fear. He mentioned last night we didn’t think we would change and sit back, we would go and play how we want to play.
“It makes me happy to do that. You have to play with confidence and you have to feel you can play in any stadium without fear.”
Leicester’s European campaign has stretched Rodgers’ resources to the maximum and life will not get any easier between now and the end of the season.
The Foxes still have six league games left to play – having at least one game in hand on every other side in the table, bar Aston Villa and Everton.
Rodgers admitted it gives him little time to work with players on the training ground, but at least motivation takes care of itself.
“When you’re playing for the ability to reach a final, that always allows the players motivation,” he said. “You’ve got something to aim for and you’re always looking to prove a point.
“We’re not training so much, certainly not with the intensity of training as it’s lots of playing and recovery but thankfully we’re nearly back to a full squad and that allows us to freshen up the team.
“To play in the Premier League and challenge for a trophy you need to use the squad and that’s what we’ve tried to do. We’ve still got a busy fixture list but that excites the players – they’d rather play than train I’m sure.”
Rodgers said he expected Jamie Vardy to be fit for Sunday, having played an hour of Thursday’s match, but the striker’s condition will be assessed on Saturday.
“Jamie’s come through it well and it was good for him to get another 60 minutes,” Rodgers said. “But it’s not just about being able to play 90 minutes. It’s about being able to perform. It’s about giving him that chance from a fitness perspective.
“He’s only been training a few days, I think he’s done amazingly well to get back and play 25 minutes against Villa and then – with a short turnaround – an hour last night.
“We have to decide if it’s too much of a risk to involve him at the weekend from the start or off the bench or to keep him fresh for Thursday.”
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