It had hung over Brendan Rodgers like a dark cloud for some time.
Pressure, anticipation, and a hearty dose of doubt. The three elements had come together as the Northern Irishman continued his quest to finally win an elite trophy in English football.
Rodgers’ story is strange considering how his three-year tenure in Liverpool shifted from the ridiculous to the sublime following a highly frowned upon appointment from Swansea.
Despite all odds, Rodgers almost led Liverpool to the most unlikely of title wins, only to fall at the final hurdle and endure the pain that was to follow.
Breaking down or simply “bottling” in the latter, pressurized phases is a term many rival fans have blamed Rodgers for. After the 48-year-old missed Liverpool, his Leicester side missed a top 4 finish last season after collapsing in the final weeks of the season.
After taking the monkey off his back and being a manager who wins the FA Cup, Rodgers now has the chance to improve the record and bring the Foxes to the top of European football.
Brendan Rodgers ended his trophy drought by becoming a manager who won the FA Cup
Running out at the top: Leicester faces a fearful final week to secure the Champions League but has to score results in their last two games against Chelsea and Tottenham
There are still two games left in which Leicester can take fate into their own hands and consolidate its place as a Champions League club for the coming year.
One small problem remains, however, and that is the opponent’s trifle.
This evening features an immediate rematch with Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea, who are also battling for a top four result. Both teams cannot afford to lose points as the late Jurgen Klopp Liverpool threat is still very much alive.
Leicester will then have to end the campaign at home against Tottenham in the hopes that the limited number of fans admitted back to the King Power can lead them to victory.
Until then, however, their job is to deal with Chelsea to give themselves a chance to fight. Rodgers has to keep his nerve now in what is probably the most defining week of his career.
One thing Rodgers knew he would always be questioned about was his Celtic record.
Or more precisely, the virtues of his Celtic record – after he decided to return to management in Scotland after his painful discharge from Liverpool.
Rodgers, with comparisons with the great Bill Shankly, went from the top of the world at Anfield to a miserable title collapse and an embarrassingly bad follow-up campaign in which he bizarrely decided to play a reserve team at Real Madrid in Europe.
The Northern Irishman was stabbed after being released from Liverpool despite almost winning the title
Rodgers needed a fresh start and choosing Celtic was a wise decision.
The time of Ulsterman in Glasgow was a time of unprecedented success, transforming Celtic into the unbeatable and turning Parkhead into a fortress.
He won seven trophies in a row, including a famous double treble for the first time in Scottish football history, and cultivated his reputation as an innovative young British executive who could do remarkable things with time and patience.
But not everyone was convinced.
Across the football community, a feeling grew that Rodgers had taken the easy path, recovering from his death in Liverpool with Celtic, a club that routinely win the Scottish title and has vastly superior resources compared to opponents in the league .
During his time at Glasgow, Rodgers was linked to replacing Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager, although he ultimately distanced himself from that position.
Rodgers tasted unprecedented success with Celtic, but not all football fans were convinced
It was understood that Rodgers privately viewed the possible move very positively, but nothing came off. The Gunners later settled on Unai Emery, and Rodgers’ dodge seemed to highlight the thought that he wasn’t ready to get back to the big time.
When the opportunity arose for Leicester and he returned to the Premier League with a well-run and adequately supported team, he didn’t hesitate.
It’s fair to say Rodgers did very well at Leicester.
Owned by Srivaddhanaprabha, who is now exclusively run by 36-year-old Aiyawatt ‘Khun Top’, Rodgers has been given the freedom to express himself and build a page without constant pressure.
After replacing Claude Puel in 2019, Rodgers ended the season with the Foxes before heading into his first full campaign with King Power in 2019-20.
In a season that was full of thrills and thrills, and of course completely disrupted by the occurrence of the coronavirus pandemic, Rodgers battled for the top four for the last few weeks.
This was particularly impressive given the clash between his former club Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
The Reds, who fought their way to the title, and City, who battled them on the way, meant only two more places in the Champions League were offered.
Rodgers and Leicester seemed very on track to get one, albeit in the past few weeks because of a disgusting jiggle.
Was it a case of bad omens? Rodgers falling at the final hurdle as usual?
In the last two weeks of the campaign, Leicester were beaten 3-0 by Tottenham before losing to Manchester United on the last day of the campaign.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men were in direct competition for a top 4 result after emerging out of nowhere at the turn of the year and recording a steady number of victories.
Beating Spurs and United would have sent Leicester into the Champions League at Chelsea’s expense, but that shouldn’t have been.
Tielemans was a star when Leicester claimed their first cutlery under Rodgers
There are many ways to analyze what Rodgers needs to do next, but it basically boils down to ticking off two wins.
Given that Liverpool are three points behind and Chelsea are two points behind, the Foxes were able to confirm themselves with a draw and a victory in the top four.
Ultimately, Rodgers can’t lose at Stamford Bridge tonight or things will actually get quite tense.
It is of course a huge challenge to demand that his low-energy stars get back on the car for the club after the historic Wembley night on Saturday and compete against the team they just defeated.
All eyes are now on Rodgers as he gets a shot at redemption in the final week of the season
Chelsea will of course be out for revenge, especially given the painful way in which former Leicester man Ben Chilwell had a late goal ruled out by the most controversial VAR decisions.
It will be interesting to see Rodgers approach yet another showdown with the Blues so soon. For the FA Cup final on Saturday, the Northern Irishman put his team in 3-4-1-2 formation to break up Tuchel’s rigid structure.
Rodgers returned to basics 4-4-2 against United at Old Trafford in the previous game. It shows a flexibility in the system, although it seems natural that he will put complete trust in the talisman Jamie Vardy to lead the line with the formally strong Kelechi Iheanacho.
By setting up his business with a rigid back three for the finals, consisting of Caglar Soyuncu, Jonny Evans, and Wesley Fofana, Rodgers was able to build a deep backline that accommodated the returns of the fast-paced Timo Werner and the latter stadiums, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson. Odoi.
At Leicester, James Maddison will also be a bit closer to full fitness, which means the talented playmaker could replace Ayoze Perez if he sits behind the top two.
James Maddison’s return to fitness could come at the perfect time for the Foxes
For the foxes, this could be the lifeline. Absorbing the pressure from Chelsea is perhaps the best way to tackle the showdown at Stamford Bridge while hoping Maddison can get the West Londoners out of the way with a key pass in the late stages when the hosts hit the sink throw on the tie.
Leicester has to give itself a chance, but ultimately it can lead to an arduous war of attrition.
Offer this to Rodgers now and it would be ripped off the table clean.
The oldest trophy in the soccer cup has already been secured and now this is a career defining week for one of the UK’s most exciting coaches.
This time Rodgers can’t afford to slip.