Leicester City return to the Premier League tomorrow afternoon, with Watford their first opponents. The Athletic’s Rob Tanner previews the tie with FoL.
After not being in action since the start of March, Brendan Rodger’s men travel to Vicarage Road to kick-start a full day of Premier League football. The game kicks-off at 12:30pm, on Saturday. In the previous encounter in Hertfordshire, Andre Gray scored the winner in the final minute to condemn Rodgers to a defeat on his opening game in charge.
How do you think Leicester City will get on?
“I think it’s hard to say because it feels like a brand-new season. Teams who had momentum or injury problems, that’s stopped. It’s the longest period without a game (3 months) because normally, they have six weeks off then they are back in pre-season and playing games. It’s hard to predict how anyone will do.
“Look at Spurs, they have massive injury problems with Son and Kane, but they are both fit. It’s a completely different Spurs now. The first few games are going to be rusty. There was no intensity at the Villa v Sheffield United game, considering what was at stake. It’s a massive difference without the fans because it is the fans that get the players going
“It’s not just a simple case of they started playing football without a crowd so it won’t be any different, because it is.”
Are you confident James Justin will be able to cope to replace Ricardo Pereira?
“Yeah, I think he will cope well and I really rate him. I know people at the club rate his as well. It’s just been the fantastic form of Pereira that has limited his opportunities up to now. He stepped in at left-back for Chilwell when he was out, that just goes to show how versatile he is. I think he’ll do a fantastic job. He’s a great athlete and Brendan has talked about his running power and how he makes space effectively. His running without the ball is almost as effective as Pereira’s with the ball.
“Ricardo is one of the best-attacking right-backs. James is a different type of player, more defensive-minded. Periera is a winger that has been converted to a full-back and it shows sometimes by how he gets forward. That goal against Birmingham when he popped in at the six-yard box. James can still get forward and score goals, he did it at Luton in the League Cup.”
Do you think Leicester City will struggle with the number of games they have to play in a short space of time?
“It wasn’t that long ago that they were in the Championship. There’s no league with more intensity than the Championship with Saturday then Tuesday, plus League Cup and FA Cup. A few years ago they were in the Champions League and they did struggle with that because it affected their league form because the Champions League became their focus.
“Who knows? This is a strange situation. They have nine games to go, 10 with the Chelsea FA Cup game, and it’s not like they are playing like that every week. There a few weeks when they get a break. They’ve had a long rest and it’s a very short sprint. I asked Brendan something similar and he said to bring it on, the players prefer to play than train.
“I won’t be surprised if Luke Thomas and George Hirst are included on the bench. I’ve had this clarified by the Premier League: they have to go with the squad registered before lockdown. Players like Islam Slimani and Adrien Silva are registered with Monaco and they can’t be re-registered so they are not eligible. The only ones who can come in, fresh, are players from the under-23s.”
Are there any Watford players you fear could hurt City?
“Troy Deeney. He’s a handful and always does alright against Leicester. Obviously, he’s really brought into how Nigel Pearson has done. He’s become a focal point for them after falling out of favour under previous managers. Pearson has endorsed him because he has always liked a lieutenant, someone in the dressing room who backs him. He had it all the time at Leicester and I think Deeney does that at Watford.”
I recently wrote an article on Marc Albrighton and how he deserves to start ahead of Ayoze Perez, what are your thoughts on this?
” I think Albrighton is underappreciated for the work he puts in. I know his numbers aren’t great and he admits that himself. Perhaps if he had scored more goals, he would have got an England cap, certainly around the title success.”
“He’s a fantastic team man and does a fantastic job at covering full-backs. I know for a fact that Jamie Vardy loves playing with him because whenever Albrighton gets the ball, he whips it in and Vardy knows when to run. I think Perez will play, if he’s 100% fit: Brendan is convinced he will come good for Leicester and at times he has – that 9-0 win at Southampton. He’s a hot and cold player.”