Brendan Rodgers’ unlikely road back to the Champions League almost complete

With nine games remaining in the Premier League season prior to its suspension last month, Leicester City sat in third place, eight points clear of Manchester United in fifth.

For Brendan Rodgers, the unlikely journey back to the Champions League looks set to end.

Flashback to six years ago this week and Brendan Rodgers would oversee his Liverpool team beat Manchester City 3-2 at Anfield to put a first league title in a quarter of a century within their grasp. Wins against Norwich, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Newcastle would guarantee a maiden Premier League title for the Merseysiders.

Yet, just two weeks after the City triumph it would all fall apart for Rodgers and co.

Norwich were dispatched with some discomfort but Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea would stifle the previously irrepressible Liverpool attack featuring Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Phillipe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling to earn a famous 0-2 victory at Anfield.

Liverpool would finish the season with a whimper, trailing eventual champions City by two points. That summer, PFA Player of the Year and League top-scorer Suarez engineered a move to Barcelona. While the club recouped a large sum from the Spanish giants, the acquisitions in the wake of Suarez’s departure left a lot to be desired with the triumvirate of Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini expected to replace the irreplaceable.

That trio would combine for a solitary Premier League goal the following campaign as Rodgers’ Liverpool managed just one win in their first Champions League campaign since 2010 against Bulgarian side Ludogorets.

They would ultimately be knocked out of the Europa League by Besiktas in the Round of 32 before finishing the League in sixth position. Rodgers would be sacked in October of 2015 to make way for Jurgen Klopp. Eighteen months after bringing Liverpool agonisingly close to Premiership honours, the Welshman was unemployed.

Rodgers was picked up by Celtic in May of 2016 after Ronny Delia left the club. Rodgers would find himself back in the Champions League in August after wins over Lincoln Red Imps and Hapoel Beer Sheva. Once again the competition would be a disaster for Rodgers as his side failed to pick up a win and also lost 7-0 to Barcelona, Celtic’s largest ever defeat in the competition. Celtic would secure the domestic treble, however.

The Hoops would qualify for Europe’s premier football competition the following year but again failed to make any headway with a just a victory over Anderlecht to show for their efforts. This would leave Rodgers with an 11% win rate from his three Champions League campaigns in charge. Rodgers’ side would complete a historic first back-to-back domestic treble.

Nonetheless, failure to qualify for the 2018/19 group stage would ultimately lead to Rodgers vacating his position in February of 2019 with his side eight points clear at the summit of the Scottish Premier League. He would join a Leicester City side who had been largely stripped of the Championship-winning side four years previously and languished in 12th place of the Premier League, eight points clear of the relegation zone.

However, equipped with a “young” and “very dynamic” squad with “huge potential”, Rodgers immediately altered Leicester’s fortunes and would finish the season in a highly respectable 9th place, just five points off Europe. In his first transfer window as Leicester manager, Rodgers would oversee the selling off Harry Maguire to Manchester United for a world record fee for a defender.

Harry Maguire.

This money was reinvested on young European talent with Caglar Soyuncu, Ayoze Perez and Youri Tielemans joining with both integral members of the current Leicester side with Rodgers clearly learning from the Suarez debacle.

As such in his first full season in charge of the club, he has seen his side maintain a place in the top three for the majority of the season. Seven league wins on the trot helped Leicester finish the calendar year in second place behind a relentless Liverpool side.

Although they have faltered since the turn of the year, Leicester still have a firm grip on a top-three spot and subsequently an elusive place in the Champions League for next season.

If the season were to end today, Rodgers’ road back to Europe would be complete with a young squad primed to make their mark.

Jack Neville
Aspiring Sports Write from Ireland. 24-year-old Sports Journalism Masters Student in the University of Limerick. Huge Soccer fan and Liverpool Supporter. Also follow Glasgow Celtic. Twitter: @JackNev30
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