Brendan Rodgers choice could define season in hidden way as James Maddison views small picture

While Brendan Rodgers doesn’t ever show panic in his demeanour, whether on the touchline or in front of the media’s cameras, the decision to change goalkeepers at this stage of the season felt like an acknowledgement of the desperate situation Leicester City are in. It was one of the few rolls of the dice he hadn’t yet tried.

He’s given new formations a go, he’s brought in new players, he’s tinkered with different personnel, and yet the defeats have kept coming and City have fallen down the table. One thing he had not done was hand the gloves to anyone other than Danny Ward.

It was a decision that many fans felt should have been made earlier in the campaign. Rodgers’ faith in the Welshman after the torrid first two months did pay off with a run of clean sheets, but there have been plenty of moments since the World Cup where Ward’s role in a goal conceded was questioned.

Daniel Iversen was player of the year for Championship side Preston last season, and on a monthly basis he would have a miraculous save go viral, so everybody was aware how good he was. That Rodgers had not given him a chance over the first seven months of the campaign suggested he wasn’t ever planning to.

There have been real concerns over his footwork and how that might affect City’s ability to keep possession and build from the back. That has been the reason why Rodgers has stuck with Ward, but the situation has reached a point where he just needs a goalkeeper to keep the ball out of the net.

But Iversen didn’t get to be the hero, at least not yet, because the defence made considerable improvements in front of him. It was one of City’s best rearguard displays of the season.

For the first time since the end of the World Cup, City played 90 minutes without giving up any ‘big chances’, defined by stats gurus Opta as opportunities where a team is reasonably expected to score. Only against Crystal Palace at home have City restricted an opponent to such a low expected goals figure. By that measure, only two teams have defended better against the Bees this season. Ivan Toney, buoyed by an England call-up, barely had a sniff.

It wasn’t a collectively brilliant defensive showing as Brentford still had a lot of the ball in City’s final third and penalty area. But the defenders themselves were all individually strong.

Ricardo Pereira and Timothy Castagne were combative at full-back, while Daniel Amartey had a rare mistake-free outing and made a couple of big blocks. Harry Souttar was the star man a mountain at the back, winning every header and sliding in to make excellent tackles. Only against Manchester City at home have City had to deal with more crosses into the box this season, and yet there were very few chances created by the hosts.

So while Iversen didn’t get to make the saves he’s renowned for, the Dane beaten by the one difficult effort at goal when Mathias Jensen’s shot took two deflections, there is a possibility he still had an impact. City’s defenders will have played with him often enough in training to know his qualities, and if there is more confidence in his shot-stopping abilities, it may breed more confidence in the defence too. It is perhaps too early to say that definitively, especially considering that Iversen’s last cup game, the loss to Blackburn, was a defensive calamity.

But in the early days of Ward’s custody of the number one shirt, and indeed throughout the campaign to now, there were moments of miscommunication between him and his defenders that led to a number of slapstick goals and plenty more chances. At Brentford, there was one moment of hesitancy when Iversen and Amartey both left the other to deal with a cross, but aside from that, you could not have guessed that the Dane was making his Premier League debut.

It will be interesting to see if these kinds of strong rearguard showings – which have been so rare – keep up now that Iversen is getting a run of matches in goal. The fears over his kicking did show themselves with most of his attempted clipped balls out to the full-backs sailing over or wide of Castagne and Ricardo, but those moments are easily forgivable if City’s defending continues to be as mean as it was at Brentford. It could be a season-defining decision by Rodgers, especially if has the hidden, unexpected benefit of elevating the defence to a level where Iversen doesn’t even have to produce the saves he’s been brought in to make.

Ndidi decision justified but subs halt momentum

Changing goalkeepers was not the only selection decision made by Rodgers, but very few of the others were well-received. However, some did pay off.

Papy Mendy has been one of the few City players in any kind of form over recent weeks, but Wilfred Ndidi replaced him at the base of the midfield in west London. Dropping a player who has been showing the sort of fight fans want from the rest of the team did not go down well.

But, Ndidi was brought in to do a job, and he did it to a good level. Rodgers wanted an extra physical presence to help out his back four, and Ndidi did that, joining Souttar and Amartey in winning the aerial battle.

brendan rodgers choice could define season in hidden way as james maddison views small picture

Wilfred Ndidi battles with Aaron Hickey during Leicester City’s 1-1 draw with Brentford

Plus, he produced one of his best performances off the ball in some time. His eight ball recoveries ranked as his highest tally in a game since last September. His performance, and his impact on City’s defence, justified Rodgers’ decision.

However, where the manager got it wrong was with his substitutions. They seemed to stem’s City flow and knock them off stride just as they were building momentum.

If Tete had been replaced by Dennis Praet at half-time, nobody would have batted an eye, but the Brazilian was withdrawn just as he was starting to look like a threat. Boubakary Soumare came on for Ndidi instead of Mendy and City’s midfield play became more stuttered.

As for Jamie Vardy, it is reputation, rather than form, that is earning him substitute appearances at the moment. In the 15 games he has been introduced in the second half this season, he has had just four shots. It averages out at one every 87 minutes. Kelechi Iheanacho is a bigger threat, and makes others a bigger threat, and so should have come on instead.

It is better that a manager is proactive in their decision-making. But Rodgers’ subs haven’t been making the impact he would have wanted in recent weeks.

Losing streak impact as City fall short of ending two-year wait

It has been nearly two years since City trailed at half-time in a Premier League game and won and it seemed like there was a nervousness that stopped ending such a streak on Saturday. Because their second-half performance did show improvements, and it did feel like victory was within reach.

As Rodgers called for in his pre-match press conference, City kept up their concentration for the full 90 minutes, and were not disheartened by the half-time scoreline. They produced an excellent equaliser for Harvey Barnes and, for the first time since December 2021, earned a point in a match in which they were losing at the interval.

There were very few clear-cut chances in the game, and City did fall short on quality in the attacking third. Aside from their superb work in the build-up to the goal, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall and James Maddison frustrated a little with their final ball and decision-making higher up the pitch.

And yet City still had 11 shots from inside the box. In only the wins over Everton and Tottenham have they had more this season. Brentford blocked nearly half of them, and so City didn’t work David Raya as much as they would have liked.

But along with Rodgers’ substitutions that seemed to curb their momentum, it felt like the five-game losing run just started to loom over the players towards the end, and an anxiety kicked in over the possibility of losing the point they had. When Shandon Baptiste was sent off in added time and it gave City a few minutes with a man advantage, they didn’t even think about pushing for a winner.

Maybe that is natural given the run they had been on. Now the losing run has ended, hopefully the players’ confidence won’t so clearly be running low when they get back from the international break.

Maddison rightly views small picture over ‘good point’

The draw snapped City’s streak of defeats but it led to a debate over whether the point gained was a good one. Really, it depends if you look at the small picture or the big picture.

Maddison, for example, looked at the small picture. In responding to a fan on social media, he pointed out City’s run of losses and that they were away to a side challenging for Europe. More than that, it was the first time this season City have not lost on the road against a top-half opponent, at a ground where the hosts have not lost since September. All that makes it a good point.

But if you look at the big picture, a draw doesn’t seem so promising. Just as the big six’s budgets dwarf City’s, Rodgers is in charge of a much more expensively-assembled side than Thomas Frank is, and yet there was very little to choose between the teams. The Brentford is clearly getting more out of his players.

And then there’s the context of the relegation battle. At this stage of the season, with City in the position they are, can a point be considered good if it leaves the club one place closer to the drop zone?

It does, on the face of it, feel like they are in a position where drawing matches won’t be enough. The thing is, it probably would be. If City were to draw their final 11 games of the season, they would finish on 36 points, and a goal difference of -9. That’s been enough for survival in 10 of the past 11 seasons.

The debate will rage but it seems unlikely that, in the event of relegation for City, this 1-1 draw at Brentford would be at the forefront of anybody’s mind when they think of the matches that brought about the club’s downfall. On that basis, one point gained is probably a more accurate description than two points lost.

For Maddison and the players, it is probably for the best that they view each match on such small terms. There needs to be a recognition of the relegation battle in their performances, but it’s not beneficial for them to consider context wider than that. Bemoaning that this season will be one of underperformance no matter what happens between now and May is only going to be a distraction from the job at hand.

Rodgers reaction shows fans aren’t fickle but may have accepted club stance

While there was only little doubt before, it is now extremely unlikely that City will change managers before the end of the season. Going into the international break with their heads just above water means this is now Rodgers’ task to complete.

Six of the nine clubs in the battle have now sacked a manager this season, with Crystal Palace the latest to do so. City are in the minority at standing by the man leading the team.

The hierarchy will no doubt be aware of the lack of impact of sacking a manager this late in a season. Since the inception of the Premier League, only seven of the 39 clubs to make a managerial change from March onwards have ended up in a higher position.

City will also be aware of the difficulties their rivals have had in recruiting new bosses. Southampton opted for their assistant Ruben Selles until the end of the season, while Leeds’ scramble around eventually led to them appointing Javi Gracia on a ‘flexible’ contract.

But just because Rodgers is very likely staying, there won’t be full backing for him. It is clear he still has some supporters among the City fanbase, but many want him out, while plenty of others would not be fussed if the club made a change.

While football supporters are often accused of being fickle, an away draw to a top-half side won’t change the opinion of many of those who want Rodgers gone. That showed in the reaction after Saturday’s game, with a banner held aloft and boos sounding out.

But, those moments came after the match. The travelling fans were in excellent voice during the game, saving it until at the full-time whistle to express their displeasure.

So maybe there has been a reluctant acceptance that Rodgers will stay, an appreciation that everybody is at least on the same page in wanting City to stay in the Premier League. For the club’s hopes of securing their top-flight status, that’s promising.

Did Saturday’s performance result change your mind on where you think City will finish this season? Let us know in the comments section below.

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