How Brendan Rodgers and Leicester must be wishing they could relaunch Project Restart all over again.
Eight points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United heading into the resumption of the Premier League, Rodgers looked on course to be guiding the Foxes back into the Champions League.
But after just one win in six matches since the return Leicester are facing the very real prospect of missing out on the elite European competition as the race for the top four intensifies.
How Brendan Rodgers must be wishing they could relaunch Project Restart all over again
Leicester suffered a spectacular collapse on Sunday as they fell to a 4-1 defeat at Bournemouth
Chelsea have leapfrogged them into third and they sit just one point ahead of Manchester United, who moved level with them after a dramatic draw in their game against Southampton on Monday night.
Rodgers’ side were emphatically beaten 4-1 by relegation-threatened Bournemouth on Sunday as the team which had the best defensive record in the league before Christmas totally collapsed in the second half.
Since Rodgers’ arrival at the King Power Stadium the Foxes have gone down a promising path but they appear to have hit a bump in the road. Leicester’s spectacular implosion following the three-month hiatus has thrown the spotlight on Rodgers’ side.
What has gone on at the Foxes which has led them to squander such a significant lead over their Champions-League aspiring rivals? Here, Sportsmail takes a look…
Players look out of puff?
Until last week striker Jamie Vardy had only scored two goals since December following his blistering form before the turn of the year.
He bagged a goal in eight consecutive games during the Foxes’ sensational winning run in the autumn.
However four goals in his last three games suggests Vardy is back firing as he looks to win his first Premier League Golden Boot but the rest of Rodgers’ side have struggled for form.
Leicester striker Jamie Vardy is back firing but the rest of Rodgers’ side have struggled for form
Rodgers has had to manage without key players James Maddison, Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira in recent weeks.
Maddison provides creativity and the spark in midfield while full backs Chilwell and Pereira provide a great outlet in attack as well as defensive stability at the back.
Before Christmas Leicester’s back four of Chilwell, Pereira, Jonny Evans and Caglar Soyuncu had the best defensive top-flight record, conceding just 11 goals in 17 matches and along with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel were a tough team to break down.
Foxes defender Caglar Soyuncu was sent off against Bournemouth and will miss final matches
Leicester’s backline has conceded eight goals in six games since the restart. Forced rotation at the back after the enforced break has disrupted their solidity and in the capitulation on the south coast the Foxes were all over the place defensively.
Schmeichel was unusually at fault while Soyuncu, who was brought in to replace Harry Maguire and has largely impressed, lost his head and was sent off for kicking Callum Wilson.
Rodgers came in for criticism during his time as Liverpool boss for not creating a strong defence but he had transformed the Foxes’ backline earlier in the season.
Leicester need to get back to the basics in defence and rediscover their confidence after the meltdown at the weekend. Perhaps just a particularly bad day at the office.
Striker Mario Balotelli blamed his Liverpool nightmare on Rodgers’ tactics after leaving the club.
And Rodgers tactics have been called into question following the slump in form this summer.
One of the approaches adopted by the Foxes boss is the ‘counter press’ – demanding the ball is won back as quickly as possible – in a similar style to Jurgen Klopp’s philosophy at the Premier League champions.
Full-back Ricardo Pereira is a key player for Rodgers but he has been sidelined through injury
But this style of play has been less effective in recent weeks, perhaps a result of no fans in the stadiums urging players on or maybe teams have worked Leicester out.
A key component of Rodgers’ methods is the threatening full-back combination of Chilwell and Pereira and there is no doubt the pair has been sorely missed.
Pereira has been ruled out until the end of the campaign through injury while Chilwell could return for Thursday’s clash against high-flying Sheffield United.
Rodgers typically deploys four at the back but in the last two league clashes he has opted for three in the backline with changes in personnel.
The defence looked exposed in the second half on Sunday while playing out from the back and individual errors proved costly.
Rodgers tactics have also come under the microscope following his decision to substitute forward Kelechi Iheanacho at half-time on Sunday and replace him with midfielder Dennis Praet.
Rodgers came under criticism for substituting Kelechi Iheanacho at half-time on Sunday
Iheanacho played a big part in Vardy’s goal in the first half and the Foxes were in control.
‘(Iheanacho) wasn’t having one of his better games,’ Rodgers said after seeing his side concede four goals in 17 second-half minutes. ‘The issue for us defensively was on the side of the pitch, because there was a lot of space for Wilf [Ndidi] and Youri [Tielemans] to cover.
‘So we pushed Ayo [Perez] on, he was playing well, and added an extra midfielder in to help cover. But the defeat wasn’t tactical, it was about the spirit.’
But Leicester fans are less than convinced.
What are the fans saying…
Prior to Sunday’s shambles Leicester looked to have reignited their 2019-20 campaign with four points from a possible six following a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace and a draw at Arsenal.
But some Foxes supporters have criticised Rodgers for his decision to take off Iheanacho and reshuffle the formation when in a strong position at the Vitality Stadium.
One fan wrote on Twitter: ‘Brendan Rodgers ruined this game with the wrong substitute.’ Another said: ‘Definitely should not have been in any kind of danger. I agree with Rodgers we’re not good enough to be top four but we’re not even trying anymore. His subs always kill us.’
Leicester fans gave their views on Rodgers following his side’s capitulation on the south coast
Leicester were a goal to the good and dominated possession before the break, which one fan alludes to: ‘Blames on Rodgers fella… He had a formation working for him in first half with nacho linking up well with Vardy. possession, Leicester was on top with a goal up. HT, nacho sub out, No good coach make such unnecessary changes at HT for no reason [sic].’
While another was more upbeat: ‘Still not Rodgers out. Don’t think that’s right at all. We’ve missed Ricky P, Maddison and Chilwell the last two games now. But Rodgers will know what to do change our fortunes. Don’t agree with his tactics today and he knows the Kelechi sub was wrong. Onto Thursday [sic].’
Deja vu for Rodgers?
Rodgers has found himself in a similar position before where the English top-flight run-in has not gone according to script.
Rodgers’ Liverpool side were in sensational form in the second half of the 2013-14 season and headed into the final month of the campaign at the top of the Premier League.
However the Reds collapsed during the title run-in and missed out on glory by two points to Manchester City.
Liverpool have finally ended their wait for a Premier League title while Rodgers will be keen to ensure his Leicester side’s Champions League hopes do not bite the dust like Liverpool’s title ambitions did six years ago.
Rodgers has found himself in a similar spot before when run-in has not gone according to plan
His Liverpool side collapsed when top of the Premier League during the 2013-14 campaign
It does not get any easier for Rodgers and Leicester with three extremely tough encounters to bring their season to a close.
The Foxes welcome seventh-placed Sheffield United, who are unbeaten in their last four games and five points behind them, on Thursday.
Three days later and they visit Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham side, in eighth, and they wrap up their 2019-20 campaign at home to Manchester United, which could prove to be the decider as to who finishes in the top four.
A strong finish and Leicester’s Project Restart will be saved but even without finishing in the Champions League places it will be an impressive season on the whole. However from the position there were in it will be hugely disappointing and the season will end on a whimper.
How Rodgers will be desperate to show that the recent struggles are just a minor obstacle rather than a major stumbling block in his Leicester journey.
Leicester face Manchester United in their last game which could be the decider for the top four