During a pre-season trip to France Brendan Rodgers, keen to take his Leicester squad out of their comfort zone, set off with his players on a glacier walk and climb up Mont Blanc. After a hard few days of double sessions, they left Évian-les-Bains at 7.30am for Chamonix, at the base of western Europe’s highest peak, to get kitted out with crampons and helmets, before hiking into the Italian Alps.
“I think they all enjoyed the experience,” Rodgers says. “Vards [Jamie Vardy], as he does, likes to prey on the vulnerable on the cable car and there were a few screams … when you’re going up, it’s high! The whole thing around it was that this season can be a tough season for us. But if you are going to achieve and get to the highest point you can you’ve got to get through those moments.”
Players were split into different teams, each allocated a guide, and Leicester could take comfort in their expedition leader, Raj Joshi, being an accomplished adventurer who navigated David Beckham through the Amazon. But a little trepidation was inevitable given some of the group had never experienced snow before, and the club photographer was buckled on to Rodgers, wary of the implications of one false move. For Rodgers, who scaled Mount Kilimanjaro while manager of Swansea to raise money in the fight against cancer, it was an opportunity for his team build a closer bond.
“I just wanted to do something different to break up the week. Normally they wouldn’t do anything like that, but they’ll remember it. I always try to give them some sort of life experience. Lots of these young guys are in a bubble: they’re training and working. This was something different and it just opens up their minds.”
It is 15 months since Leicester missed out on a Champions League berth on the final day of the campaign and Rodgers is determined to hoist his side back into the European places, after a frustrating season hampered by injuries to Vardy and the first-choice defensive pairing of Wesley Fofana and Jonny Evans ended with an eighth-placed finish. The only current long-term injury absentee is the defender Ricardo Pereira, who has had surgery on a ruptured achilles and will be out for six months.
Rodgers was keen to give his squad a healthy shake-up but it is yet to materialise – Leicester are the only team in Europe’s top five major leagues not to have made a signing – despite his desire to add a ball-playing centre-back and a right sided attacker, with PSV Eindhoven’s England Under‑21 winger Noni Madueke, whom Leicester faced in the Europa Conference League last season, among his targets. “I knew exactly what we needed six months ago, what we wanted, what the team is crying out for,” Rodgers says. “If I can’t get it, I have to make do the best I can.”
Leicester are in an awkward spot where they need to sell to buy, hence Rodgers’s insistence that they will not be picked apart by rivals. Leicester’s next set of accounts are set to show significant losses and a bloated squad, amid financial fair play concerns, needs tapering, though ideally not at the expense of losing their biggest assets. Chelsea have made no secret of their interest in Fofana and Newcastle have made plays for James Maddison and Harvey Barnes. Arsenal could leave it late to move for Youri Tielemans, who is free to sign a pre-contract agreement with a European club in January. The exit of Kasper Schmeichel, one of their highest earners, to Nice after 11 years eases the wage bill but they could do with offloading fringe players such as Jannik Vestergaard, Boubakary Soumaré and Ryan Bertrand, who have made a combined 22 league starts since arriving last summer. Hamza Choudhury and Ayoze Pérez are also thought to be deemed expendable.
One of Rodgers’s focuses has been on improving Leicester’s record at set pieces, from which they conceded 19 goals last season, including a league-high 16 from corners. Having done the maths, Rodgers says they would have finished in the top six had they conceded half as many set-piece goals. The club hope to finalise the arrival of a specialist set-piece coach but the move has been held up by red tape owing to Brexit regulations.
“It was awful last season, that’s the reality,” Rodgers says. “There’s no getting away from that – we can’t hide, it wasn’t good enough. We’ve seen a difference in that in pre-season. It’s really cranking up the mentality of players and knowing that every situation is a chance to win or lose a game at a set piece.”
In Maddison, who scored 12 goals and registered eight assists last season, Leicester, who host Brentford on Sunday, have a game changer of their own. “He goes into every game with the confidence and personality to play – he’s not waiting for the pressure to decrease in the game,” Rodgers says. “You see [some] players, they wait for the game to go one- or two-nil down and then they start to play and you see their talent. The mark of the top players is that they want to impose themselves on the game from the very beginning and that’s something James has a special talent for. He goes into every game believing that he can make a difference.”