Leicester Mercury

Pep talk! City have top boss with top quality players

GUARDIOLA IMPRESSED WITH RODGERS’ CHANGES

- By JORDAN BLACKWELL jordan.blackwell@reachplc.com @jrdnblackw­ell leicesterm­ercury.co.uk/sport

MANCHESTER City boss Pep Guardiola has given a glowing report of Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City “contenders”.

As he prepares to bring his Premier League leaders to the King Power Stadium this evening, Guardiola said that Leicester are a “serious team already” and are not just ones to watch for the future.

Leicester sit third ahead of the game and are bidding to return to the Champions League, something Guardiola believes they are capable of given the improvemen­ts made under Rodgers.

“I have to admit since Brendan Rodgers took over the team it’s been incredible,” he said.

“I remember perfectly clearly he took over the team and after one week, 10 days, the team made me go: ‘Wow!.’

“The change was completely different to the previous manager and they are doing really well.

“Last season maybe because of the lockdown they had an incredible chance to qualify for the Champions League but in the end they could not do it.

“They are in an incredible position again this season. So that means that it’s not for one year. The last five years they are working really well, and in the scouting department.

“It’s a serious team already. It’s a contender every season. Top manager, top players. It’s a big, big challenge for us.”

Tonight’s clash sees Guardiola take on Kelechi Iheanacho again, a player that he sold to City in 2017 for £25 million.

While the Nigerian has had to show patience during a difficult few years, he is now blossoming, and takes on his old side as the Premier League’s player of the month and on a run of seven goals in four games.

Man City were willing to let Iheanacho go because they did not feel they could accommodat­e him as well as Sergio Aguero and Gabriel

Jesus. It was certainly not because they felt he did not have the quality, hence the inclusion of a nowexpired £50 million buy-back clause in his deal.

Guardiola is overjoyed that the striker is hitting his stride again.

Asked about Iheanacho’s form, Guardiola replied: “Incredible. The quality was there, he was a young player here and I believe in that moment with Gabriel and Sergio we didn’t have much space.

“He is a fantastic person, we had a good relationsh­ip, and I’m delighted it’s going well lately.

“He’s playing for the injured Maddison and he links really well with the midfield and he’s good in the behind, he’s fast and in the final third he has the right tempo, he is so clear in front of the goal.”

He was not the only City player picked out by Guardiola ahead of this Saturday’s game, with Wilfred Ndidi, James Justin, and Youri Tielemans

also getting a mention, the latter fulfilling a prediction his fellow Belgian, and Man City icon, Vincent Kompany once made.

Asked about Ndidi, Guardiola said: “He is (a top player). You see all the players. Justin now is injured unfortunat­ely, for him especially I am so sorry, but all of them have an amount of quality. Ndidi is doing really well.

“Tielemans player.

“I remember when I arrived, my first season and Vincent Kompany started speaking about him when he was in the national team for Belgium, how good he was in that period. Vincent as always he was right.

“(They are) a top club, the players are quality.

“They can play when you defend deep, they have the quality to find the sources and when the space to move in behind, especially (Jamie) is a top, top-class

Vardy and Kelechi right now.”

While it is currently Iheanacho getting the goals, in the reverse fixture it was Vardy, the number nine hitting a hat-trick as Leicester recorded a thumping 5-2 win.

Guardiola is mindful of that result, while also admitting there has been plenty of football since that Sunday in September at the Etihad.

“They were incredibly well organised and we struggled to attack them,” said the Spaniard.

“We conceded three penalties against that team; it’s almost impossible.

“I know they can beat us. Maybe not in that way but Leicester are a top-class team.

“You see the players they have, even the depth of the squad. I am impressed. We can be beaten.

“We were beaten and I congratula­te them but it was a long time ago. Many things happen.”

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NICK POTTS/PA

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