Opinion: Why the FA Cup is still important for Leicester this season
Leicester City will still be hoping to challenge for the FA Cup this season despite a hectic schedule | Photo: Getty/ Matthew Ashton

Leicester City begin their 2020-21 Emirates FA Cup adventure with a trip to face Stoke City on Saturday, as they look to surpass their quarter-final feat last time out.

The Foxes have had a hectic start to the campaign but currently sit third in the Premier League as well as qualifying for the knockout stages of the Europa League in the meantime. Brendan Rodgers’ side have played 24 matches in all competitions, averaging a game just under every five days since their league curtain-raiser at West Bromwich Albion.

While City could potentially have an action-packed second-half of the campaign even without an FA Cup run, the clash with Stoke can give Leicester a platform to be successful in the competition, especially with Rodgers likely to rotate his pack but still take the game seriously.

The last time City visited the Bet365 Stadium in a competitive fixture was back in November 2017, as Peter Crouch scored a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw after Vicente Iborra and Riyad Mahrez netted for the Foxes. But Stoke came out on top when the sides previously met in the FA Cup seven years ago despite David Nugent’s late consolation. But why is it important to have a good cup run?

History in the competition

Well, many Leicester supporters know the heartbreak of losing in the latter rounds of the FA Cup. The Foxes, in fact, are the only team to have lost four or more finals in the competition without winning it ahead of Birmingham City, Queens Park, Crystal Palace and Watford, who have been defeated twice each. So it has been a pretty horrid experience for City when reaching that stage of the Cup, with the most recent occurring in 1969 during Frank O'Farrell’s reign as manager. However, recently, the Foxes have done well, reaching the quarter-final in two of the previous three seasons, narrowly being beaten by Chelsea on both occasions.

Leicester have just lost three of their last nine third-round ties in the competition – the most recent being the disappointing 2-1 defeat at League Two side Newport County two seasons ago. The last time City fell to a loss against a Championship opposition in the FA Cup was Millwall in 2016-17, having secured four victories over second-tier sides since then. This included three successive wins in the early rounds last season against Wigan Athletic, Brentford and Birmingham, keeping clean sheets in all of those so history suggests the Foxes should have the edge. But it won’t be easy, especially against a decent Stoke team.

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Opportunity for others to impress

Another cup competition will surely give a few of Rodgers’ squad a chance to impress given their action-packed schedule of late and the likelihood of rotation. Like the Carabao Cup earlier in the season, the Stoke clash provides the City boss to allow others to get valuable game time under their belt, with competition for places getting stronger. It’s likely that Danny Ward will be given an opportunity in net, having appeared in the final two Europa League group stage fixtures and the League Cup game earlier in the campaign.

Luke Thomas has made an impression when called upon and he could come into the back four, while Çağlar Söyüncü’s recovery to full fitness is expected to continue against the Potters. There’s no doubt City have got plenty of options in midfield, and this weekend’s tie may give Dennis Praet and Hamza Choudhury another chance to showcase their ability as the pair look to get back to their best.  

While there has been plenty of speculation surrounding Demarai Gray’s future at the Foxes, he could be handed a first start of the season after coming on as a substitute in the 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace on December 28. The 24-year-old, who scored twice for the club’s Under 23s against West Ham United back in November, has been linked for a move to a host of top-flight and Championship sides this month, but this may be the perfect time for him to re-capture his form in a Leicester shirt.

Another City forward who is struggling for confidence at the moment is Kelechi Iheanacho. The Nigerian squandered a golden opportunity from the penalty spot in his last appearance for the club and it looked to have affected his impact during the rest of the game against the Eagles. Despite impressing when featuring in the Europa League, scoring three times in six appearances, this is the perfect chance for Iheanacho to break his domestic duck this season.

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Lack of cup success and form going into the game

Despite Leicester’s success in winning the Premier League, Championship and League One all within a decade, they haven’t won a trophy in the Cup competitions since the League Cup success in 2000. That was when the Foxes, managed by Martin O’Neill, secured a 2-1 victory over Tranmere Rovers to lift the trophy at the original Wembley Stadium. Although it is unknown whether supporters will be allowed into the final this year due to Covid-19, fans will be dreaming of another triumph like that.

With Rodgers’ side sitting inside the top four in the Premier League and flying high at the minute, there is no doubt they’re capable of mounting a real challenging in the cup. The Foxes come into the game off the back of a four-match unbeaten run, having beaten Tottenham Hotspur and drawing against Manchester United and Palace, before securing a 2-1 win over Newcastle United most recently.

Despite the change in competition, Rodgers will be hoping to continue his side’s momentum into the Stoke game while giving other quality players a chance to shine. Michael O’Neill’s men are going to be tough but City supporters will be wanting another strong performance and mount another real cup run given their current status at the moment.