LIVERPOOL: File photo shows Leicester City’s English striker Jamie Vardy (2R) and Everton’s English defender Mason Holgate jump for the ball during the English Premier League football match between Everton and Leicester City at Goodison Park in Liverpool, north west England. —AFP

LONDON: Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers says he is not concerned about Jamie Vardy’s goal drought, as he searches for a win to reignite the Foxes’ challenge for a Champions League spot. The 33-year-old’s only goals of 2020 came in the final match before the lockdown — Leicester’s 4-0 home win against Aston Villa in March.

That double took Vardy to 99 Premier League goals and, despite the barren run, he remains the division’s joint-top scorer this season on 19 alongside Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Leicester have collected just two points in three matches since the restart following the coronavirus shutdown.

Asked if he was worried about Vardy’s lack of goals, Rodgers told reporters on Friday: “No, I think Jamie is proven and since I came into here he has been a breath of fresh air. “His talent and his goalscoring ability has been right up there for the whole period I have been here. I think when he gets the opportunities he will take them and I think over the course of these games he hasn’t had many.”

Rodgers added: “Sometimes these milestones when they are so close can take that bit longer to achieve, but he is still such a real catalyst for us and a very important player for us.” Leicester are still third in the Premier League, but are just a point clear of Chelsea and three ahead of Manchester United and Wolves. Rodgers said he never had any reservations about Leicester’s game against Crystal Palace going ahead on Saturday despite lockdown measures being re-imposed on the Midlands city.

“We are in a bubble here in terms of our training facility, and obviously the games, and we get regularly tested so nothing really has changed on that front,” he said. Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has backed his struggling team to pull off “Mission Impossible” by getting a result at champions Liverpool on Sunday and boost their hopes of staying in the Premier League.

“People will see our game at Liverpool as Mission Impossible – unfortunately we haven’t got Tom Cruise with us but I’ve got 11 players and I’ve seen a desire in their eyes,” Smith told reporters ahead of the clash at Anfield. Villa are 18th in the league with 27 points from 32 matches, having won only seven matches in the current campaign despite spending close to 150 million pounds ($187.25 million) to overhaul their squad during the close season.

The 1-0 loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers last week was their 19th of the campaign, with Villa seeking their first win since the league restarted following the COVID-19 stoppage. “They feel stung by criticism, you’re going to get criticism when you’re in a position we’re in. Their job is to prove people wrong. Without a doubt, we’ve seen a better Villa after the break,” Smith added.

“The points tally hasn’t shown that, we played Wolves last week and they’re pushing for the Champions League… there was nothing between the two teams. The only quality on show was the goal. “If we manage to stay up this season, which I believe we will, there’ll be a better Villa next year. I’ve still not been relegated as a manager and don’t expect to be this season.” —Agencies