(Reuters) - Leicester City's hopes of a top-four spot evaporated late last season as several players lacked the experience of challenging at the top end of the table but manager Brendan Rodgers said they are better equipped to handle the pressure this time around.
Leicester, surprise champions in 2016, were second in the Premier League after Christmas last season before a poor run of form saw them slip to fifth, outside the Champions League places.
They are in contention again this season, sitting second on 27 points, four behind Liverpool and one ahead of third-placed Manchester United, who they host later on Saturday.
"This Christmas, compared to last, it's a different feeling. There's a feeling of maturity and development," Rodgers, who took over in February 2019, said at a news conference.
"The team is growing the longer we are together. That's only a good sign, if you want to be continuously improving.
"Last season was probably the first time in a number of years where the team had been right up there, so that feeling was new to a lot of the players and that can lead to some inconsistency."
Rodgers said Leicester's 5-2 victory at Manchester City in September and their 2-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur last Sunday was proof they are bridging the gap to the league's richest clubs.
"The players believe in what they are doing. There is a nice, quiet confidence," he added. "We don't have the finances of the top six clubs but let's see if we can work in a different way to get in there."
(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)