Ünder takes and Barnes storms (*)

LCFC 2 v 0 AEK Athens

Report by Stuart Dawkins (* – no more puns please – Ed)

What a difference three years (and two days) makes.  We all, I suspect, have our “I remember the first time I saw Harvey Barnes play” stories.  For a few thousand Leicester fans, the punchline of that story goes something like, “It was from miles away at the back of a stand … through some form of netting … in Porto … he didn’t do much … we lost five-nil”. 

Remember the first sight of Harvey ?

Well, three years (and two days) later, our view of the players was, sadly, far clearer – ‘sadly’ as it was through a high-definition TV screen – and Barnes was a worthy contender for man-of-the-match … in Leicester … and we won two-nil.

For many, those ‘European’ moments are an essential part of the exhilaration of following Leicester City for many years.  The friendliness of the Porto police (are you watching, Madrid??), hanging a City scarf from the window of a UNESCO-heritage listed hotel, the visit to the Grahams Port cellar – none of these are specifically connected to football, of course, but it was Leicester City that set the context for it to happen. 

And today’s equivalent?  Squinting to try to spot our “Clarendon Park Foxes on Tour” banner behind the goal when the camera pans out (we couldn’t see it!  It’s either been moved or has wilted after eight months in the open air) and drinking Portuguese wine whilst taking notes on the match.  Such is 2020, but hopefully future years will see a return to something more usual.

I dwell on the preamble to this match because the match itself does not require much description.  City played well; Athens were simply not in their class; it was a job well done.

Rodgers used his squad effectively again, with seven changes from the win against Sheffield United.  This meant a rare start for Ward in goal (Evans taking the Captain’s armband), a reversion to a back four, with Thomas getting the left-back spot, and Barnes and Ünder chosen to support Iheanacho in attack.  As it was a home match, there was no need to rest players by not even flying them out to be on the bench, so regulars such as Vardy, Schmeichel and Mendy were there if needed – although Maddison was absent with a minor injury.  Ndidi also got the welcome chance to get more minutes on the pitch following his return to the team.

City started briskly, with Barnes and Thomas having free rein on the left-hand side numerous times in the first fifteen minutes.  Ünder was taking corners from both wings, and Praet was operating in front of Ndidi and Tielemans in midfield. 

For once, this season, the early pressure bore fruit.  In the twelfth minute poor defending let the ball squirt on to Tielemans on the left wing, his moderate cross was completely mis-hit by an AEK defender: it spun up into the air and Ünder volleyed it home from about 12-yards with his left foot.  It is hard to be certain from a TV view, but I doubt any shot has been hit harder or faster at the King Power Stadium.  It was a worthy first Leicester goal for Ünder.

A couple of minutes later and the match was pretty much sewn up.  Thomas played a Fuchs-like 50-yard pass from defence to find Barnes behind the retreating AEK defence.  Barnes cut inside and hit a shot from an ambitious angle, it struck the back of the closing defender – the ricochet giving the AEK ‘keeper no chance.  Two-nil to Leicester, and well-deserved.

A minute later AEK got their first, and only, shot of the half – flying over the bar from 20-yards.  The rest was a constant stream of neat City possession and chances not quite taken.  Fofana completely missed a free header from a corner, Barnes and Thomas linked to create a chance for Iheanacho, but he mis-judged the bounce and the ball passed behind him, Ndidi headed just wide from an Ünder free kick, Praet and Ünder both had shots denied.

As the half progressed, AEK began to manage Barnes a little better: initially by constantly fouling him and then by changing their formation, but the consequence of that change was that the Athens side posed even less of an attacking threat; indeed much of the time they were barely able to keep possession of the ball.

Neither side made changes at half-time, and the second half carried on much as the first.  The principal change being that most of Leicester’s pressure was now from the right-wing, with Ünder having free rein and the AEK defenders not coping at all.

City created fewer chances in the second half, but they did not really need to.  AEK created nothing until 80-minutes had been completed, despite making five substitutions to try to change the tone of the game.

Leicester kept possession, made a few forays towards goal, and simply looked comfortable and in complete control.

Ndidi was substituted on the hour, having played well in circumstances that did not require too much of him; Mendy took his place.  A few minutes later, Pérez replaced Iheanacho, who had held the ball up well but had not had too much to do.

Barnes weaved passed two defenders to shoot just wide, a corner was headed to Praet who could only toe-poke the chance just wide, Barnes released Pérez whose shot went under the keeper from close range yet somehow was kept out of the goal by the keeper’s heel.  It was a professional performance which did not seem to tax the City team at all.

As full-time approached, Morgan and Choudhury came on for Fofana and Tielemans.  AEK held the ball a little more in the final ten minutes, and finally put together a move that resulted in a shot sent over the bar.  Even in stoppage time, it was City who created two more decent chances, somehow managing not to score from a three-on-one break which was stopped by a fine defensive tackle.

Barens and Ünder were very good.  AEK were not very good.  City cannot read too much from the comfort with which they beat opposition who gave them more time and space than any team in the Premier League would ever do.  Still, top of their Europa League Group and fourth in the Premier League is a pretty good place to be – particularly given the injuries to many key players.  Rodgers and the team deserve praise for that.

Leicester: Ward, Justin, Fofana, Evans, Thomas, Praet, Ndidi, Tielemans, Ünder, Barnes, Iheanacho. Subs: Schmeichel, Morgan, Vardy, Albrighton, Pérez, Choudhury, Mendy, Fuchs, Jakupovic

AEK Athens: Tsintotas, Hnid, Nedelcearu, Svarnas, Vasilantonopoulos, Mantalos, Gomes Simoes, Krsticic, Mitaj, Garcia, Ansarifard. Subs: Albanis, Laci, Tankovic, Oliveira, Galanopoulos, Shakhov, Athanasiadis, Sabanadzovic, Sardelis, Christopoulos, Macheras, Theocharis

The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation