Leicester City 0 v SK Slavia Praha 2
Europa League Round of 32, King Power Stadium, 25th February 2021
Report by Colin Murrant
Following the goalless draw in Prague last week, City had a good chance of progressing to the last sixteen although, with away goals counting double in the event of a draw, they needed to remain solid in defence. The centre back pairing of Evans and Söyüncü was predictable, with Amartey and Thomas the full-backs as Rodgers continued to manage the return from injury of both Castagne and Ricardo. The midfield saw Choudhury return to the starting eleven perhaps with half an eye on the need to stop the opposition scoring. With Maddison injured, and Iheanacho banned for the tie, it was a surprise to see Harvey Barnes only on the bench; Ünder and Albrighton taking the wide positions in what seemed to be a 4-2-3-1 system.
City kicked off attacking the North Stand and within 2 minutes had a chance. Söyüncü, running from his own half laid the ball to the right side of the penalty area, the ball was passed on to Ünder who broke into the six-yard box. The ball arrived back with Söyüncü who could only manage a tame shot straight at the keeper. This quick start proved to be a false dawn as there was a lack tempo to City’s game, no cohesion in the passing, lack of movement. There were very few half chances for City and Kolar in Slavia’s goal had very little to do.
Schmeichel was probably marginally the busier of the two keepers but he again was rarely troubled. A long clearance up field let Sima in on goal after Söyüncü mistimed his headed clearance: Sima’s resultant shot from twenty-five yards out went well wide.
The teams came out unchanged for the second half and were soon on the offensive. On 49 minutes a Slavia attack down City’s right dragged Evans out of position and wide, Stanciu crossed the ball and Thomas had to come across to pick up the now unmarked Sima which left Provod free at the far post: the ball landed at his feet and he buried it in the goal giving Schmeichel no chance. City were now up against it as they needed two goals to go through and the Prague team could now defend in greater numbers. Vardy put Ünder through but the latter didn’t trust his right foot and he let the defender get back at him as he tried to engineer the ball onto his left; his eventual right foot shot going weakly into the side netting.
On 60 minutes the cavalry arrived as Barnes, Ricardo, and Castagne replaced Albrighton, Choudhury and Amartey. City huffed and puffed but were creating nothing of note, their play was stuttering with no real pattern to it. Teenager Tavares was waiting to come on as substitute when, on 79 minutes, Oladeji Olayinka set Sima up for the second Slavia goal. What a fine goal it was as Sima hit the ball from twenty-yards into the same corner of the net as the first goal.
City offered very little the game was lost and the play reflected it. The only real passion came from Söyüncü who was pushing and shoving Kuchta as the latter dawdled off after being substituted. Not for the first time Söyüncü appeared to lose his temper and had to be restrained by his team mates. As the referee fumbled around his pockets, it was a relief to see the card pulled out was only yellow.
The Foxes looked ragged and tired; they are a poor and different team when not playing at a tempo: Kolar had no shots of any substance to save. I have never understood why managers do not start with their best team and rest players once they get a lead, chasing the game rarely succeeds. If they can recover their League form and get a Champion’s League place, tonight’s defeat will be worth it, and I wonder if Rodgers had the greater prize in mind?
The squad has been hit badly with injuries, but depth in creative midfield and attacking positions is sadly lacking: with Vardy limping and clearly in discomfort at the end, it is to be hoped he can soon shrug the injury off. I do not want to single out Hamza Choudhury, but I do not understand why Papy Mendy does not play. Mendy is always looking to play the ball forward, he played very well when Ndidi was injured: this supposed pledge by Rodgers that Choudhury would get more game time after his transfer fell through seems quite bizarre if true, and very unfair on Mendy.
Over the two legs of the Round of 32, City were not very impressive and created very little. They were out thought on team selection and tactics. In the Champion’s League 2016/17, City were labelled as an embarrassment by some pundits before a ball was kicked: pundits that had to eat their words as City were England’s last team standing. Tonight, with the pundits saying City could win the Europa League, City probably deserved that title.
Now, City need to re-group and go forward and secure that Champion’s League place and hopefully, with some new recruits and with a full house at the King Power, bring the great European nights back to Leicester. There is still a lot to play for this season.
Leicester City: Schmeichel; Amartey (61), Evans, Söyüncü, Thomas; Choudhury (61), Ndidi, Tielemans; Albrighton (61), Ünder (80); Vardy.
Subs: Ward, Jakupovic, Castagne (61), Ricardo (61), Fuchs, Flynn, Mendy, Tavares (80), Leshabela, Barnes (61)
SK Slavia Praha: Kolar; Bah, Kudela, Zima, Boril; Hromada (65), Sima, Stanciu (69), Provod; Oladeji Olayinka, Kuchta (84)
Subs: Holes, Deli, Stejskal, Dorley (69), Traore, Masopust (84), Kovar, Lingr (65), Višinský
Referee: Serdar Gözübüyük
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