Of steam and smoke

Leicester City 3 – 1 Legia Warsaw

Report by Stuart Dawkins

Let’s start with the football.  This was an important game for City in this so-far fairly patchy season and they handled it well, looking comfortable throughout.  The TIFO banner unveiled before kick-off urged a clear direction: “From the whistle – full steam ahead”.  Nicely drafted, as both a generic call to arms but also noting the sluggish way the team has begun so many games recently. 

Whether it had any influence on the players is hard to prove, but the course of the first half was certainly more that of a runaway engine than an oft-stopping sleeper.  City’s first chance came in 15 seconds, Legia’s first came 15 seconds later – and there was not that much let-up throughout a first half that saw four goals scored and several more chances created for either side.

Evans had a minor injury in the warm-up, so there was a last-minute swap to Söyüncü and Amartey at the back for City, together with Castagne and Thomas. Barnes and Lookman flanked Daka up front, with Soumaré, Ndidi and Maddison in midfield.

City not only started brightly, but also got the goals to show for it. A combination of tenacity and a tiny bit of luck enabled Barnes to get the ball to Daka in the box after ten minutes. Daka is an accomplished finisher and there was little doubt he would be able to score from there, which he did with a nicely placed shot – making him the Club’s highest-ever goal-scorer in Europe with five goals. 

And just ten minutes later, good work on the City right-wide led to Maddison getting the ball ten-yards out with his back to the goal. He looked to have missed the chance to shoot with his favoured right-foot but turned and created enough space to place an unstoppable shot past the Legia ‘keeper with his left.

Whilst Legia had created a couple of chances themselves, from very limited possession, the two-nil score and the flow of the play suggested that the game might prove to be more straightforward than some had feared for City.  That view was tempered a bit when Legia pulled a goal back, from pretty much nothing. Their left-winger got behind Leicester’s defence, sent in a speculative cross and what happened next was not at all clear ‘live’ in the ground, but the ball hit Ndidi’s arm and there were no real complaints from City players when a penalty was given.  Schmeichel saved the spot-kick, but Mladenovic reacted quickest to poke the rebound into the goal, colliding with the goalpost in doing so.

Whilst the goal lifted the tempo of the Legia players, but City responded with that rarity: a goal from a Leicester corner. Maddison crossed it and Ndidi jumped high and well from an unmarked position to head it past a flailing goalkeeper.

A two-goal cushion re-established, the rest of the half – indeed pretty much the rest of the game – settled into a pattern with City looking the better team but with Legia frequently sharp going forwards; City had the most positive and creative play, but Legia kept popping up with half-chances on a fairly regular basis.

The second half was a quieter affair than the first, on the pitch at least.  A further goal by the visitors might have made things nervy for City, but that did not happen, and the home team kept up steady pressure that could easily have led to more goals, but did not.  Legia made the full quota of five substitutions, but to no real affect. 

Around the hour mark, Rodgers replaced Soumaré and Maddison with Dewsbury-Hall and Pérez.  Maddison had his liveliest and most positive game for some time. He seemed to line up in a slightly more advanced position than usual, was keen to get the ball throughout and generally used it well.  It had not been one of Soumaré’s better games. He has looked a little slower than usual in the past couple of matches, and the chance to rest him after sixty-minutes would have been welcome. 

For the last five-minutes, Rodgers replaced Lookman and Daka with Albrighton and Iheanacho. Lookman had chased and harried well but had not always been great with his choice of pass.  Daka had played – for want of a better cliché – a Vardy-like performance.  Not in the game too much but always a threat, did what he did well and finished his one clear-cut chance with ease.

Legia played out the final few minutes with ten players, as a strong but fair challenge left their striker unable to continue with all substitutions made.

It was a comfortable and well-deserved win for City. Each player made a decent contribution, chances were created and silly mistakes were at a minimum – hopefully such habits can be carried into the next few matches!

Now, the not-football.  There was a noticeably heavy police presence around the ground before kick-off – thankfully a rarity these days.  The Legia fans were lively and noisy throughout, no bad thing at all and leading to a good atmosphere for much of the match.  On the hour mark, however, around 40 or 50 red flares were lit in the Away fans section, and dozens of Legia fans attempted to climb over the covered seats separating them from City fans. 

This resulted in a pitched battle with a line of police which lasted quite some time, with smoke from the flares floating across the pitch for a good five or ten minutes.  There is simply no excuse for that behaviour.  It felt like something from another age.  The only positives to pull from it were that the police handled it in difficult circumstances, and that the home fans were pretty much universally disgusted by it.

The images make it clear that it was away fans who were the instigators, that home fans were not involved and that the police were defending, not in any way encouraging.  One hopes that UEFA see that and make it quite some time before Legia fans can travel to away matches to see their team again. That would be a shame for those genuine fans who simply want to see a game of football, but seems the minimum punishment necessary.

With this result City have leaped from bottom to top of their Europa League Group.  It looked the toughest group in advance, and it has certainly proved unpredictable. An away trip to Napoli is a tricky proposition, but City’s fate is in their own hands, and continuation of some sort in Europe this season is guaranteed.

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Castagne, Amartey, Söyüncü, Thomas, Soumaré, Ndidi, Maddison, Lookman, Daka, Barnes. Subs: Bertrand, Vardy, Albrighton, Iheanacho, Pérez, Choudhury, Dewsbury-Hall, Vestergaard, Stolarczyk, Marcal-Madivadua

Legia Warsaw: Miszta, Johansson, Wieteska, Jedrzejczyk, Ribeiro, Soares Martins, Slisz, Mladenovic, Muci, Emreli, Lima Linhares. Subs: Holownia, Pekhart, Celhaka, Skibicki, Wlodarczyk, Rose, Tobiasz, Ciepiela

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