Napoli 3 Leicester 2
Report by Colin Hall
In a frenetic but ultimately fruitless encounter at a storm-ridden Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, Leicester City slipped to a 3-2 defeat to hosts Napoli.
This result, together with Spartak Moscow’s win at Legia Warsaw, saw the Foxes crash out of the Europa League at the group stage and extended Brendan Rodgers’ underwhelming record in European competitions.
While his supporters will cite the absence of TEN members of the first-team squad through injury or illness for this game, the reality was that City were undone by a lack of composure at key moments against opponents who were also heavily depleted.
In addition, failure to keep a single clean sheet in any of the six group games indicates a weakness that ultimately proved fatal to prospects for a competition in which City had begun among the favourites.
Rodgers made three changes from the side beaten in the previous game, with Jamie Vardy, Youri Tielemans and Ryan Bertrand replacing Patson Daka, Ademola Lookman and Luke Thomas.
Despite hours of heavy rain locally before the game, it began on an excellent playing surface, albeit in front of a surprisingly sparse home support.
Many City fans who travelled to Italy were forced to miss the start, due to traffic delays affecting our coaches, combined with stringent passport and Covid checks carried out at the turnstiles. Some of the coaches did not arrive until half-time.
This correspondent entered the stadium just in time to see Ounas give Napoli the lead after Tielemans had lost possession. Apparently Timothy Castagne had previously missed a great chance to put City ahead.
Once again, the Foxes found themselves having to recover from an early setback, but they continued to create chances, with Wilfred Ndidi and Harvey Barnes both going close.
But midway through the half, the home side struck again, this time with a real sucker punch as Petagna burst through a flimsy offside trap to tee up Elmas for the simplest of tap-ins.
City, needing to recover quickly, reduced the arrears within three minutes as a James Maddison free-kick was only cleared as far as Jonny Evans, who found the net for the second time in three games.
Incredibly, with Napoli now showing even greater vulnerability at setpieces than City, an equaliser soon followed, with another Maddison free-kick knocked into the path of Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, who struck home a fine left-foot volley for his first goal in Foxes colours.
Shortly before the break, the home side suffered a further blow when midfielder Lozano was stretchered off following an accidental collision with Ndidi, The half concluded after several minutes of stoppage time amid another torrential downpour.
However, neither side seemed inhibited in any way by the adverse conditions after the resumption. Kasper Schmeichel denied Ounas with a fine near-post save, while at the other end, Vardy blazed wastefully wide after being sent clear by Castagne.
Sadly for City, Elmas proved more clinical in front of goal, with a clinical finish bringing his second goal of the game after the defence had failed to cut out a Di Lorenzo cross.
A minute later, Maddison squandered a glorious chance to level when seizing upon a wayward clearance 15 yards out, only to strike the post with the goal gaping.
The visitors pressed for the remainder of the game, but failed to find the vital breakthrough. Although options from the bench were limited, questions arose about how they were used. Should Barnes have been taken off for Daka? Why was Boubakry Soumare sent on (for an understandably tiring Tielemans) when an attacker might have made more impact? And why was Marc Albrighton not brought on until the 89th minute?
Despite his late introduction, the winger provided a glimpse of what could have been when finding the head of Vardy deep into stoppage time. But the striker sent his effort over and had been flagged offside anyway.
The anguish for the travelling Foxes continued after the final whistle, as news emerged of a late penalty for Legia which, if converted, would have kept us in the tournament. But the spot-kick, as with Vardy’s at the KPS against the same opposition, was saved, dashing hopes of a late (and frankly undeserved) reprieve.
So the new year sees City demoted to the Europa Conference, where several distant and less-than-hospitable venues lie in wait. The club needs to ask itself whether management and players have treated overseas competitions with the attention they need, or merely as a distraction from domestic business.
In the meantime, the luxury and much-heralded training complex must be used as a base to resolve ongoing defensive woes which have blighted performances for several months. Given the experience of the personnel available to Rodgers, the time for excuses has long since passed.
Napoli: Meret, Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Nunes Jesus, Mário Rui, Demme (Manolas 78), Zielinski, Lozano (Malcuit 45), Ounas (Mertens 63), Elmas, Petagna. Subs not used : Politano, Ospina, Boffelli, Costanzo, Vergara.
Goals: Ounas, Elmas 2. Bookings : Demme, Petagna
Leicester: Schmeichel, Castagne, Evans, Söyüncü, Bertrand, Tielemans (Soumaré 77), Ndidi, Maddison, Dewsbury-Hall (Albrighton 89), Barnes (Daka 72), Vardy. Subs not used: Ward, Choudhury, Thomas, Stolarczyk, Nelson, McAteer, Ewing.
Goals: Evans, Dewsbury-Hall.
Referee: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz. Attendance (officially): 14 646
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