1) Thursday nights under the lights are fun but definitely miss the fan buzz
That video the official Leicester City Twitter account posted ahead of the game got us all a bit teary-eyed right? It made me long to be back at the King Power under the lights. Our home support and atmosphere has never been better than during European nights. With some many European debutants in our team, I’m sorry that they didn’t get the chance to experience that atmosphere.
It shouldn’t have dampened the mood though, this was a confident Leicester City performance and largely comfortable 3-0 win after weathering an early storm from our Ukrainian opponents. The Foxes home record in the Champions League back in 2016/17 was fundamental to our success and we’ve got this Europa League campaign off to a positive start.
Watching some of the football on show - ‘Leicester are so easy on the eye’ to quote the BT commentary - was a joy and should provide a perfect springboard for the run of the next few weeks which is solid with Premier League-Europa back to back fixtures.
The extra bonus being that we made it through the game with no new injuries and with another sixty-five minutes under his belt, it was the fittest James Maddison has looked so far this season. Relief all around.
2) Harvey Barnes, take a bow
My only criticism of Barnes last season was that his good performances, or moments, weren’t quite consistent enough. A problem that, if this start to the season is anything to go by, is firmly behind him. Take a bow, Harvey, you were outstanding in your first Europa League game. He took all the right kinds of risks and ran at the Zorya defence time and time again.
Watching the highlights back makes his performance stand out even more. Barnes was front and centre to every positive piece of play from the Foxes. Having tormented the Ukrainian defence for the whole game, he sorely deserved his goal at last. It might not have been the spectacular effort that hit the post, and set up James Maddison, but it was a well-crafted goal and his composure in that one-on-one was excellent.
There’s an energy every time Barnes has the ball that always feels like a goal, or a chance at goal, is coming. Some of his link-up play with Kelechi Iheanacho was great and it’s nice to see them forming a partnership in Vardy’s absence. Barnes didn’t quite get the same level of overlapping that James Justin has been providing in games, Christian Fuchs sits deeper, but he didn’t need it. This was Barnes’ show and what a joy it was to watch!
Leicester, and Fosse Posse’s own Jack, will be keen to ensure the winger is not going anywhere soon. He’s certainly attracting attention and another Man of the Match performance won’t go unnoticed.
Gareth bale has posters of Harvey Barnes on his bedroom wall pic.twitter.com/ujvWGZNcnE— BlueWombat (@KoloSZN) October 23, 2020
3) Brendan Rodgers does remember that Ayoze Perez is a striker
Looking at the substitution bench against Zorya, one thing stuck out like a sore thumb. Two goalkeepers and no striker? Hm. Well, that is if you don’t count Ayoze Perez, which I’d stopped doing given Rodgers has rarely played him as one. It’s pretty criminal that we chose not to name Islam Slimani but logged Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall whose in the Championship on a season-long loan. Whether this will come back to haunt us is yet to be seen.
Rodgers did make me a little giddy though by allowing Ayoze an opportunity to actually play his position! You’d forgive the Spaniard for taking a moment to re-adjust to it, but in truth, the game was largely done by the time he made his appearance.
It was easy to be unconcerned about the lack of strikers in the squad when we won comfortably and two of the three goals came from our midfield, but it’ll be interesting to see if this lasts. It’s impossible to say if Perez is a viable option in this position when we just never play him there.
4) Kelechi Iheanacho stepped up
Kelechi may not have walked away with the Man of the Match award, only because Barnes was just next level good, but he did get a goal which felt like the least he deserved. He’s another player that’s lacked consistency though it’s not always his fault. He doesn’t often get a run of games and even when he does, he never gets to play the full ninety.
I was impressed by his positional play and his strength against Zorya. He was incredibly unselfish, feeding Barnes and Maddison through on several occasions. When he did get his goal, it came from a great pass from the Zorya defender but he was quick to react to it, steal it, turn and fire home. A goal that had an air of confidence about it, and will breed more.
This was Iheanacho’s time to shine. It’s a big ask because when Vardy is back, he’ll lose his spot, but he definitely stepped up and provided more of the traits that make Vardy so vital to Leicester City.
5) Dennis Praet, utility player? Why not
Already up there as one of the key players for this Foxes side, Dennis Praet added another string to his bow. His performance against Zorya was quietly effective at times, little touches or winning the ball back, but then there were bursts forward, passes through and a right-wing cameo that was pretty effective. It feels like he’s covered most forward areas on the pitch for us this season and not only is he willing to do so, he’s looked good in all of those positions too.
It didn’t lead to a goal, but there was one barn-storming run down the right to retrieve a sort of pass from Belgian teammate Castagne where he attempted a cross in and Zorya hastily knocked it behind for the corner. Praet was denied the chance to add a goal to the tally by a very important block from the Zorya defender.
The Belgian’s willingness to slot into the midfield wherever needed allowed us to play James Maddison in his best position and leave us with a formation that allowed Barnes the freedom to dominate the attacking play.
"European debut and a goal I should be so happy with that, but kind of wish my family were up there and I had a full King Power Stadium watching me"— Football Daily (@footballdaily) October 23, 2020
James Maddison feels the Europa League game against Zorya was bittersweet pic.twitter.com/kXaVV7RP00
Bonus Learn: Kasper Schmeichel has always been the king of interviews for the Foxes. Charming, compelling to listen too, intelligent in his choice of words and very well spoken. It seems that he has a rival in James Maddison though. His post match interview made it easy to see why everybody seems to love him. His coaching with Brendon has rubbed off too in the way he talked tactics and formation.