Leicester City saw off AEK Athens in the Greek capitol on Thursday evening. Our first away match of our European campaign was effectively settled in the first half via a Jamie Vardy penalty and a late Hamza Choudhury strike. The hosts got one back in the second half, but the Foxes did a professional job and killed off the match to take all three points.
With the fixtures piling up, manager Brendan Rodgers made a hatful of changes to the lineup that topped Arsenal 1-0 last Sunday. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a back three of Wesley Fofana, Wes Morgan, and Christian Fuchs. Marc Albrighton and James Justin lined up as wingbacks with Hamza Choudhury, Youri Tielemans, James Maddison, and Cengiz Ünder in some combination of midfield roles. Jamie Vardy got the call as the lone striker.
Absolutely not just an excuse to use a Danny DeVito gif-with-a-hard-g-because-only-a-cad-would-pronounce-it-with-a-j.
Leicester hit the ground running, winning a free kick just outside the corner of the box in the first two minutes. Madders tried one of those free kicks where you blast it on the ground to go under the leap of the wall. This is considerably less effective when the wall doesn’t leap, so it came to nothing, but the Foxes looked lively and well up for this one from the start.
After a nice spell of possession for the hosts, City started to stamp their authority on the match. Nice work on the right by Albrighton led to Ünder teeing up Maddison just outside the area. His low shot was just wide of the far post when you’d have expected him to work the keeper.
Just a minute later, it was Madders’ pass that put Vardy through on goal. The former Fleetwood Town man stumbled slightly and his touch was heavy, but keeper Panagiotis Tsintotas lunged in and the referee blew for the penalty. Leicester’s number nine dispatched the kick with characteristic aplomb and Leicester had a deserved 1-0 lead.
It was nearly two on the 20’ minute mark. The hosts turned the ball over in their own half and Maddison was on it in flash. He slid the ball to Vardy who reversed it to Ünder. The Turkey international attempted to nutmeg the keeper but only managed the first three letters of the manoeuvre. To add insult to injury, Tsintotas also took a boot to the face from his defender, but one suspects he scarcely felt that one.
City appeared to relax and AEK were able to fashion a couple of decent chances. A corner was half-cleared on the left side of the box. The ball was volleyed back in to Marko Livaja whose header drew an instinctive save from Schmeichel. He was offside, but the flag stayed down and there is no VAR in the group stages of the Europa League, so it would have counted. Livaja was again the beneficiary when Fuchs and Morgan let a ball fall between them. The striker managed drove towards goal, but his shot was well wide of the target.
Leicester then completely bottled a corner routine, with the ball running across the area, forcing Choudhury to run 20 yards to chase it down. I mention this because the Loughborough native learned his lesson and camped at the far post for the next corner when the exact same thing happened. He had something like half an hour to line up his shot which he struck sweetly with both power and placement, doubling the Leicester lead just before the half.
Rodgers made one change at the half, withdrawing Christian Fuchs for Luke Thomas. Thomas moved into the left wingback role with Justin filling in at centre-half. The move nearly paid dividends in the first minute of the second half as the 19 year-old sent in a beautiful cross with his first touch. Vardy steamed into the middle to meet it but was just a moment late.
The Foxes were made to rue their failure to extend the lead just moments later. A ball over the top found substitute Muamer Tankovic’s run behind the entire Leicester defense. The striker kept his nerve and gave Schmeichel no chance with a low drive. Just a minute later, Tankovic received another defense splitting ball, but this time he blasted over from what might have been a better chance.
The match was starting to open up, with Ünder striking the post with a curling drive and then Athens threating to break again through Tankovic, who was flagged for offside. Rodgers famously doesn’t like it when football starts to resemble basketball, so he made a double substitution to slow things down. Nampalys Mendy and Dennis Praet came on for Choudhury and Ünder.
If only it went a tad Ünder.— Canadian Foxes (@LCFC_Canada) October 29, 2020
I finally understand that episode of South Park where everyone goes to war with Canada...
On 70’, Rodgers hauled off Vardy and introduced Iheanacho and, just three minutes later, swapped Harvey Barnes for Maddison. If you’re counting along, yes, that’s five substitutes because that’s how things work in the Europa League this year. Leicester were soon under the cosh because Thomas was adjudged, very belatedly, to have touched an attacker’s face near the corner flag. The Foxes cleared the free kick, which only just after the AEK man’s Rivaldo-esque dive.
If Rodgers’ goal was to turn the match into a disjointed midfield slog with no opportunities for either side, then “Well done!” as that is exactly what happened and, obviously, that was to his club’s benefit. The match became borderline-unwatchable as neither side were able to maintain anything like cohesive play or, for that matter, possession from that point forward. The clock did it’s thing and the Foxes ran out deserved 2-1 winners on the night.
The take away from the match has to be, first and foremost, three points in an away match. It was not an aesthetic triumph by any stretch of the imagination, but getting a result with a somewhat makeshift lineup has to be considered a job well done. There were some nervy moments, but if you’d told me last year that a back line of Morgan, Fuchs, and Fofana would look that comfortable in a European match, I’d have been deeply skeptical.
The victory keeps the Foxes on top of Group G with 6 points from two matches. We return to the Premier League to face Leeds United next Monday and then we resume our European adventures on 15 November when we play host to co-leaders S.C. Braga.