1) Qualification the
hard fun way!
Nothing says qualifying in true Leicester style like somehow only conceding two goals in a terrible first half, turning it around, then conceding in the last minute of normal time only to get a last minute equalizer. Still breathing?
The first half was possibly the scariest forty-five minutes since that second half at Bournemouth. The back-line was slightly changed from Liverpool, to rest Fofana and fit our shape, but it looked just as vulnerable. Braga really exploited our weaknesses and they should be gutted that it was only 2-1 at half-time as that definitely played into Brendan Rodgers’ hands.
Trying to rest some of the regular starters didn’t entirely work for Rodgers. The line-up looked decent on paper, but we struggled to impose ourselves. Harvey Barnes’ equalizer to put us at 1-1 papered over some of the glaring cracks for a few minutes. We looked weak in midfield, though it did us, or him, no favours to have Praet playing so deep. We struggled with pass completion and ideas. Though had Cengiz Ünder buried his one-on-one chance, and Kelechi Iheanacho not ran into the exact same area as Under in a different moment, we could have made Braga’s goalkeeper pay.
The key thing is we’re into the knockout stages and with two games to spare.
2) Kasper Schmeichel’s commentary was the highlight of the first half
The commentary team suggesting it was news that Kasper Schmeichel is incredibly vocal is amusing. Unless you’re new to watching the Foxes, this is an immediate takeaway. However, it’s not often that you get to hear him for the full ninety minutes like we got against Braga.
Was it the acoustics of the stadium and the proximity of the cameras or did somebody strap a microphone to Kasper or the goalposts? Does it even matter? His non-stop chatter was fascinating and at times, very on the money. Some of the more fruity language used, aimed at the defensive shambles, was probably being repeated in households around the world. Depending on your temperament as a player, you’d either love his involvement or it could make you nervous.
Safe to say Kasper Schmeichel was rather vocal tonight pic.twitter.com/2EPmCZ7nsr— Ross (@rpiper14) November 26, 2020
Having moments like this have been one of the few upsides of fans not being allowed to games. Braga’s stadium, affectionately referred to as The Quarry (which makes you love it instantly, right?) made for a fantastic backdrop to the game and is the Europa fixture I most had my eye on when it looked like there was a remote chance that things would have been normal enough to attend. Hearing Schmeichel, and the other players, in their frank mid-game assessment of things does add some fun and further cements why we love our Captain.
3) The right back dilemma comes to a head
Is it unfair to focus on the right back spot when Braga cut through our midfield and defence so easily in the first forty-five? I don’t think so. I think it added to our troubles in other areas. It hurts to have to say that Marc Albrighton really struggled in his role down that flank defensively. It wasn’t pretty and at times both Christian Fuchs and Dennis Praet were dropping to that position to cover or support, leaving holes in other places.
Clearly we all got a little carried away at the sight of Timothy Castange and Ricardo back in training, as neither have been available to play yet, but we could really do with them. James Justin was deputizing in a more central role, but also found himself pulled over to the right a lot. It basically left Jonny Evans open and alone in the middle and were it not for Schmeichel, we should have been punished more.
It’s hard to be mad at Albrighton though. He’s been an incredible servant over the years and will always give you maximum effort. He’s also key as one of the older heads in a young squad. Certain Fosse Posse members were questioning why he’d survived all of the substitutions as the match drew to completion and the Foxes were 3-2 down. The answer, and Rodgers’ justification, will be that no matter the defensive challenges, he’s always capable of one key cross that can provide a goal. Cue the assist that saw Jamie Vardy bury his 90+5 minute chance!
4) Jamie Vardy is a Swiss army knife footballer of successful partnerships
What do David Nugent, Riyad Mahrez, Shinji Okazaki and James Maddison have in common besides being loved by Foxes fans? A very successful partnership with Jamie Vardy. Mahrez and Maddison come the closest in terms of sharing traits but it speaks volumes about Vardy’s versatility that he has thrived with all of these players.
The newest of those - his relationship with Maddison - was instrumental in our comeback last night. In an ideal world, I’d imagine Rodgers wanted to rest Youri Tielemans, Fofana, Maddison and Vardy entirely, but needs must triumph when European progression is on the line. Maddison and Vardy certainly got the better end of it, with Fofana being asked to try and prop up the right side of the defense. It was a game crying out for the annoying persistence of Vardy and the trickery and raumdeuter (space finding for those of you not obsessing with Football Manager at the minute) skills of Maddison.
It helped both that Rodgers changed the system and brought them on with enough time for that to make an impact. Vardy got the goal his efforts deserved, but Maddison was outstanding. Involved in every forward move. He may not have got an official assist for the third goal, but he played a huge role. He gave us something creatively we lacked before and his assist for the Luke Thomas goal was a delight.
James Maddison is a technically gifted magician with supreme quality. The feint, drag-back and vicious cross with his weaker left-foot did the damage; 2-2.— Ron Amokh (@t_aheri) November 26, 2020
Should be in the England squad ahead of Mason Mount.#BRALEI
Yeah Gareth, give the people what they want!
If this was a different game, and he’d been less instrumental in so many other ways, it would be hard to ignore those corners but let’s be honest, it isn’t just him. It’s just Leicester and corners.
5) European football showcases our academy system again
There may not have been a lot of positives to take from that first half, but it was encouraging that we were starting three academy graduates in different areas of the pitch. I don’t need to argue the case of Harvey Barnes because his quality speaks for itself and he’s already established himself as a key part of the team. It felt a little unfortunate when he had to make way, though the system we switched to didn’t favour him as much.
Starting Luke Thomas at left-back may have been a move of necessity given our defensive injury list, but it’s exactly how you get him some very valuable game time. He’ll have learnt a lot from this experience. He’s shown glimpses of his potential going forward before, I flagged it during the impressive Leeds performance, but to get his first-ever goal on a stage like this? Not bad. He was very much in the right place to receive Maddison’s feinted cross to get us level again.
The third starter, Hamza Choudhary, had a mixed game. He was lucky to stay on past half-time, but having Tielemans alongside him, and the system change helped him look more comfortable.
Also, who didn’t love Hamza’s reaction to that equalizer? I needed a drink after that!
Yep, we all needed a breather after that one pic.twitter.com/C0u3ESFCmN— Leicester City (@LCFC) November 26, 2020
Bonus Learn: I know it’s probably not the most practical of stadiums, but I really, really love the Braga stadium. The photos of us celebrating the equalizer in front of the cliff-side look so good!