Leicester City saw off a woeful AEK Athens by a score of 2-0 on Thursday night at the King Power. Strikes by Cengiz Ünder and Harvey Barnes in the first half provided the margin of victory as the visitors failed to get a single shot on target. The victory clinches the top spot in Group G for the Foxes.
With the top spot in Group G on the line, manager Brendan Rodgers named a starting XI heavy on firepower. Danny Ward started in goal behind a back four of James Justin, Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans, and Luke Thomas. Wilfred Ndidi anchored the midfield between Dennis Praet and Youri Tielemans. The strike force consisted of Cengiz Ünder and Harvey Barnes flanking striker Kelechi Iheanacho.
The opening 10 minutes were pretty much what you wouldn’t have wanted to see from the Foxes. The play was sluggish and indecisive and there were a lot of static figures and horizontal passes. The visitors weren’t exactly threatening, but they weren’t exactly threatened either. Were the Foxes going to make heavy work of it like they did in Zaporizhzhia last week?
No, they were not.
Tielemans swung in a cross from the left side of the area that took a deflection. Athens defender Stratos Svarnas pirouetted and swung his leg at the ball and completely failed to make meaningful contact. Ünder, on the other hand, made quite meaningful contact indeed. He smashed the ball with net-rippling power, leaving the keeper no hope whatsoever of keeping out Ünder’s maiden goal for the Foxes.
City doubled the lead just two minutes later. Barnes cut in from the left and looked to curl one into the far corner. He instead found the buttocks of an AEK defender. The ball took a huge deflection and completely wrong-footed the keeper, nestling untouched inside the near post.
️ Harvey Barnes has scored the 700th goal in all competitions for @LCFC at King Power Stadium. Brian Deane scored the Foxes first competitive goal at the ground in August 2002 (v Watford) #UEL pic.twitter.com/rvPMcI3TWH— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) December 10, 2020
With nothing to play for and now down two goals, the Athenian side lacked any real attacking intent over the next quarter hour. The Foxes camped out in the opposing end with Barnes and Thomas linking up time and again to tear apart the defense but failing to find the final ball to extend the lead.
On the rare occasions when the Kitrinómavri got forward, Fofana was there to mop up and and get the ball moving forward. The commentators described the tempo as that of a “training ground match” for Leicester and they weren’t wrong. It was all extremely comfortable for City as the pace of wide men was simply too much for the visitors to cope with.
The half ended with the Foxes winning a series of corners and, while nothing came of them, you had the impression something might which has seldom been the case this year. The whistle blew after approximately no time added on and the Foxes well in control.
A pleasant, if unusual, theme. pic.twitter.com/czuWKIYWsZ— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) December 10, 2020
“Hey guys, should I use four separate tweets about how good Ünder’s set-pieces have been? No? There’s got to be some kind of loophole...”
In what will surely come as a shock to no one, City emerged from tunnel without a change to the lineup. The match resumed in much the same fashion it had been played for much of the first half. Leicester continued to enjoy more than twice as much possession as their opponents and were doing more with it.
The first fifteen minutes of the half were short on highlights, but that would surely suit Rodgers. He made his first change of the match, withdrawing Ndidi and introducing Nampalys Mendy on the hour mark. The gaffer waited only five more minutes before making his second substitution, bringing Ayoze Perez on for Iheanacho.
It was nearly three for the Foxes only moments later. Barnes received the ball on the left touchline and had that look on his face that said “I’m going to score.” Surely the defenders saw it, but there wasn’t much they could do about it as he beat three of them on the way into the area, but his finish was just wide of the far post when a goal would have better suited the run.
Leicester got even closer to closing out the match when Praet won a corner on 70’. Ünder’s delivery found Evans unmarked near the penalty spot. He knocked it down Praet, who stuck out a leg but guided it just wide of the post. Just a minute later, a miscued clearance fell to Barnes. He twisted away from his man and pulled it back for Ayoze who turned and knocked it towards the goal. The keeper Tsintotas let it slip under him, but he recovered well to collect the ball before it rolled over the line.
As the clocked hit the 80’ mark, Tielemans and Fofana came off in favor of Hamza Choudhury and Wes Morgan. Things got a little silly and sloppy at this point, with a lot of back heels and the sort of things I presume drive managers crazy when they just want to see out a match. Athens striker Nelson Oliveira got the ball in the area, but his first effort was blocked by Morgan and the second sailed over the bar. By my count, that tripled the number of shots by the visitors.
The best chance of the second half came on 88’. An AEK turnover in the center of the park and one pass by Ayoze later set Ünder on his merry way. It was three on one and surely a goal, but the square ball to Praet was just behind the Belgian, allowing Konstantinos Galanopoulos to get back and make the clearance. Another chance came in injury time, with Ünder crossing to meet Barnes’ run, but he couldn’t keep the ball down and the effort sailed over the bar with the keeper rooted to the spot.
The scoreline tonight failed to capture Leicester’s complete domination of an AEK Athens side that probably didn’t really want to be in the freezing rain of the East Midlands, but it was a job done for the Foxes who needed to win to take the top spot in Group G. The Greek side simply had no answers for Ünder and Barnes and they were fortunate it wasn’t worse?
How fortunate? City had 69% of the possession and outshot the visitors 16 - 3. Danny Ward didn’t have a save to make and had only twenty touches the entire match. It was as comfortable a match as you could want and we haven’t had one of those since the first match against Braga.
In case I haven’t mentioned it, the win means Leicester finish on top of Group G. We’ll find out on Monday who we face in our Round of 32 tie, but we know the second leg will be at home and we won’t face Braga, Spurs, Arsenal or Manchester United. On Sunday, we face Brighton and Hove Albion at the King Power, and then Everton visit the East Midlands on Wednesday.