1) In case you were in doubt we are the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde side
So far this season, we’ve recorded just one draw. That to Braga. We either win or we lose. Generally, that carries into the performances too. When we’ve won this season, we’ve largely been excellent but when we’re losing, we look woeful. For the Foxes last night, if drab had a match to define it, this would appear against it. It wasn’t that we were as bad as against Liverpool, but it had no excitement either.
Unpredictability is fun, right? Imagine being one of those clubs who do it the easy way, win up front and top a group early? Pft, how dull! It’s more fun to take it to the last game. I’ll keep telling myself this anyway as it helps get over the snoozefest that was the 1-0 loss to Zorya. We may have qualified for the knockout stages, but we missed out on sealing top spot in the group.
Worryingly it was another night with no clean sheet and not much attacking presence either. Had Cengiz Ünder’s audacious shot at the end not been met by a fantastic save, perhaps we’d all be looking back on it a little more fondly. After a week of ‘upsets’, we could really do with a more convincing display against Sheffield United.
2) Damned if you do, damned if you don’t for Rodgers with team selection
Did it make sense to leave the likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Youri Tielemans and Jamie Vardy back at home? Yes, they’re key to our league success and have already played a lot. Should their absence have provided a platform for some fringe players to make his life more difficult? Yes. But things don’t always go to plan. I’ve seen some criticism for Rodgers only really having James Maddison to throw at it when we decided to push on later into the game.
On paper though, this looked like a pretty exciting line-up. Definitely a side capable of putting pressure on their opponents and scoring! Dropping to an actual back four should have favoured us and helped to stabilise what’s been a fragile back-line for a while now. We’ve conceded eleven in our last eight matches, suggesting we’re still suffering the ramifications of the injuries and how frequently we keep changing the personnel. There was something oddly comforting about having Wes Morgan in that line though, and when Wesley Fofana joined him for a while too.
Something I was most excited for was that this looked like it would be a very fun game for Dennis Praet. This looked like a more attacking role for him after a couple of games of rather unfairly being set up not really to do so. However, for numerous reasons, our attacking line wasn’t clicking. Some of the decision making was painful, the awareness of one another’s movements wasn’t convincing either. Then there are the all too typical moments where Kelechi Iheanacho turns into bambi on ice and a general team insistence to shoot from distance rather than working the ball into the box.
Of course, three names on the starting line-up stood out more than any others.
3) Rejoice, some of our key players are back...sort of
The pure excitement we all felt pre-match at seeing Ricardo, Wilfred Ndidi and Caglar Soyuncu back turned out to be fairly short-lived. In true 2020 fashion really, sigh. There’s a lot of people who have physio and medical knowledge in the Leicester fanbase. Or claim to anyway as people were quick to accuse the club of rushing back Soyuncu.
It feels more like a freak accident that just fifteen minutes into his comeback, an off the ball movement ended his night. We should all be glad we aren’t inanimate objects he could launch across the dressing room based on how he looked as he limped off. Getting back to match fitness is the hardest part for our returning players, who despite some under-23 action, need games like this to help reintroduce them.
It's like the anticipation of sending you letter off to Santa, the excitement is building. You're sure you're going to get what you want.— Josh (@JoshofLCFC) December 4, 2020
On Xmas morning you rip off the wrapping paper, and it's what you wanted. But it's broken and you can't use it.#LCFC https://t.co/g5HTz93Jna
It was a much more positive forty-five minutes for Ricardo before his withdrawal at half-time. He didn’t get too many opportunities to get forward, but it was a pleasure having him back so today’s news of him picking up a groin injury are a little heart-breaking. James Justin has made a fine deputy but there’s a touch of class with the Portuguese full-back in the side. His defensive awareness has been sorely missed too. We asked him to demonstrate it earlier than we’d all hoped with some early Zorya pressure. Here’s hoping it’ll be a short spell out!
There’s also something pretty fun in just watching Wilfred Ndidi toe poke the ball around so easily. He had one or two moments where he looked rusty but despite how great Mendy has looked in filling in, I think he’ll get his spot back fairly comfortably.
4) Cengiz Ünder’s determination should deliver the goals
No, you re-wrote this lesson three times. Straight after the game, and during it, I was left frustrated by some of the decisions Ünder made, and I questioned how successful he’d been. On reflection and from looking back over match highlights, he looked most likely to get us something out of the game. Everything centred around him and I realise my wider frustration should not include him.
He was a brighter spark in a generally uninspiring display. Yes, he shot on a couple of occasions where he had better passing options, and he missed a few clever runs Praet made, but his performance had a level of energy and determination that as a team, we lacked. Given we failed to register a shot on target until the 78th minute, it wasn’t wholly successful but you can’t fault him for effort.
Perhaps it’s one of the downfalls to trying to re-introduce three players who’re recovering from injury, but at times it did feel more like a pre-season friendly in the approach. Ünder didn’t look like he was playing that game though. He was quick, darting and ambitious even if it didn’t work out for him. His face as the Zorya keeper pulled off a fantastic save to delay him in extra-time told you it all.
Cengiz Ünder is the winger Leicester have been looking for, it may not seem like it yet, but I reckon he will be class. Confident on the ball, always wants it, and that finishing touch will soon come.— Jack (@JackWhitman_7) December 3, 2020
Opted for this more sensible Tweet than the one comparing him to a Furby. It’s the eyebrows, right?
So far, Ünder’s best performances have been with Jamie Vardy up top, so it could be that he and Iheanacho are still getting used to one another. More consistent game time could help Ünder too. He looked brighter, as did the Foxes generally, when James Maddison was introduced from the bench again.
5) A missed opportunity for more youth development
Between very few people expecting Zorya to win, and the returning players/injuries, it probably won’t be spoken about but we had some very young players on the bench. It’s a shame that we weren’t in a position to bring any of them on for a cameo. The experience of travelling and training will be invaluable, but had we been a couple of goals ahead, it would have been nice to issue a debut or two.
Thakgalo Leshabela has been in and around the first team squad a few times this season, but among the newer names were young Polish goalkeeper Jakub Stolarcyzk, midfielder Shane Flynn and the only just sixteen Ben Nelson. We’re a fairly young squad generally but there is something pleasing that Rodgers isn’t afraid to look to our academy and the prospects there.
With Harvey Barnes, Luke Thomas and Hamza Choudhary all featuring again for the Foxes, they have viable examples to look up to. Choudhary was probably the best of the academy graduates against Zorya. His ability to just stop the opposition midfield in their tracks is invaluable and he certainly looks calmer and more controlled in his tackles this campaign.
Bonus Learn: Bored of all stadiums and dressing rooms looking the same? This is the bonus lesson you’ve been waiting for! Zorya Luhansk cannot play at home due to the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Instead, they play at the Slavuytch Arena in Zaporizhzhia. Their dressing rooms seem to have something of a 70s station waiting room about them and I love it!