Leicester City fought back to take all three points in Moscow against Spartak in a rare Wednesday Europa League match. The hosts took a two goal lead in the first half before the Patson Daka show began. The Zambian scored once in injury time and three more times in the second half to give the Foxes a two-goal cushion. Spartak got one back late to set up a nervy but ultimately satisfying finish to Leicester’s first Europa League win of the campaign.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the starting XI was that it featured few changes from the side that mauled Manchester United on Saturday. Timothy Castagne and Jamie Vardy were left out, but the rest of the lineup kept their places: Kasper Schmeichel (C), Daniel Amartey, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, Ricardo Pereira, Youri Tielemans, Boubakary Soumare, Luke Thomas, James Maddison, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Patson Daka.
The Foxes had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the opening minute. Daka won a corner straight from the opening kickoff. The ensuing corner was flicked on to the far post and fell at the feet of Amartey. Before he could react to prod it home, goalkeeper Aleksandr Maksimenko dove in to gather it.
Leicester were well on top with Daka going close after a lovely Madders pass over the top. It was completely against the run of play when Spartak took the lead on 10’. Neat play down the left saw the ball fall to Aleksandr Sobolev at the edge of area. His first effort was blocked, but the second took an extremely fortunate deflection that wrong-footed Schmeichel and snuck in at the near post.
The Foxes sought to reply immediately and carved out chance after chance, with Tielemans, Maddison, Evans, and Söyüncü all going close. On only 17’ minutes, City had already attempted seven shots and owned 70% of the possession but the scoreline told a different tale.
And thus it continued for the rest of the half, with Leicester having all the possession and all the chances, but neither of those things matter much when every mistake is punished ruthlessly. A heavy pass from Thomas to Cags led to the Turkey international being caught in possession deep in his own half. Victor Moses drove into the area and picked out Jordan Larsson at the penalty spot. His first time effort left Schmeichel stranded and it was 2-0 to the hosts.
The Foxes clawed one back almost immediately. Iheanacho picked out Daka with a perfect through ball right after the restart. The Zambian ran on to it and slotted past the keeper while the entire Spartak defence was claiming offside. It was not offisde. That was the last action of the half and what looked for a moment to have been a disaster was only...really bad.
Can we just play from kick off every time please!— RS GPX (@RS_Gpx) October 20, 2021
I know, right? It’s weird how good we are playing from the kick off all of a sudden.
There were no changes at the half, which turned out to have been a good (non) move by the gaffer. Two minutes after the restart, Thomas played a ball in the path of Iheanacho that couldn’t possibly have been better. He drifted down the left side of the box and squared it for Daka, who couldn’t miss from close range. Game most definitely on!
The Foxes proceeded to put on a clinic in “faffing about at the back” (as opposed to “clearing their lines”), giving Spartak far too much possession in the Leicester half. No matter though as they eventually go the ball to Tielemans who had Iheanacho to his right and Daka to his left. A perfect no-look ball set the former Salzburg man on his way and responded by nutmegging the keeper and finishing hat-trick in style.
Patson Daka just hit a NINE minute hat trick for Leicester!— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) October 20, 2021
45' Spartak 2-1 Leicester
48' Spartak 2-2 Leicester
54' Spartak 2-3 Leicester pic.twitter.com/E0xT5UC3f6
Wow, did this tweet age poorly since he got a fourth.
With half an hour to go, Rodgers made his first change because that’s when he always makes a change. Marc Albrighton came on for Ricardo, who had picked up a booking in the first half. It was only five more minutes before a second change was made, with Hamza Choudhury coming on and Tielemans making way.
There was no way that the match could continue to be played at such an absurd pace. Spartak made a couple of changes and enjoyed a spell of possession, but the Leicester defense was able to absorb the pressure without too many nervy moments. The Russians were stretched now, looking for the equaliser.
“Stretched” proved to be a fatal state to be in for the hosts’ defence. Soumare did magnificently to shield a ball in his own area and drive forward. He found Maddison who, like Tielemans earlier, found himself with Iheanacho on the right and Daka on the left. Like the Belgian, he played the ball into the path of Daka who made no mistake, scoring for the fourth time in less than 40 minutes of football.
A spectacular goal featuring our...reserve central midfielder and number three striker? I honestly have no idea what our depth chart looks like these days.
Job apparently done with only 10 minutes of time remaining, Rodgers hauled off Evans and Thomas for Jannik Vestergaard and Ryan Bertrand. The job, however, was not quite done. Substitute Quincy Promes spotted Moses’ run on the right. The Nigeria picked out a perfect pass to find Sobolev in the middle, who turned it past Schmeichel and made for a very nervy finish.
Four minutes were added and each of them felt like an hour. City won a series of throws in the Spartak half, allowing precious seconds to tick off the clock. Albrighton and Iheanacho showed their awareness and the resistance of their lower leg bones by keeping the ball and absorbing some truly terrible tackles by the Russian side. The whistle finally went two minutes past the end of injury time and the three points were in the bag.
That was tougher than it needed to be, but it turns out that getting four goals from a single player papers over a lot of issues. Leicester legitimately looked like scoring every time they went forward for several long spells and the win was thoroughly deserved, but...maybe not every match has to be so exciting?
Refreshing the Twitter feed of the President of the Republic of Zambia @HHichilema and waiting for the tweet congratulating Patson Daka on today’s hat-trick. Maybe he is holding off in case the lad scores 5…#lcfc— Jonathan (@JonathanLCFC) October 20, 2021
The win brings us up to second on the Group C table with 4 points from 3 matches and leaders Legia about to square off against Napoli. Next on the docket is a Sunday Premier League match against Brentford in London and then we see Brighton and Hove Albion in the round of 16 of the League Cup one week from today.