Leicester City fell to Napoli by a score of 3-2 in Europa League action at the Diego Maradona on a wet Thursday evening. The hosts took an early two-goal lead, but goals from Jonny Evans and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall levelled the score before halftime. Eljif Elmas scored his second just after the break and City couldn’t find the back of the net a third time. to rescue anything from an eventful match.
It’s do or die for Leicester City in the Europa League tonight.— BBC Sport Leicester (@BBCRLSport) December 9, 2021
Win their final group game, and they’ll top the group. It’s in their hands.
It’s Napoli vs Leicester City in the Europa League. We’re underway. pic.twitter.com/3ZWTVwCr2Y
It was “die.”
Manager Brendan Rodgers was without seven of his Europa League squad, but the starting XI looked closer looked none the worse for it: Kasper Schmeichel (C), Timothy Castagne, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, Ryan Bertrand, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, Jamie Vardy.
The match almost got off to a dream start for the Foxes. Dewsbury-Hall was given the run of the pitch and advanced deep into the hosts’ territory. Castagne met his cross but didn’t get the right connection on the ball and it was cleared off the line, allowing keeper Alex Meret to gather.
Would City be made to pay for their failure to take an early lead? Yes, and almost immediately. Of course they would. The defence cleared a corner as far as the edge of the box. It ricocheted to Adam Ounas on the right side in acres of space. Ndidi did well to try to cover, but the accuracy of the shot evaded both the midfielder and the despairing Schmeichel.
Rodgers’ charges attempted to rally and slowly but surely started to get a grip on the game. Vardy wasn’t seeing any of the ball, but Barnes was and he was turning his markers inside out and making life very uncomfortable for the Gli Azzurri defenders and forcing some fairly simple saves from Meret.
It was against the run of play that Napoli doubled their lead. A simple through ball by Piotr Zielinski split the central defenders and allowed Andrea Petagna free run on goal. At the last moment, he squared the ball to Eljif Elmas, who had nought to do but to tap it into an empty net.
Three minutes later, the Foxes had a lifeline back into the game. Madders whipped in a corner that was met by Elmas, but his header fell directly to the feet of Evans. With the coolness of a seasoned striker, the Northern Ireland defender stroked the ball inside the far post to give City some badly needed belief that they could get something from the match.
Just after the half-hour mark, the match was level. This time, it was a Madders free-kick that was half-cleared by Petagna to the right of the “D.” Dewsbury-Hall showed some excellent technique to meet the ball on the volley with his left peg and sweep it into the back of the net.
A BREATHTAKING FIRST EUROPEAN GOAL FROM DEWSBURY-HALL AND LEICESTER ARE LEVEL! pic.twitter.com/cFnXt5pn0O— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) December 9, 2021
Spoiler alert: This would be the last happy moment of match.
Brimming with newfound confidence, Leicester looked the more likely side to break the deadlock but were unable to do so. The half ended with City having 7 shots, 5 of which were on target. The hosts had only 4 shots, scoring with both of their on-frame efforts.
The second half started much as the first, which was not a good thing for Leicester. Giovanni di Lorenzo made a good run on the right into the box and fired in a pinpoint low cross. The ball nutmegged Barnes and evaded Ndidi, Castagne, and Cags to find Eljif Elmas at the first post. He turned and blasted a shot back across Schmeichel to give the hosts the lead.
Leicester should have been level moments later. Di Lorenzo tried to play a ball out of defence and passed it directly to Maddison in the penalty area. With only the keeper to beat from six yards, his powerful effort only found the outside of the far post and to safety.
The next twenty minutes were without goalmouth incident which obviously favoured the hosts. Brendan Rodgers finally made his first change with a quarter-hour to go, introducing Patson Daka for Barnes. His first involvement was to knock down a ball over the top for Vardy, but the former Stocksbridge Parks Steel man blasted into the side netting with his first-time effort.
Minutes later, Tielemans was hauled off in favour of Boubakary Soumare. The ways things were going, it started to look like it just wasn’t going to be Leicester’s night. A beautiful ball into the middle wouldn’t sit up for Daka. Dewsbury-Hall had a reasonably good chance but lost his footing on the wet pitch as he shaped to shoot.
Right before the beginning of injury time, Marc Albrighton came on for Dewsbury-Hall. The Foxes had three minutes to snatch an equaliser. They should have. Albrighton, out of absolutely nothing, whipped a cross into the centre of the area. It would have been a difficult finish for Vardy, but you’ve seen him put it into the back of the net instead of head it over the bar at the death.
There are days when I feel as though I’m the Sisyphus of match reports, doomed to report the same thing again and again. You’re just not going to win conceding three goals in a match (except in Moscow). This entire Europa League campaign has felt cursed as Leicester have looked up at the scoreboard at the end of the match several times and seen a result that didn’t match the run of play (Legia, I’m looking at you...).
The good news is that the curse is over; The defeat leaves the Foxes third on their group table, which means the Europa League adventure is over...and the Europa Conference League adventure begins! The Europa Conference League is sort of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy of European competition. We return to the Premier League to host Newcastle on Sunday and then face Tottenham Hotspur at the King Power a week from today.