1) Despite the promise of fox hunting, it was one stressful half and one rather dull defensive half
Clearly Slavia Prague have been doing some quarantine reading on the power of mind games, or been enjoying a certain media series watching Jose Mourinho at work. Not content with pre-match baiting of our academic, the city of Leicester itself and accusations around Kasper Schmeichel’s underwear, the Czech outfit went to great trouble to have their seats spell out Fox Hunting. Shame they did so little actual hunting then and more just chasing us around then.
End product in the final third was the problem for both sides. Despite an entertaining enough end to end half first half, nothing separated us. For Foxes fans, it was a little stressful as we looked defensively unsure in the opening quarter. For all of Prague’s pressure though, they didn’t really test Schmeichel. We struggled to impose ourselves at the other end, which wasn’t hugely reassuring given the relatively weak bench and options to change it.
This wasn’t a team performance to write home about. We managed moments where we looked like our free flowing selves, but they were sporadic. Individual performances seemed to ebb and flow too. For Brendan Rodgers, a 0-0 away draw from the first leg isn’t a bad result. Especially when the fight on three fronts has us with one eye on Aston Villa at the weekend. Bringing it back to the King Power with all to play for may suit us more. The away goal would have been a nice cushion though! Plus perhaps we should concentrate on a rare positive lately, this seems to be a game where we didn’t pick up a new injury. Small victories.
2) In the season of fullbacks stepping up, it’s the turn of Luke Thomas
Luke Thomas was a worthy recipient of the Man of the Match award if you’re thinking consistency over ninety minutes. If we were to concentrate on passages of play, or had he bagged a goal, it feels like Barnes would have been a shoe in for this. Thomas though did what he’s largely done whenever we’ve called on him. Gone about his defensive duties quietly but efficiently and then tried to get us on the front foot in attack.
Luke Thomas and his full-back counterpart on the right, Daniel Amartey, were both asked to step up again with the injury to James Justin and needing to manage Ricardo’s minutes. They aren’t the first to be put on the spot this season in these positions. We’ve not had a lot of luck in terms of starting the duo you’d have expected at the start of the season; in fact if Timothy Castagne and Ricardo line up together against Villa, it’ll be the first time this season we’ve started what you’d think are our first choice fullbacks. The last time we needed somebody to step up here, in came Justin who could do it all and then some. Thomas’ chances have been a little more limited, we clearly don’t want to rush him into a regular role but he’s impressed when he has been called on.
Another good performance tonight for promising youngster Luke Thomas from left back.— Ryanlcfc3 ⚽⚽ (@Ryanlcfc2) February 18, 2021
Accurate passes: 23
Pass success: 70%
Duels won: 7/12
Tackles won: 2/2
Aerials won: 2/2
Ball recoveries: 3 pic.twitter.com/SeAscgmzyY
It’s ok to be cautious in applying the praise for his defensive efforts. At just nineteen, he has a lot to learn but I do like his approach thus far. He’s incredibly calm and patient, but not afraid to make a tackle or intercept if the time is right. It suggests a maturity above his years, continuing a theme for our squad this year. With the way Prague set up, our defence had to absorb a lot of pressure but he still managed to get forward. We didn’t get as much as the Barnes, Thomas link-up we’ve seen before but they had their moments. It’s one of the partnerships I’m most excited for us to see more of.
It was a previous Europa League game that first showed us the attacking potential of a Barnes and Thomas left side. Pace, lots of overlap and definitely more than our opponents could handle. It was much the same when we were able to get these two involved against Slavia Prague.
3) If Foxes were going to break deadlock, Harvey Barnes was going to be the instigator
Perhaps we should credit Slavia Prague more than I have for their approach. It seems to be largely down to their approach, and our off-colour attacking threat that while they struggled to stop or contain Harvey Barnes in the first half, he rarely saw the ball for long portions of the second half. Man-marked heavily by Danish defender, Bah.
We’ve got used to Rodgers giving the team a bit of a kick for second halves when we’re behind or level, but it just didn’t ignite this time. It was clear though that if Leicester were getting a call, Barnes would be the scorer or the instigator. It’s not the first time a side has had little answer to his pace, so it’s impressive that Prague did get to grips with a way of stopping him in the second half, the main tactic being don’t let the ball get to him in the first place. A smart move as he was by far our most dangerous player.
I chose to watch Leicester up against Slavia Prague. Fair to say I didn’t pick the most exciting game today but Harvey Barnes has been fantastic. The technical side of his game has come on leaps and bounds.— AB (@AstuteBall_) February 18, 2021
Fair play to any neutral who stuck with this one! We usually look much better, honest
When we’ve needed an equaliser, or a late goal, Barnes has been the go to man this season. Barnes has had his critics in previous seasons for his inconsistency at finishing the chances he makes for himself. Much like James Maddison stopping people being able to roll out the ‘needs to up his numbers’ line, Barnes has been able to silence much of the talk of his finishing. A shame then that the only thing letting him down against Prague were his shots. He was the player who had a couple of golden opportunities, particularly a loose ball that fell his way after a corner, but he couldn’t keep the shot on target.
4) Should we progress in the tie, we can’t forget that Kasper save
Without wanting to take a trip down memory lane too much, the present is pretty exciting for Foxes fans, Kasper Schmeichel was an integral part of why we got as far through the Champions League as we did. Some of his best saves in a Leicester kit include those days, even in the group stages, his saves against Copenhagen rarely get a mention but were so important. If Leicester City do overcome Slavia Prague in the second leg, there’s a moment from the first leg that shouldn’t be forgotten and naturally it was a Schmeichel save.
Psychologists may argue that the journalist who attacked Kasper’s weight pre-match is jealous and identified him as a big threat. After all, it’s a major part of Leicester’s armour that he’s ever present and ever alert. While not put under pressure too often in Prague, there was what’s become a one a game moment recently of things being level and Kasper needing to produce a huge save. Against Slavia Prague, this came from a shot he had to tip over. Arguably the home side’s best chance.
Kasper Schmeichel not a big fan of that game then..."We always knew it was going to be very tough coming here and a terrible football pitch with a terrible football didn't really lend itself to going and playing pretty football at all." #lcfc— Molly Hudson (@M0lly_Writes) February 18, 2021
The Foxes had to be resilient defensively, particularly with the amount of corners we gave the home side knowing it’s a weakness. Those who didn’t mute the audio from commentary fatigue would have appreciated his ever bellowing voice barking out commands, claiming the ball, berating the officials and encouraging his team mates. For those of us who know and love him, the gripes about the very chopped up six-yard areas and the ball are not a surprise.
And not that he does, but were Kasper ever to don a corset, I’m sure he’d look fantastic as always. Those genes would lend themselves to wearing a bin bag well.
5) If Çağlar Söyüncü has a productivity bonus, we would owe him it
Was Çağlar Söyüncü the busiest man on the pitch against Slavia Prague? The statistics certainly made it look that way, as did the fact that he seemed to be everywhere. The Turkish international had to endure a similar amount of pressure in the first half against Liverpool too. As much as it was a disappointment to lose Wesley Fofana to injury, we are at least fortunate that it coincided with getting Söyüncü back from his own injury.
Caglar Soyuncu had a staggering 14 clearances, also winning a match-high 8 aerial duels, at Slavia Prague. pic.twitter.com/22KT4ebLUo— Matchday365 ⚽️ (@Matchday365) February 18, 2021
Söyüncü had already cemented his role as one of our most important players and certainly was again in this first leg. While the overall team performance felt a little lacking, it’s hard to fault the back-line. There were some early wobbles, presumably a mix of adjusting to yet another slightly different line-up there and the pitch being heavier than expected. Signs that perhaps it wasn’t going to be our night came early on when the ever dependable Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi gave away a few balls. Luckily, the likes of Söyüncü were there to mop up and to push the Czech team back.
It was a pretty physical affair against Slavia Prague, even if they didn’t cope very well with being on the receiving end of our physical players like (checks notes) Maddison and Kelechi Iheanacho. Having a central defensive combination of Jonny Evans and Söyüncü is definitely helpful for combatting on our side. What’s so pleasing where Söyüncü is concerned is how cleverly he uses his physicality. He so rarely concedes free-kicks or picks up yellow cards, as opposed to Evans. He’s never afraid to play it on the ground either.
The overall match may not have had many positives but the defensive display and the clean sheet are certainly big ones. We can’t yet say we don’t look like conceding, but we do look more adept to dealing with pressure defensively.
Bonus Learn: It’s so often counter productive to bemoan the officials in a match, but when so little else happened their incompetence and inconsistency stood out. Booking our players for very little and allowing Slavia Prague to practice all their theatrics got old pretty quickly. Pleasing then that Hamza Choudhury took matters into his own hands. After yet another player squealed and rolled over his little shushing gesture was the highlight of the second half.
Sure we’ve all seen it a few times, but let’s just watch it once more, hey?