Leicester City’s European adventure came to an end on Thursday night as they fell to Slavia Praha by a score of 0-2 at the King Power. Leicester exhibited great control in the first half but were unable to break the deadlock and were punished when the visitors scored twice through Lukáš Provod and Abdallah Dipo Sima.
Celestine the Unicorn is finished! pic.twitter.com/oR6qf1hwYu— Bramber Bears (@TheWordOfErynn) February 25, 2021
I’m posting this tweet instead of any of the fan reactions because so many of the fans were accusing the players of not caring and that is just so much hooey. There were a lot of factors in this loss, but “not caring” or “no effort”? Get that outta here.
Due to injuries and one particularly absurd suspension, manager Brendan Rodgers had only 17 senior players available for selection. Among those absent were the first four choices for the #10 role behind Jamie Vardy, so the team sheet was always going to have an improvisational feel to it. We’ll call it a 4-2-3-1 with the understanding that it was always going to be fluid. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a back four of Daniel Amartey, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Luke Thomas. The midfield trio was comprised of Hamza Choudhury and Wilfred Ndidi. Cengiz Ünder and Marc Albrighton took up wide positions in attack, flanking Youri Tielemans in the middle. Jamie Vardy took the role of lone striker, as is his wont.
The Foxes enjoyed something close to all the possession and certainly all the threat in the opening ten minutes. Söyüncü made a marauding deep into Slavia territory and managed to get on the end of Ünder’s deflected cross, but he screwed his volleyed effort well wide. Ünder carved out a couple of chances for himself emulating his countryman by putting the first wide and sending the second directly into the arms of Slavia keeper Ondrej Kolar.
Normally at this point, one starts talking about the other side absorbing the pressure and growing into the game, but that simply wasn’t happening. The Czech side defended stoutly but offered next to nothing coming forward. It was therefore against the run of play when Söyüncü headed a hopeful long ball into the path of Abdallah Dipo Sima. With Schmeichel in no-man's-land, the striker took it first time and fired it past the Danish stopper but just outside the post.
City had a half-hearted penalty shout right at the death. Albrighton slid the ball toward the onrushing Choudhury. Hamza got a toe to it and went over as his trailing leg went over the defender’s late challenge. There wasn’t a lot in it, to be honest, but there hadn’t been a lot in the game either, so this is the sort of thing we’re reduced to talking about. The halftime whistle blew with Leicester leading possession, shots, and shots on target, but also looking like this match could go until the sun is a dark lump of coal and still not see a goal.
Both managers kept the faith with their starting XI after the break, but it was the visitors who were out of the gate first. There were warning bells almost immediately as the visitors won an early corner and should have scored but failed to get a close-range effort on target. They didn’t make the same mistake the next time as no one tracked the far post run of Lukáš Provod, giving the Czech a simple finish and visitors the lead.
The Foxes attempted an immediate response when Vardy found Ünder’s run in the right channel. The loanee from Roma beat his man but fired into the side netting from a tight angle when squaring a return to Vardy would have been the better option.
With the Foxes needing two goals, Rodgers made a triple change on the hour mark. On came Ricardo Pereira, Timothy Castagne, and Harvey Barnes for Choudhury, Albrighton, and Amartey.
The Foxes had the ball in the back of the next just a couple of minutes later when Ricardo slammed a low drive home from distance. It was rightly ruled out for having struck Vardy’s hand in the buildup, but suddenly Leicester were starting to look like Leicester and one had the sense an equalizer might be coming.
Or perhaps not. The Sešívaní absorbed the initial pressure well and slowed the match down. The Foxes started to look rushed in their movement of the ball as the match entered its last quarter-hour. The perfect microcosm of this would be an Ünder corner that redfined “outswinger,” making it halfway to the center circle before Ricardo recovered it and loft a ball straight into the keeper’s arms.
Would the visitors punish City’s failure to do anything interesting in attack? Oh yes indeedy they would! A nothing ball to Sima outside the “D” saw the striker turn and, seeing no one closing him down, lashed a low drive inside the far post that doubled the visitor’s lead. Game over.
Rodgers was already going to introduce Sidnei Tavares, but his debut was now just a cameo in a lost cause. There was a moment of hope when the Foxes won a free kick deep in the Slavia half, but the visitor’s captain Jan Boril decided to collapse in a heap and clutch his face after being brushed by one of his teammates and, having not seen the incident, the referee blew for a foul.
There were four excruciating minutes added on with the goal now simply being “avoid injuries and red cards.” For the first time tonight, I can say “mission accomplished by the Foxes” as they managed to see out injury time without any further damage or embarrassment.
That was dire.
Rodgers signalled his priorities when, lacking attacking options, he still kept Barnes, Ricardo, and Castagne on the bench to start the match. Of the three competitions the Foxes were in, the Europa League was clearly the lowest priority, but you still had the sense there was enough talent on the pitch to do the job. There most certainly was not, and the better team won.
xG map for Leicester City - Slavia Praha— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) February 25, 2021
Leicester's attack just never showed up pic.twitter.com/6ZOojXeF2H
Every so slightly better team.
The loss ends the Foxes run in Europe, which is probably something of a...what’s the opposite of a Pyrric victory, a defeat that may be fortunate in the long run? No matter what it’s called, I’m sure Rodgers will be happy to have fewer fixtures to deal with over the next couple of months. Next on the docket, we take on Arsenal at the King Power in the league on Sunday. Then, it’s off to Turf Moor to face Burnley the following Wednesday.