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Europa Conference League Match Report: Leicester City 2 - 0 Stade Rennes

Ruthless finishing by Albrighton and Iheanacho give the Foxes the edge in the first leg

Leicester City v Stade Rennes: Round of 16 Leg One - UEFA Europa Conference League
Schmeichel and Albrighton looking up at...I got nothing. There should be a good joke here but I can’t think of it. I like the photo, though.
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Leicester City saw off Stade Rennes by a score of 2-0 at the King Power on Thursday afternoon in their Europa Conference League round of 16 tie. A first-half strike by Marc Albrighton and a Kelechi Iheanacho goal in second-half injury time gave the Foxes a two-goal cushion to carry into the second leg in one week.

Or maybe don’t because Youri was clearly annoyed that he wasn’t the first one to get a hug from Kelechi. Fair point-he set up the move.

The Leicester City squad fitness merry-go-round continued to spin as Brendan Rodgers found himself without Jamie Vardy (injury) and Wesley Fofana (illness) at his disposal, but with a newly-fit right-back able to return to the starting XI: Kasper Schmeichel (C), James Justin, Daniel Amartey, Çağlar Söyüncü, Luke Thomas, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Marc Albrighton, Harvey Barnes, and Patson Daka.

Both sides opened the match with some enthusiastic pressing. This made for a very fast pace and neither team had any time on the ball. The quality of the visitors had the better of the opening exchanges with the effervescent Jérémy Doku looking particularly dangerous. The fact that Schmeichel had next to nothing to do was down to poor shooting and good fortune as opposed to brilliant defence.

The poles switched after 20’ and all the play was suddenly in the visitors’ half. The Foxes had their first period of sustained pressure, winning corners and free-kicks in dangerous areas. City aren’t especially good at scoring from those situations, so it’s a good thing that they conjured a goal out of next to nothing right before the half-hour mark.

We literary types refer to this as “foreshadowing.”

Söyüncü launched a brilliant ball over the top, finding Barnes on the left with only one man to beat. The winger drove into the area and cut the ball back behind Daka, behind Tielemans, but directly into the patch of Albrighton. The GOAT laced a rising effort that a dozen Alfred Gomises wouldn’t have saved. Certainly one of them wasn’t up to the job as the shot crashed into the roof of the net, giving Leicester an early 1-0 lead.

Les Rennais attempted to respond at the end of the half. Doku and Martin Terrier played a one-two on the left, with Terrier pulling the ball back into the centre of the box. It found one of the many white shirts, but Rennes were left to rue their lack of Albrightons in their side as the final ball was lofted high over the crossbar.

The second half started in a similar fashion to the first. It was brilliant entertainment if you enjoy seeing players running around with more pace than purpose. Both keepers were essentially spectators, but everyone else was getting their steps in and can probably skip leg day this week.

On the hour, Rodgers channelled his inner Claudio Ranieri and swapped strikers, introducing Kelechi Iheanacho for Daka and Hamza Choudhury for Justin. This didn’t change the run of play, but the fresh legs were welcome when dealing with the pace of Les Rouge et Noir.

Play was increasingly concentrated in the Leicester third of the pitch. Schmeichel was finally called into action on 70’, making a fine save following a clever move down the City right. He made another nice stop with his feet after a run down the other side of the pitch as the visitors poured forward in search of an equaliser.

Rodgers responded to the pressure by making a couple of attacking changes, throwing Ademola Lookman and James Maddison into the fray and hauling off Barnes and Dewsbury-Hall. The match was a bit shambolic at this point as the referee had taken to blowing his whistle at random or not blowing it for obvious fouls in both directions, much to the annoyance of both sets of fans. When any player looked confused by his actions, he would wave his fingers angrily in their face.

In injury time, Lookman nicked the ball off the toes of a defender and the Foxes poured forward. Things got comical, as Iheanacho lost it, but it saw it fall to Madders. He lost it, but Tielemans picked up the loose ball. He found Albrighton on the right, who tapped it back to Iheanacho. The Seniorman took one touch and then blasted it past Gomis to double the lead and give Rennes a mountain to climb in the second leg.

Leicester City v Stade Rennes: Round of 16 Leg One - UEFA Europa Conference League
“You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia,” but only slightly less well-known is this: Never let Iheancho shift it onto his left foot in the penalty box!”
Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Was a 2-0 win deserved? We’re not here to judge, but...wait...yes we are and we’re going to go with “yes”. The statistics were quite even, but one side took their chances and the other didn’t. Rennes may feel hard done by the scoreline, but I think they’ll agree that it was their own failure to capitalise on chances that ended up costing them.

2022 NHL All-Star Skills
Not the kind of judge I was thinking of, but my options are kind of limited on this CMS...
Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

That’s three clean sheets on the trot for the pairing of Amartey and Söyüncü and those are words I would have bet against writing as recently as four matches ago. Barnes was again a menace on the left and Albrighton was Albrighton which is high praise indeed.

The win doesn’t settle anything, but it puts us in a great position to reach the last eight in our historic inaugural Europa Conference League campaign. Next on the docket is a trip to London on Sunday to face Arsenal, and then a week from today we’re off to face Rennes in the second leg of the tie.