Leicester City advanced by a 3-2 margin on aggregate after being defeated by a lively Stade Rennes side by a score of 2-1 at Roazhon Park in Brittany on Thursday evening. Wesley Fofana nodded home at the start of the second half, scoring in his first match of the season. Rennes got one goal in each period, but it was not enough to overturn the 2-0 deficit they faced from the prior Thursday.
Leicester City are the first English side to reach the quarter-finals of both the Champions League and the UEFA Conference League.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 17, 2022
History makers. pic.twitter.com/A5KUqOas9R
So. Much. History.
Brendan Rodgers retained his newly-preferred 4-3-3 shape, so there was not much new in the starting XI today unless you count...the return of Wesley Fofana: Kasper Schmeichel (C), James Justin, Daniel Amartey, Wesley Fofana, Luke Thomas, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Marc Albrighton, Harvey Barnes, Kelechi Iheanacho.
The Foxes took a two-goal lead into the tie, but it was cut in half in less than ten minutes. The match began with both sides playing at a lightning pace, with the hosts pouring forward every time they had the ball and pressing when they didn’t.
City failed to clear their lines and saw the ball recovered when a Rennes came together with Albrighton and won the ball. The hosts shifted the ball quickly to the left and found Martin Terrier’s run into the box. His low cross was met by Benjamin Bourigeaud, who didn’t know much about it, but it deflected off his leg and into the goal. To add insult to injury, Albrighton was unable to continue and Ademola Lookman came on in his stead.
The Foxes should have restored their advantage on the quarter-hour. Dewsbury-Hall won the ball in midfield and managed to slot it to Iheanacho in spite of a Rennes player reaching over his shoulders with both hands. The Seniorman patiently waited and spotted Barnes’ run on the left, but the ball took an awkward bounce and the defender was able to get a block in. It bounced to Iheanacho but wouldn’t settle for him and he lofted his close-range effort wide.
Play slowed down after the first Leicester riposte and goalmouth action was at a premium for the rest of the half. By “premium”, I mean that neither side added to their single shot on goal and there were only seven shots of by both sides combined. It was still riveting stuff if you love football but aren’t overly fussed about seeing goals. With 45 minutes to play, the City still had a one-goal advantage after having weathered a furious storm in the opening minutes.
The second half couldn’t have started better for the Foxes. Nice work from Iheanacho and Lookman won a corner on the right. Dewsbury-Hall’s delivery found an unmarked Amartey at the far post. He looked certain to score, but Les Rouge et Noir keeper Dogan Alemdar was in the right place to block the close-range effort and put it out for a corner.
No matter, though, as Lookman took this corner from the left. Fofana rose highest and glanced it off the far post and into the back of the net. It was the sort of straight-forward goal from a set-piece that never seems to happen for us. I love dramatically describing goals, but there was no drama to describe this time.
There were cries for a penalty when Ndidi tackled Gaëtan Laborde just inside the area. There’s no VAR in the Europa Conference League, but replays showed the referee got it right as there was no contact with anything but the ball. It came at a cost as Ndidi strained his hamstring and was unable to continue and James Maddison came on his stead.
It was very nearly another for Leicester when Rennes turned the ball over in midfield. City poured forward and Barnes did well to spot Thomas’ unmarked run. The academy product blasted a shot that Alemdar could only parry, but he did well split the distance between Iheanacho on Dewsbury-Hall and to safety.
The Foxes had the ball in the back of the net just moments later. Maddison won a very soft free-kick just outside the area on the right side. He took it himself, cleverly playing it on the ground to Lookman, who turned it towards goal. Alemdar got a hand to it, but could only find Iheanacho with the clearance. The Nigeria striker headed home from close range, but it was chalked off for offside on account of him being a yard offside.
The hosts found a lifeline with a quarter-hour to play. Justin was skinned on the right, allowing the ball to find Sehrou Guirassy on the edge of the area. He laid it back for substitute Flavien Tait, whose low drive deflected off of Fofana and Amartey before settling in the net. Rennes now led 2-1 on the night but trailed 3-2 overall.
Rodgers responded by removing Fofana and Lookman for Jannik Vestergaard and Ricardo Pereira. It was still very much one-way traffic, with the red shirts setting up shop in the Leicester half. Schmeichel finally made his first save of the match, denying Guirassy from point-blank range when a goal seemed all but certain.
Six minutes were added on for reasons that were unclear, but such is the nature of European football. Rennes pressed for the equalising goal, pumping ball after ball into the Leicester box. There were again shouts for a penalty when Vestergaard was flat on his back and the ball struck his arm against his side, but the referee again got it right and nothing was given.
In case it wasn’t obvious, things had become exceedingly scrappy at this point. yellow cards being handed out like candy. The hosts won a free kick in the City half in the 98th minute. It was floated into the area, came off Barnes’ head, and into Dewsbury-Hall’s arm and to safety. KDH’s back was turned, he was in the air, and knew nothing about it, but there’s a reasonable chance that had VAR been in play, that one would have been given.
It wasn’t, and that was the last kick of the game. We were through, but only just.
The statistics make the match look a good deal more even than it felt when watching. The shots and shots on target were roughly even, and Leicester were the better side for much of the match. However, the hosts mounted furious flurries of attacks in the first and last ten minutes that felt as though they would overwhelm the shaky City defence.
WE’RE ON OUR WAY TO ALBANIA pic.twitter.com/OQWkrGZ8yD— MadAboutFoxes (@madaboutfoxes) March 17, 2022
There’s a lot to love about this tweet. Kudos to Rennes for the absolutely fantastic matchday atmosphere.
The biggest talking point is the (overall) victory, but it was hardly the only one. Fofana’s return could have a massive impact on the remainder of Leicester’s season. On the other hand, losing both Albrighton and Ndidi to injuries will ensure that the manager will have the wrong sort of selection headaches for weeks to come.
The win, er, narrow defeat, sees us through to the quarter-finals of the Europa Conference League for the first time in the history of the club. We’ll discover our next opponent when the draw is made on Friday. We return to Premier League play on Sunday, squaring off against relegation-haunted Burnley at the King Power. After the international break, we face Manchester United at Old Trafford on 2 April.