Leicester City were unable to separate themselves from a dire A.S. Roma side in the home leg of their historic Europa Conference League semi-final tie. Lorenzo Pellegrini’s first-half strike was cancelled by Ademola Lookman’s close-range effort in the second period. The Foxes had all the possession but clear-cut chances were at a premium in this our first-ever European semi-final.
If you were curious as to what manager Brendan Rodgers considers his top starting XI at this stage of the season, wonder no more: Kasper Schmeichel (C), Ricardo Pereira, Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans, Timothy Castagne, James Maddison, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Youri Tielemans, Marc Albrighton, Ademola Lookman, and Jamie Vardy.
The Foxes started the match on the front foot, winning three corners inside the first four minutes. None of them produced a clear-cut chance, but we did see Castagne go wide with a header from a tight angle and a couple of blocked efforts from Maddison. It wasn’t strictly one-way traffic, as Roma looked threatening breaking down the City left, but for a quarter-hour Leicester were well on top.
We might have done well to pay a bit more attention to that “breaking down the City left” bit. Roma took the lead against the run of play with one of the simplest goals you’ll ever see. Wingback Nicola Zalewski picked up the ball in his own half and was able to carry it the length of the pitch with Albrighton trailing in his wake. He dribbled around Ricardo as though the fullback wasn’t there and slid the ball to Lorenzo Pellegrini with Fofana static in defence. He struck it first time, nutmegging Schmeichel and giving the visitors the lead.
Rodgers was forced to make his first change just after the 20’ mark. Castagne was unable to carry on after having his neck grabbed in the box. James Justin came on in his place. The start of a period of Leicester...not “dominance” but at least “prominence.” Lookman saw a long-range effort parried only as far as Chris Smalling with Vardy lurking nearby.
That was it for the first half. City had two-thirds of the possession and outshot Roma by an 8-2 margin. You could say that the scoreline was misleading, but given that I Giallorossi are managed by Jose Mourinho, the match was proceeding very much according to the visitor’s script.
The second half started much as the entire first half was played was which was more than a little frustrating. City continued to have approximately all of the possession but could do nothing against the stacked cohorts of the Roman defence. Vardy was as isolated as Sam Rockwell in the movie Moon. Have you seen Moon? You should. It’s a great film, and you’d understand just how solid this reference is if you saw it.
Anyway, with an hour gone and the attack stuck in second gear, Rodgers made a double substitution. Harvey Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho came on for Vardy and Albrighton, with Lookman switching to the right flank and Barnes manning the left. Would the move work?
Yes, yes it would.
Barnes did a very Barnes thing, cutting in from the left and attempting to play a give-and-go with Iheanacho. He got the pass a little wrong, but it came off a defender’s toe and it might as well have been a return ball to the winger. Barnes was alone behind the defence and had ages to pick out a pass, spotting Lookman’s run with a cross. The loanee from RB Leipzig turned the ball into the net under heavy pressure to restore parity.
An equaliser for @LCFC. The very least the Foxes deserve. Been by a million miles the better team. COYF.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) April 28, 2022
Obviously, we’ve won over the neutrals tonight. Don’t @ me. Or do, I guess. Twitter’s about to get weird.
With a quarter-hour to play, Roma made a rare foray into Leicester territory and nearly took the lead with their first shot of the half. Tammy Abraham took on three City defenders and did well to hold up the ball in the Foxes’ box. A clever backheel found the run of Sergio Oliveira, whose close-range effort was turned over by the alert Schmeichel.
Rodgers made one more change as the match entered its final ten minutes, introducing Ayoze Perez in favour of goalscorer Lookman. The Foxes remained well on top, but things were getting scrappy. Iheanacho was a little fortunate to escape without a card as he struck Chris Smalling with an accidental-but-still-foul-worthy forearm.
Five minutes of time were added on. City were unable to score, and Roma were uninterested in doing so. The referee continued his bizarre habit of letting players go over the back of their opponents. He was consistent in this, but it was weird anyway. That was it, so we’ll try again in a week and see if we can settle this thing.
My primary takeaway from this match is “Wow, are Roma always this dire?” The visitors only attempted two shots in either half. They offered some danger on the break but little else. One suspects that they will be more adventurous at the Stadio Olimpico next week. I genuinely like this Roma side, but watching a Jose Mourinho-managed team isn’t the most aesthetic of experiences.
James Justin on #LCFC's 1-1 draw with AS Roma: "We showed in the last round against PSV that we could dig in deep and get the victory. It shows that home advantage isn't a big thing. Hopefully we can take it to their place and get the win."— BBC Sport Leicester (@BBCRLSport) April 28, 2022
I mean, I’d be worried if you didn’t hope for precisely that...
I mentioned this on Saturday, but today’s match really sealed the impression: Ademola Lookman has become the thing that Brendan Rodgers values most: consistent. On his current form, he’s going to be one of the first names on the team sheet and exercising the option to buy him is likely the easiest decision we’ll have this summer.
The draw gives us one foot in the Europa Conference League final...and one foot out of it. Based on the performances today, I like our odds, but I don’t really expect a repeat of these performances. Next up, we travel to London to square up against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. Then, we settle this thing with Roma on Thursday in Italy. I, for one, can’t wait.