Leicester City and PSV Eindhoven settled for a 0-0 draw in the first leg of their Europa Conference League quarterfinal tie on Thursday night at the King Power. Mario Götze and Kelechi Iheanacho missed early chances, and Harvey Barnes hit the post late in the first period, but neither side could find a goal in the second period, sending the tie to the Netherlands with all to play for.
PSV Eindhoven: Classy on the pitch and off it.
Manager Brendan Rodgers had the luxury of fielding something approaching his first-choice starting XI. Not the first choice because that Platonic ideal does not exist in this imperfect world, but it was as close as we’ve seen this season: Kasper Schmeichel (C), Ricardo Pereira, Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans, Timothy Castagne, James Maddison, Youri Tielemans, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Marc Albrighton, Harvey Barnes, Kelechi Iheanacho.
PSV got out of the blocks quicker, pinning the Foxes in their own half and winning the ball back quickly every time they gave it away. The visitors really ought to have taken the lead in just the second minute when Mario Götze beat the offside trap and found himself all alone, six yards from the goal. He looked as surprised as everyone else when the flag (correctly) stayed down and Schmeichel was able to save from close range.
City started to find their way into the match, winning the ball in dangerous positions and forcing the visitors into some fine last-ditch defending. There was nothing the defence could do when Dewsbury-Hall won the ball in midfield and sent Iheanacho on his way. The Seniorman lifted the ball over keeper Yvon Mvogo but he put his effort just wide of the far post.
The Foxes spent the rest of the half as the better side but couldn’t find a way through. There was one sumptuous move started by Castagne, who found Dewsbury-Hall on the wing. The ball was worked to Barnes, who played a give-and-go with Iheanacho. The academy man received a perfect return ball and beat Mvogo all ends up, but the cruel, cruel crossbar denied what would have been a legendary goal.
I don’t know why they let me write the match reports. Jack’s much better at this than I am.
The referee blew the whistle at 44:57, making this a rare instance of negative time added on. Time removed, perhaps? Regardless, it was a very clean half, with very few interruptions for fouls and none for injuries.
The second half started much as the first did, with the Boeren looking threatening. There was a big decision to make early on when Cody Gakpo turned Ricardo on the edge of the area. The Portugal man fell as he tried to change direction and may have clipped the striker as he went down. Referee Ivan Kruzliak said no and VAR spends Europa Conference League matches in a locked closet and duct tape over its mouth.
With the match getting scrappy, Rodgers made a double substitution just after the hour mark. Ademola Lookman and James Justin came on for Ricardo and Iheanacho, an apparent like for like change in a very fluid Leicester shape.
This might sound a bit strange, but the second half turned into a showcase for two absolutely indomitable defences. Both sides played fluid, attacking football and carved through their opponents’ midfields with ease, but the back lines were having none of it.
Rodgers withdrew Albrighton on 80’, introducing Patson Daka in hopes of nicking a late goal. The visitors went into full-on time-wasting mode, with slow substitutions, fake injuries, and all of the other classics of the genre. The late flurry you hoped to see never happened, and the match ended in an entertaining but disappointing 0-0 draw.
There have been times when I felt the Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall hype was a little overblown. Not today; he was the best player on the pitch by some margin. With neither Wilfred Ndidi nor Nampalys Mendy available, City played without a recognized defensive midfielder. That might be news to PSV, who saw attack after attack destroyed by the academy man. I’m not in the habit of awarding Man of the Match awards, but this one was so glaringly obvious I’ll do it just this once.
The draw leaves us some work to do if we’re going to reach the Europa Conference League semi-finals. There’s no away goal rule, so we’ll need to come out on top in the reverse leg next Thursday at the Philips Stadium. Before that, we have a tricky Premier League tie against Crystal Palace at the King Power.