Leicester booked their place in the Champions League quarterfinals in dramatic circumstances.
Leicester City are through into the Champions League quarterfinals, with a 2-0 win at home to Sevilla on Tuesday ensuring a 3-2 aggregate victory. Goals from Wes Morgan and Marc Albrighton either side of halftime proved sufficient to see the Foxes through, though only courtesy of Steven N’Zonzi penalty miss late in the second half.
It took less than five minutes of the first half for Sevilla to fire a warning shot, when Samir Nasri’s powerful shot was turned around the near post by a diving Kasper Schmeichel. However, the early scare didn’t dent Leicester’s confidence, and before long they were in comfortable control.
Chances remained few and far between, and the Foxes had to remain patient. They did, and were rewarded for doing so just short of the half-hour, when a vicious Riyad Mahrez free-kick was bundled in at the far post, the decisive touch having come off the thigh of an unwitting Morgan.
The goal gave Leicester an away goals advantage, and Sevilla were swiftly scared into action. Three minutes later the Spanish side almost drew level, though Wissam Ben Yedder’s could only hit the side-netting after pouncing in the penalty area, and the Foxes held their lead to the interval.
Sevilla started the second half with intent, and almost equalised through one of the goals of the tournament within minutes of the restart. A vicious dipping effort from left-back Sergio Escudero cleared Schmeichel, only to bounce off the underside of the crossbar en route to safety.
But in a surprise twist, Leicester struck a second time on the ensuing counter, with Albrighton rifling home after Adil Rami tamely nodded a Mahrez cross into his path. The goal meant Sevilla still only had to score once to force extra time, but it was the hosts with all the confidence. They almost killed the game off midway through the second period, though Jamie Vardy snatched at a loose ball in the penalty area and lashed wide of Sergio Rico’s goal.
A nervy final few minutes looked in store for Leicester, with Sevilla gradually cranking up the pressure. But Sevilla’s task was made all the more difficult with a quarter-hour left on the clock, when Samir Nasri squared up to Jamie Vardy with the ball still in play. The Frenchman promptly picked up his second yellow card, and Sevilla were sent down to 10.
The referee was at the centre of attention again just minutes later, awarding Sevilla a penalty after Schmeichel brought Vitolo to the ground in the area. But just as in the first leg, the Dane made himself a hero, diving to his left to deny N’Zonzi from the spot.
The game was blown wide open, with openings subsequently appearing at both ends of the field. Vardy should’ve killed the game off when he was slipped through by Mahrez on the break with a couple of minutes remaining, though he skied the ball over the bar from point-blank range. His blushes were eventually spared by the final whistle, though only Leicester withstood an agonising four minutes of stoppage time.
Leicester City: Kasper Schmeichel; Christian Fuchs, Robert Huth, Wes Morgan, Danny Simpson; Marc Albrighton, Danny Drinkwater, Wilfred Ndidi, Riyad Mahrez (Thomas Partey 89’); Jamie Vardy, Shinji Okazaki (Islam Slimani 64’).
Goals: Morgan (27’), Albrighton (54′).
Sevilla: Sergio Rico; Sergio Escudero, Adil Rami, Nico Pareja, Gabriel Mercado (Mariano 46’); Vicente Iborra, Stephen N’Zonzi; Vitolo, Samir Nasri, Pablo Sarabia (Stevan Jovetić 46’); Wissam Ben Yedder (Joaquín Correa 68’).
Red cards: Nasri (83’).
1. Craig Shakespeare is continuing to produce the goods …
… that, or Leicester are continuing to produce the goods for Craig Shakespeare. This victory meant the Foxes recorded three straight wins for the first time in almost a year, with their interim boss maintaining his pristine record. There can be no denying that Leicester have looked much better since Claudio Ranieri was sacked a day after they were beaten away at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in the first leg of this tie, with the dogged determination that characterised their unlikely run to the Premier League title last season having returned to the King Power Stadium. It may not reflect particularly well on the players, but Leicester supporters will be delighted with their surprise turnaround.
2. Sevilla paid the price for their conservatism
Sevilla utterly dominated the first leg of this match, and had it not been for a string of excellent saves from Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester would’ve been dead and buried at the midway point of the tie. They had been suffocated by the Spaniards’ high pressing game, and the movement of Joaquín Correa and Stevan Jovetić wrought havoc in the Foxes defence. However, coach Jorge Sampaoli elected to make four defensive changes for this match — including dropping both Correa and Jovetić — clearly hoping to quietly see things out. Suffice to say, the plan backfired badly, and he may well be ruing having not gone for the jugular.
3. Riyad Mahrez is the man for the big occasion
The Riyad Mahrez of this season has had little on the Mahrez of last, though the Algerian international has certainly excelled in Leicester’s fine Champions League run. The winger looked back to something like his best in this match, laying on an assist for the first goal and playing a significant part in the second. It could well be that his poor Premier League form is an issue of motivation, as he’s certainly had no problem performing on the biggest of stages:
6 – Riyad Mahrez has been directly involved in six of Leicester’s nine Champions League goals this season. Provider.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 14, 2017