Jamie Vardy goal keeps Leicester’s European party alive
Claudio Ranieri’s side weather Sevilla first-half storm to keep tie alive
Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy scores past Sergio Rico of Sevilla during the Uefa Champions League Round of 16 first leg match at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Sevilla 2 Leicester City 1
There is life in Leicester yet. Claudio Ranieri described this as the biggest night in the club’s history but there will be another. There may even be more beyond that after Kasper Schmeichel saved a penalty and Jamie Vardy scored his first Champions League goal as the English champions left Sevilla with their vital signs still intact. Down, but not out. Defeated, but with a vital away goal.
Vardy made his mark with quarter of an hour to go. Down on the touchline Ranieri leapt, his glasses almost falling off. His team had resisted and then they had rebelled. They have a chance now. For so long it did not seem likely. Sevilla had been two goals up and in control.
When Ahmed Musa and Sergio Escudero clashed heads five minutes before half-time, Leicester’s players took advantage of the break to gather by the touchline, where Schmeichel appeared to be conducting the investigation: what is going on? No one had an answer.
They could not keep track and their goalkeeper had kept them in the game until then. As they drank Ranieri appealed for calm, but it was one thing telling his players that; he needed to tell Jorge Sampaoli’s players. Sevilla were everywhere except where Leicester expected them to be.
Steven Nzonzi dropped between the central defenders, not to end moves but to start them. Only Sami Nasri came deep to join him and assist in bringing the ball out, and even he did not do so often. Ahead of Nzonzi, a long way ahead, the two full backs pushed right up so that Sevilla often appeared to have two wingers on each side, Mariano Ferreira and Sergio Escudero dashing outside Pablo Sarabia and Vitolo respectively. Outside, then inside, then outside again. The movement was uncontainable. Leicester could barely work out where they were coming from, let alone how to stop them.
The space between Leicester’s defence and midfield seemed to be full of them, flying round like particles in the Hadron collider. Only while this looked chaotic, it was not. This is Sevilla’s way now and in the middle of them Nzonzi glided. When Leicester pressed, which they did only rarely, Sevilla stepped beyond them into space; when they waited, which they did more often, it did not stop them coming.
Sevilla completed three times as many passes and the chances were racking up; the first came in the third minute, the last in the 45th. In between there had been 10. Leicester had only one, a long shot that worried no one. The surprise was that Sevilla had scored only one. Schmeichel had much to do with that, diving right to save Joaquín Correa’s penalty after he had been brought down by Wes Morgan.
He saved from Escudero and Stevan Jovetic too, but he could not stop the opening goal after 25 minutes. Nasri, Vitolo and Escudero combined, the latter’s cross deep to the far post where Pablo Sarabia leapt to head it in off the post. The Pizjuán, loud already, erupted. With 20 minutes left in the half they expected to do so again but it did not happen.
Leicester had been outplayed and mostly passive, something they appeared determined not to repeat in the second half, Musa taking on an opening-minute shot that may not have been his best option. Vardy, who had only 10 touches in the first half, chased now. Momentarily, Ranieri’s side had a bit of the ball and Danny Drinkwater’s deflected shot went just wide. “Come on Leicester,” they chanted, heard above the din for the first time. Sevilla’s fans were whistling; they didn’t like their English visitors having the ball.
It did not last long. Vitolo, released into the area by Nasri, shot at Schmeichel from a tight angle. The ball beat the Leicester goalkeeper but shaved off the base of the near post, across the goal and away.
Then Nzonzi pirouetted through one wave of pressure and Sevilla scored again. A long ball towards Jovetic was controlled on the chest, then his head and, as it bounced twice in the area, he turned smoothly and with the outside of his foot guided the ball into the path of Correa who thumped it high into the net. Up in his glass-fronted prison, the suspended Sampaoli punched the air. Withdrawn immediately afterwards, Correa left to a standing ovation.
Vicente Iborra replaced him. This is the man who had admitted: “Leicester showed us that everything is possible‚” and as it turned out that included finding a way back into this game.
Demarai Gray, on for Musa, slipped an angled ball up the left for Drinkwater and his delivery was perfect, bent low across the area, evading Sergio Rico’s hand. Vardy reached it to score. How different this looked now.
Sevilla knew that too and they searched for the third. This looked for a moment like it might open the door for Gray, dashing up the left, but with Marc Albrighton, exhausted, sprinting to join him he turned into the tackle. At the other end Schmeichel blocked Vitolo and then Adil Rami’s header came back off the bar. At the full-time whistle, the travelling fans stood to applaud. Leicester are still here.