Leicester take goalless draw from first leg in Prague

Slavia are unbeaten here since November 2019 and it was easy to appreciate why

 Harvey Barnes in action during Leicester’s Europa League round of 32 first leg in Prague. Photograph: EPA

Harvey Barnes in action during Leicester’s Europa League round of 32 first leg in Prague. Photograph: EPA

 

Slavia Prague 0 Leicester City 0

Brendan Rodgers has never enjoyed much luck in the Europa League. At Liverpool and Celtic he failed to progress beyond the first knockout rounds but, despite being well below their compelling best, his Leicester City side did just enough to ensure they kick off next Thursday’s second leg at the King Power Stadium as slight favourites.

No matter that Jamie Vardy was virtually anonymous on a mild, cloudy night in Prague, his teammates kept the clean sheet which could yet help secure a place in the last 16.

The Czech champions welcomed Leicester with an artistic warning. “Slavia Praha Fox Hunting” read the message spelt out across the empty banks of specially re-configured red and white seats in the main stand.

Slavia have not been beaten here since November 2019 and it was swiftly easy to appreciate why. In Abdallah Dipo Sima they possess a quick, clever and inventive right-winger who relished accelerating beyond Rodgers’s 19-year-old left back Luke Thomas.

Only a fine tackle on Calgar Soynucu’s part as Sima shaped to shoot came between Leicester and the near certain concession of a first half goal but, by then the visitors had already realised Jindrich Trpisovsky’s side would be no pushovers.

Sima’s magnetic first touch and dynamic change of pace dictated that Rodgers’s defence were being made to look somewhat slapdash at times. Small wonder Leicester’s relief seemed almost a palpable as Alexander Bah headed wide when he really should have put the home side ahead.

Admittedly the rebound from a James Maddison free-kick created a half chance for Harvey Barnes but the angle was a little too awkward and he sent a rather snatched shot swerving wide.

A little earlier Youri Tielemans’s typically elegant pass had left Barnes with only Ondrej Kolar to beat yet he shot straight at the goalkeeper’s legs as the better-placed Maddison screamed for his teammate to square it.

Leicester’s collective concentration improved a little as, with half-time beckoning, they endeavoured to up the tempo but it was still proving quite a struggle for Rodgers’s players to impose themselves on the game.

By half-time Vardy was still seeing considerably less of the ball than he would have liked and his manager’s decision to field arguably the strongest available visiting starting XI seemed fully vindicated.

Slavia will doubtless have been delighted by the way the team currently sitting third in the Premier League huffed and puffed through the early stages of the second period. As Kasper Schmeichel tipped Nicolas Stanciu’s shot from the edge of the area out for a corner Leicester’s domestic successes felt strangely irrelevant and they looked very much a side with only one win in their last seven European games.

It was time for Rodgers to flick a few switches and, sure enough, he introduced Kelechi Iheanacho at the expense of Vardy who, quite apart from not once testing Slavia’s goalkeeper had barely touched the ball throughout.

Meanwhile Cengiz Under replaced Marc Albrighton. Unfortunately Iheanacho almost instantly ruled himself out of next week’s return by raising his arm into Jakub Hromada’s throat and earning himself not merely a yellow card but a one match Europa League suspension.

As the power balance still refused to tilt Leicester’s way and Rodgers’s thoughts presumably turned to preserving the goalless score line ahead of the second leg, Maddison made way for Hamza Choudhury.

Perhaps anxious to make an impact a midfielder who came close to joining Newcastle on loan last month quickly, and all too briefly, raised the tone, by unleashing a brilliant cross which Iheanacho headed fractionally wide. - Guardian

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