If you had asked anyone who would advance to the Quarter Finals in the UEFA Champions League between Sevilla and Leicester City, they would all have said Sevilla. Even Leicester City fans, who were in heaven for all of last season would have likely had no faith in their side’s chances at advancing to the next round going into this Round of 16 double-leg encounter. Before the first leg of this match-up began, Leicester were in the worst form of their entire existence, going all of 2017 up until that 2-1 defeat 2 weeks ago, without scoring a single goal. But in the last half hour of that 2-1 defeat, something clicked and the Foxes started to look like their old selves again, grabbing a crucial away goal to lead them into this match with the slightest bit of hope.
Following the unfair but in hindsight justified sacking of Claudio Ranieri, the Foxes were back in full flow under the leadership of Craig Shakespeare and starting to show signs that they were back to their old selves again. With two fantastic results in the Premier League, both 3-1 wins against Liverpool and Hull City, Leicester City were back in business and were able to come into this match with positive hopes that they could do the impossible just like they did last season when they won the Premier League, and extend their run in a tournament that they should have never even been a part of. Against all odds, the Foxes managed to pull out the win, thanks to a hunger, a desire, a fighting will to advance to the next round. Against all odds, Leicester City demoralized Sevilla FC, by a score of 2-0, thanks to goals from two unlikely heroes, Wes Morgan and Marc Albrighton.
Shakespeare’s Tactical Know-How
Every time Sevilla got the ball, Leicester were there to shut them down. The White and Reds were never given any time to work in dangerous areas and nearly every single long ball they attempted was cut out, forcing them to pass the ball among their defenders instead for the majority of the game. Jorge Sampaoli’s side had all of the possession but couldn’t do anything with it, because every single Leicester City player was defending for their life, doing everything in their power to stop them from attacking.
It seems like Shakespeare has just told the players to go back to the basics and start playing to their strengths again and it has culminated in three fantastic wins on the spin since he took over. Tuesday night was a vintage Leicester City performance. It was the exact carbon copy of what we had seen from them in the Premier League all of last season; even more so than what they had achieved in the previous two league games. The Foxes just hung back, let the other team pass the ball around menially, and then after they won it back would sprint all the way up the field in full thrust on the counter attack. Every single Leicester player was brilliant and performed to their full ability, something that has been lost for the entirety of 2016-17. It was an all-round magnificent team performance; so it’s only fair that we give mention to each player individually and what they accomplished in this match.
A Resilient Defense
Leicester’s resilient defense was one of the underrated factors in their historic title win of last season and similarly, their lack in resilience this season has been an under-reported story in the debate as to why they haven’t performed to that same level this season. But on Tuesday night, Sevilla found it absolutely impossible to break them down, proving that this group of players still have what it takes to be a title-winning defence.
Robert Huth and Wes Morgan finally looked like their old selves again, bullying Stevan Jovetic and Wissam Ben Yedder, winning every ball in the air and in the case of Morgan, scoring a crucial goal. Kasper Schmeichel was on fire, just like he was in the first game, and made 4 crucial stops to keep Sampaoli’s men out. Even when he made a mistake in giving away a penalty, he rectified it instantly by saving that penalty. Simpson and Fuchs meanwhile stopped Sevilla’s plan of playing with width as the Red and Whites found it impossible to cross balls into the box; the area of the pitch where they troubled Leicester the most in the first leg.
A Stable Midfield With a Little Bit of Flair
The key to Leicester’s incredible 2-0 win over Sevilla on Tuesday beyond all else, was how effective their midfield was at stopping Sampaoli’s midfield from playing. Drinkwater and Ndidi were absolutely impeccable. While Ndidi dominated in the air, Drinkwater dominated on the grass, making for a formidable partnership in midfield and making a three-man midfield of Nasri, N’Zonzi and Iborra look average. Sevilla’s linchpin – N’Zonzi, couldn’t get on the ball and have the same kind of effect that he did in the first leg because every single time he tried to, he was instantly swarmed by a pack of Foxes; led by Okazaki and backed up by the four midfield men. Nasri meanwhile lost the ball at every turn and became so frustrated that he found himself sent off after a spat with Jamie Vardy in the second half. Iborra on the other hand was non-existent and despite being a player known for prowess in the air, won only half as many battles as Ndidi in that regard. Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez meanwhile were absolutely brilliant. Mahrez showed his quality from an attacking perspective for the second week in a row, often running the show for Leicester and acting as that crucial play-maker just as he did in 2015-16. Crucially, he was also a work-horse in defense, making more tackles (5) than any other player on the pitch! He even picked up an assist as it was his fantastic ball in from set-piece that found the knees of Wes Morgan for Leicester’s first goal. Albrighton meanwhile is developing a knack for scoring important goals. He was the one who scored the Foxes’ first ever Champions League goal and on this occasion, sent them through to the Quarter Finals with a fantastic left-footed finish. It wasn’t just the defense and midfield though as without the tireless efforts of Leicester’s front men, this could have been a very different story.
Forwards Defending From the Front
Another significant factor to Leicester’s 2-0 win against Sevilla was in Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki’s tireless work ethic to defend from the front. At times Sampaoli’s side couldn’t even get the ball out of their own defensive third because of the pressure that Okazaki and Vardy would put on them. The hard-working forwards just made it impossible for Sevilla to get the ball up moving and forced them into making several mistakes. Going the other way, they weren’t bad either. In fact despite not having their shooting boots on, they were Leicester’s two most important attacking players and absolutely essential to their win.
This was just an amazing performance from Leicester City and one that nobody at all expected them to conjure up after such a torrid time in the Premier League this season. The Foxes now join some of Europe’s most elite clubs in Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in the Quarter Finals, with the final two teams being decided tomorrow. Just when it seemed to be all over, the Leicester City fairy-tale continues!
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