Leicester in the Champions League quarter-finals: The miracle goes on
Leicester City added a new layer to their amazing story by knocking out Sevilla in the Champions League. These players should never be written off again, writes Adam Bate.
Leicester conjured up another unlikely triumph at the King Power Stadium
Real Madrid and Barcelona are there. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund too. Juventus joined them in the quarter-finals on Tuesday evening. Five clubs, European Cup winners one and all with 24 triumphs between them. They are joined in the last eight by Leicester City.
Last year’s miracle men, the team one win clear of the Premier League relegation zone, did for dark horses Sevilla on yet another crazy night at the King Power. “This is the greatest night in Leicester City’s history,” former Foxes striker Tony Cottee told Sky Sports.
There is stiff competition for that particular honour but this did indeed feel like the night that the Premier League’s greatest ever tale went global, taking its peculiarities to the continent. A game Sevilla should have finished inside 45 minutes in Spain, bent to their will.
That Leicester did so by conjuring up a spirit that was supposed to have long gone, in players whose powers had long since deserted them, only made it all the more remarkable. It seems that Foxes not only never quit but they also do encores.
Leicester were celebrating another against-the-odds triumph at the end
Craig Shakespeare continued his policy of going back to basics with his line-up, for the third game in a row naming every single one of last season’s first-choice team who is still on the club’s books. And for the third game in a row they rewarded him in emphatic fashion.
The new narrative, of course, is that these Leicester players let down Claudio Ranieri. There is an element of truth to that and it’s a tale that’ll endure. But let’s not pretend that another one had not gathered pace – the idea that these players were just not good enough.
There was logic to it. The world was still processing Leicester’s rise, so the fall was easier to explain. The freak run was over and now the inadequacies were being exposed for the world to see. Wes Morgan and pals in the Champions League was never supposed to be pretty.
What of that theory now? The men who have made a habit of demolishing football’s myths have gone and added another layer to their own mythology. Shakespeare has got the band back together and they were determined to deliver all of their best hits.
Unfortunately for Sevilla, they looked like a team ill-prepared to face the music. Jorge Sampaoli’s side got a taste of what all the fuss had been about and while they were able to dominate the ball, it never quite amounted to control. Leicester can be difficult.
The back-four were disciplined and Wilfred Ndidi worked hard to protect them. Marc Albrighton brought the energy and Shinji Okazaki was everywhere else. With Jamie Vardy stretching the Sevilla defence, Leicester always looked a danger on the counter-attack.
Wes Morgan opened the scoring on an amazing night at the King Power Stadium
When Shakespeare took Okazaki off after an hour in a real retro move, it underlined the fact that Leicester have their old template back. Even Riyad Mahrez was working, making more tackles than any of his team-mates in the first half. His free-kick brought the opening goal.
Morgan bundled that one in at the far post and it was Marc Albrighton who swept in a second with his left foot. By the time Kasper Schmeichel made his second penalty save of the tie to deny Steven N’Zonzi late on, it wasn’t even a surprise – least of all to Leicester.
Vardy will be criticised for his conduct in engineering Samir Nasri’s red card but this was the sort of unpleasantness that Gary Neville had wanted to see more of – the non-league scrapper using his brand of controlled aggression to outwit a Champions League veteran.
And isn’t that just this Leicester all over? No longer seen as the fairy-tale heroes but maybe something even more fun than that – the team who thrive on upsetting their critics as well as the odds; the back-street champions who the big boys hate having to deal with.
Even this season Manchester City and Liverpool have been to the King Power and suffered the consequences. Add Sevilla to the list. They are going to need that knack for causing an upset come the quarter-finals whoever they face next. But don’t tell them they can’t do it.
Shakespeare, only the third Englishman to oversee a Champions League knockout tie, has already refused to rule out winning the thing. Far-fetched, of course. But Leicester are still alive. Perhaps it’s time we gave up telling this club and these players what’s possible now.
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