Champions League review: The Leicester fairy tale continues

Leicester has reached the Champions League quarterfinals. (Rui Vieira/AP)

• UEFA Champions League, King Power Stadium – Leicester City 2 (Morgan 27’, Albrighton 54’), Sevilla 0

GAME RECAP IN A SENTENCE

The English champions overcame a 2-1 deficit from the opening leg, outplaying the favoured Spaniards to earn a convincing victory and advance to the quarter-finals.

THE NARRATIVE

Fortune so often favours the brave, and on this night, it certainly favoured Leicester City. Not at all impressed by Sevilla’s reputation, its three consecutive Europa League titles and its stingy defensive record (five clean sheets in this year’s Champions League), the English outfit were full of purpose and set the pace right from the opening kickoff. The trio of Shinji Okazaki, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez led the Foxes’ systematic high press. Sevilla’s defenders were looking to play out of the back and through the defensive pressure down the middle, but were routinely funneled to the flanks and out of danger.

Leicester swarmed Sevilla and was rewarded for its positive play when Wes Morgan bundled home Mahrez’s magnificent free kick played deep into the box. Sevilla manager Jorge Sampaoli made two notable changes at halftime, swapping out Pablo Sarabia and Gabriel Mercado for Stevan Jovetic and Mariano Ferreira. The Spanish outfit looked far more dangerous going forward as Leicester sat back deeper and absorbed the pressure. But the double switch also left Sevilla exposed at the back, which the home side duly took advantage of when Marc Albrighton scored somewhat against the run of play after Sevilla couldn’t clear its lines.

Samir Nasri’s red card for head butting Vardy in the 74th minute seemed to seal the result. But there was still another twist when Sevilla earned a penalty six minutes later, only for Kasper Schmeichel to come up big and deny Steven N’Zonzi. Leicester was full value for the win, having unsettled Sevilla early on with their high press, and then putting on a masterclass in game management after Morgan gave them the lead.

KEY MOMENT

80’ SAVE! Leicester City 2-0 Sevilla: With his legendary father in attendance, Kasper Schmeichel, who seconds earlier was called for the foul that led to the penalty, dived to his left to block Steven N’Zonzi’s attempt. Sevilla was on the ropes at that point, reduced to 10 men just minutes earlier when Samir Nasri was sent off, so had N’Zonzi converted the Spanish side would have snatched the momentum and likely have forced extra time. But Schmeichel’s save kept Sevilla off the scoreboard, and allowed Leicester to see things out.

TALKING POINT

Was Escudero’s miss the turning point? Down 1-0 but still very much in the game, Sevilla began to boss things early on in the second half as they pinned Leicester inside its half. The Spaniards nearly equalized when Sergio Escudero fired a swerving long-range shot that beat Schmeichel but rattled unforgivingly off the crossbar. Moments later, Marc Albrighton marched downfield and doubled Leicester’s advantage. One can only wonder how or even if the landscape of the match would have turned had Escudero’s attempt dipped underneath the crossbar.

QUICK TAKE

Maybe firing Claudio Ranieri, which was a widely unpopular move at the time, was the right thing to do after all. Since parting ways with the Italian, Leicester have received the ultimate “managerial bump”—they comfortably dispatched Liverpool and Hull City in Premier League play, and then came from behind in their Round of 16 series to eliminate a Sevilla side that sits third in La Liga. The Foxes look invigorated under interim manager Craig Shakespeare, and bear no resemblance to the team that stumbled and bumbled through the last three months of Ranieri’s tenure.

STANDOUT STAT

MAN OF THE MATCH

Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City: The Algerian was magnificent in both ends of the pitch. In concert with Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki, Mahrez served as the first line of defence in Leicester’s pressing game. It was also his dangerous free kick played to the back post that led to Wes Morgan’s opening goal. Mahrez has now been involved in six of Leicester’s 10 goals in the Champions League this season, underlining his worth to the English champions in what is turning out to be magical run in Europe.

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