Kasper Schmeichel feels that Leicester City’s game plan at Atletico Madrid worked well in Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg, as proved by the fact the only goal of the game was a penalty that should never have stood.
That has emboldened the goalkeeper’s belief they can again pull off something “special” at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday, even though they have neither an away goal nor the suspended Robert Huth, with centre-half partner Wes Morgan again looking a fitness doubt.
Schmeichel stopped short of any outright criticism for the decision that allowed Antoine Griezmann to strike from a penalty for a first-half foul that was outside the box, but made his displeasure known, as well as his optimism. He also insisted the injustice of Atletico’s goal motivated them for the second half, as they began to limit the home side much more.
“We’re still in the tie and that was the aim; very disappointed that such a big decision has gone the wrong way for us,” Schmeichel said. “We’re still so proud of the boys that we battled so hard out there. It’s a tough place against a top class side.
“It really should have been 0-0. We had a game plan and it got… I’d better choose my words carefully here. Let’s say it was changed by external circumstances.
“We stuck to it – we made sure it didn’t turn into two. It was tough out there, very tough conditions with the heat for the lads running about as much as they did. They all put in a good shift. You can’t take more belief from this than we already had. We’re not lacking belief. Like I said, it should have finished 0-0. The only goal they scored was a penalty and it wasn’t a penalty.
“We felt really hard done by but we knuckled down and made sure it didn’t turn into more. We said at half-time that, yeah, we wanted to go out and win the game but we all said ‘Right, the worst result we come away with is 1-0. That’s the worst.
“The goal changed the game, but that’s the way it ended up. We just wanted to bring them back to the King Power with us still in with a chance.
“After that, I thought we played really, really well. Obviously we didn’t create enough chances but when you play against a team that’s been in the Champions League final two out of last three years then you know chances are going to be few and far between and when they do come you have to put them away.
“We didn’t quite manage that today but so proud of the way we performed.”
Asked whether Leicester could turn it around against a side of Atletico's class, Schmeichel was as forthright as ever.
“Why not? I’ve always said ‘Why not?’ European nights are something special, especially the home nights. The crowd have really responded to them and have been fantastic.
“It’s amazing to play in them and we’re really looking forward to it. There’s a semi-final in the Champions League on the line so there couldn’t be a bigger incentive. I think everyone is very much up for the fight.”
They will potentially have to do that without their first-choice centre-half pairing, and definitely without Huth. He received his third booking of the competition in the second half of the game, while there is still no timeframe on when Morgan will return due to the nature of his back injury.
The club will continue to assess the captain's fitness over the next few days, but Schmeichel did not feel it would be as much of a disadvantage as it had been thought, as he praised the performance of stand-in Yohan Benaloune and said it isn’t really like working with a completely different defence. Christian Fuchs could well step in alongside Benaloune.
“Well, they’re not new. I train with them every day, so it’s not exactly like that. Obviously those two are such massive characters who are hugely influential on and off the pitch. From a personal point of view I’m gutted for both of them.
“I was gutted for Wes missing tonight because it’s a great occasion for the club. He should have led the team out. Huthy is another big miss. But it gives someone else a chance. We saw Yohan coming in for Wes and he’s done a great job. You have a squad to use the strength in depth and we’re going to have to do that.
“Yohan was brilliant. He had a difficult game against [Romelu] Lukaku [in the 4-2 defeat to Everton on Sunday] but apart from that everything else has been absolutely spot-on. He’s slipped right in and done a fantastic job.”