Against all the odds, Leicester City remain in with a reasonable chance of reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League. Having defied all expectationsto win the Premier League last season, they now stand on the verge of even more history.
As they did in the last 16, Leicesterhead into the second leg of their tie needing to win to have any chance of continuing their progress in the competition. Having held firm in Madrid to limit Atletico to just a 1-0 win, Craig Shakespeare’s side are in a position where yet another shock could be on the cards.
But how can they pull off yet another impossible task? Goal takes a look at what they must get right at the King Power Stadium…
GET CAPTAIN MORGAN BACK FIT
After 18 months of an almost clean bill of health among their regular starters, Leicester have been hit by injury and suspension issues just at the wrong time.
Wes Morgan has not played since scoring in the second leg against Sevilla due to a back problem, but Robert Huth and Yohan Benalouane have managed to forge a partnership in the Jamaica international’s absence.
Huth, though, is suspended for the second leg after picking up a needless booking at the Vicente Calderon while Benalouane limped off against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Shakespeare insists the latter was only suffering with cramp, but much of the build-up has now switched focus as to whether Morgan will be fit to make his return. Should he miss out, either Daniel Amartey and Marcin Wasilewski will be drafted in alongside Benalouane. Even a misfiring Fernando Torres would fancy his chances!
TAKE GRIEZMANN OUT OF THE GAME
As brave as Leicester’s performance was in Madrid, during the opening 45 minutes they clearly could not deal with the threat posed by Antoine Griezmann.
The France international ran the show during the first half as he regularly picked up possession between midfield and defence and looked to dictate the tempo of Atletico’s attacks. His electric pace also led to the winning penalty as he showcased the gap in quality between the two teams.
Griezmann’s display brought about a change from Shakespeare, however, with the Leicester boss switching from his tried and trusted 4-4-2 to a 4-1-4-1 in the second period. Andy King’s introduction in place of Shinji Okazaki allowed Wilfred Ndidi to man-mark Griezmann, and it was clear that Atletico found things far more difficult in the second period.
Following the success of his change of system, it will be interesting to see whether Shakespeare reverts back or tries to limit Griezmann while also trying to win the football match. Though Atletico are far more than a one-man team, how Leicester deal with their star man will likely dictate whether they can turn the tie around.
GET VARDY MORE INVOLVED
Jamie Vardy was criticised on social media following the first leg after returning a set of statistics that a stoppage time substitute would have been unhappy with.
The England forward barely had a touch of the ball in Madrid, with the decision to replace Okazaki at the break meaning he was left isolated in the second half.
He did, however, showcase the problems he could cause with his pace running in behind. During the opening 10 minutes he latched onto a hopeful punt downfield from Okazaki to aim a first-time shot across the face of goal. It is clear he is fast enough to get at the Atletico defence – he just requires the service to have a real impact.
DON'T GET CARRIED AWAY
Knowing they cannot afford anything other than a win, Leicester would be forgiven for chasing the game from the first minute in a bid to get themselves ahead as soon as possible.
But as was shown in Madrid, throwing all their efforts into attack leaves them at risk of being counterattacked themselves, and conceding an away goal would likely spell disaster.
Atletico’s winner in Madrid was brought about by the Foxes sending the majority of their players forward for a Christian Fuchs long-throw and being caught out by the electric pace of Griezmann down an unguarded left flank. The decision that followed may have been controversial, but the attack itself should serve as a warning to Leicester fans who will want their team to take the game by the scruff of the neck from kick-off.
USE THEIR BENCH WISELY
Consistency in selection has been key to Leicester’s success over the past two seasons, and it is unlikely Shakespeare will make any huge changes for such a big match.
He will, however, have game-changing options among his substitutes, and how he utilises their talents may be the difference come the final whistle.
Demarai Gray’s pace gives him an extra dimension when compared to the work-rate and crossing ability of Marc Albrighton while Islam Slimani and Leonardo Ulloa have what it takes to challenge Diego Godin et al should Leicester turn to an aerial bombardment strategy be required in the closing stages.
Shakespeare was reluctant to change things much during the first leg, but how and when he turns to his bench could yet be key to the final outcome.