Craig Shakespeare urged his Leicester City players to use the club’s first experience of Champions League football as motivation to take part in the competition again after their European journey came to an end at the hands of Atlético Madrid. Trailing 1-0 after the first leg in Madrid, Leicester were held to a 1-1 draw at the King Power Stadium, leaving Shakespeare to reflect on a spirited performance with a mixture of disappointment and pride.
Jamie Vardy equalised for Leicester in the second half after Saúl Ñíguez had put Atlético ahead with a superb header, and there were moments when the Premier League club threatened to score again and make life uncomfortable for the Spanish club as they chased the 3-1 victory on the night that would have put them through. Diego Simeone was full of praise for Leicester and said his Atlético team “were living in fear all night”.
Shakespeare, Leicester City’s interim manager, when asked about his emotions at the end, said: “Disappointment obviously to go out but immensely proud of the performance. I thought we gave it a really good shot against an excellent team. Their history speaks for itself – finalists in two of the last three years. We still felt we were in the tie from the first leg, we had a right go tonight but ultimately we’ve just failed at the last hurdle.”
The majority of the Leicester players were appearing in the Champions League for the first time and Shakespeare hopes reaching the quarter-finals will serve as an inspiration for them. “I hope the benefit is they want some more of it,” Leicester’s manager said. “They’re very disappointed in there but I said they can be proud of what they achieved. They should want more of this, all players want to play at the highest level, which the Champions League is. But we have to get back to winning ways in the Premier League now.”
Leicester were much more dangerous in the second half, when Shakespeare switched to a three-man defence and introduced Leonardo Ulloa, leading to a direct approach that caused Atlético problems. “We spoke about different scenarios in advance but I didn’t expect to do it that early,” Shakespeare said of his tactical change. “We played all right first half, but we needed to be more of a threat in front of goal. We spoke about playing direct, playing with wing-backs, and I thought the players’ attitude to make that work was first-class.”
Simeone, who has now led Atlético to three Champions League semi-finals in four years, admitted that Leicester gave his team a scare. “I am full of emotion and pride at the performance of my team, full of hope and excitement as we progress further in the competition,” the Atlético manager said. “But I have to say what a great performance from Leicester. It was a pleasure to compete against them, they never gave up for one minute, they never let their heads drop. We were living in fear all night about what they might achieve as they kept coming forward. They pushed us all the way.”