Leicester City comfortably handled Randers in our Europa Conference League opener, winning the first leg 4-1. Wilfred Ndidi scored in the first half and Harvey Barnes, Patson Daka and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall all netted after the break as the visitors only managed a late goal against play before half-time.
Manager Brendan Rodgers has sent a message saying he is taking this competition seriously by fielding what could be the strongest XI currently available. “Might” does a lot of lifting here because I doubt anyone really knows our best lineup from game to game. Kasper Schmeichel (C), Daniel Amartey, Jannik Vestergaard, Çağlar Söyüncü, Marc Albrighton, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, Ademola Lookman, Harvey Barnes, Patson Daka.
It took a few minutes, but the Foxes started on the front foot and seemed to score most of the time on the field. Vestergaard tried to scout Lookman and Tielemans scouted Daka, but either way the leading men were able to get the first touch quite well. You could feel it coming, though.
The breakthrough came midway through the first half when Ndidi and Lookman played a brace into Randers’ box. Lookman pulled it off for his international teammate and Wilf headed home with a little help from a friendly deflection. The lead was nothing more than the Foxes deserved and they looked in the mood to put on a hateful past Hestene goalkeeper Patrick Carlgren.
Carlgren had other ideas. Three times Dewsbury-Hall put in a good shot on target, and all three times the striker kept them out, including a brilliant save with the tip of his toe. Söyüncü sent a powerful half-volley from a knockdown by Vestergaard, but again Calgren was up to the task.
Heading into injury time, City had edged past their opponents by a 13:1 margin, and things were just as comfortable as that stat suggested. It was, as you might expect, the cue for vintage Leicestering. A ball down the left from Leicester saw tonight’s left-back Albrighton lose his balance. This allowed Tosin Kehinde to demolish the flank, with Vestergaard trying to cover. Randers captain Vito Hammershøj-Mistrati (whose shirt, in an act of pure mercy, reads “Vito”), ran wide into the defence, picked up a low cross and passed Schmeichel to equalize the score at the break.
How would the Foxes react to giving up a late equalizer in the first half? Pretty good, as it turned out. Randers’ goal siege continued and City finally figured out how to beat Calgren: let one of their team-mates do it.
Dewsbury-Hall, involved in all the activity tonight, kicked the ball into the area. He spun around, and just as Carlgren was about to pick him up, Lasser Berg Johnsen snatched him away from his keeper’s fingertips. He fell on Barnes, who, with his back to goal, turned and lifted him left-footed into the back of the net.
Is Barnes the first player to score in all 3 European competitions?
— (Ready to Luton) (@LcfcLeejon) February 17, 2022
How much history can you write in one evening? (I haven’t researched that conjecture, but I suspect the answer is ‘no’ since he didn’t score at UCL).
The Foxes doubled the lead five minutes later. Lookman placed a perfect pass in the path of Tielemans. The Belgian fired in a low shot which Carlgren parried well, but in doing so found Daka, who slid it home with an instinctive first touch. Was he offside? Oh, probably yes, but one of the great traditions of the Europa Conference League is: no VAR allowed.
I guess we have to keep playing in Thursday competitions. We were made for the Europa Conference League!
Rodgers decided to make his first changes at 65′, introducing Kelechi Iheanacho for scorers Ndidi and Daka. The attacking nature of the substitutions suggested the manager felt there were more goals to score. A very clever boy, this Brendan.
Dewsbury-Hall finally got the goal he so deserved, but it was largely thanks to yeoman work from Iheanacho and Lookman. The Seniorman latched onto a long ball forward and somehow regrouped through two defenders. He found Lookman in acres of space on the right. The winger faked a cross, got past his defender and crossed for KDH, whose first touch saw him play wide-footed inside the far post.
There was a scary moment when Madders fell off the ball and needed little treatment before heading off the pitch on his own. Rodgers was already planning another double substitution but quickly changed it to a triple substitution. Hamza Choudhury, Ayoze Perez and Boubacary Soumare entered the fray at the expense of Maddison, Barnes and Dewsbury-Hall.
The job now was to see the game and avoid any injuries. Unfortunately, this mission was only half accomplished as Cags fell awkwardly following an aerial challenge. He couldn’t continue and headed straight into the tunnel after a long period of treatment.
Although there were only ten men left, they were the only team that threatened to score. Iheanacho escaped down the right and laid down a perfect cross for Lookman, but the ex-Fulham man managed to clear a header with the goalmouth at his mercy. That proved the last significant move and City ran out worthy winners by an unflattering margin.
More of that, please. Well, more goals, but don’t expect to see a back line from Amartey, Vestergaard, Cags and Albrighton anytime soon, even if they got the job done. Randers offered very little going forward and the defenders did a good job protecting Schmeichel. In attack, we probably offered more in the first 45 minutes but we had less to show. Funny old game, but in the end, the score was a pretty accurate reflection of how the game went.
This victory gives us a perfect record in the Europa Conference League and, more seriously, a fairly comfortable margin for the second leg when we travel to East Jutland in a week. Before that, we face Wolves on Sunday at Molineaux in the Premier League.