Harvey Barnes

City Beaten By Late Zorya Strike In Ukraine

Leicester City tasted defeat for the first time in UEFA Europa League Group G on Thursday evening after suffering a late 1-0 loss to Zorya Luhansk at Slavutych Arena in Zaporizhzhia.
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Brendan Rodgers was able to welcome back international stars Ricardo Pereira, Çağlar Söyüncü and Wilfred Ndidi from injury, while a number of youngsters who had travelled with the squad were named as substitutes for the fixture.

While Ndidi and Söyüncü had not featured since September and October respectively due to adductor complaints, Ricardo's ACL injury meant he represented the Foxes for the first time in 270 days.

Elsewhere in the team, goalkeeper Danny Ward made his second start of the season and was one of nine changes to the side that faced Fulham in the Premier League three days prior.

Indeed, it took a good, low save from Ward on just three minutes to prevent the hosts from taking an early lead as Vladyslav Kochergin cut onto his right foot before drilling a low strike on goal that the Wales ‘keeper was equal to.

It was Academy graduate Hamza Choudhury’s turn to halt the Zorya attack five minutes later, blocking a Yehor Nazaryna free-kick from the edge of the box with his midriff after Ndidi had committed a foul on Vladyslav Kabaev.

As the giant screen at Slavutych Arena read minus two degrees Celsius, and its clock ticked past the quarter-hour mark, City had to make an early change as Söyüncü was forced off after picking up a knock, and on came Wesley Fofana.

On 27 minutes, defender James Justin, operating as a left-back in a back four, sent a wayward effort curling over the bar, while just a minute later Cengiz Ünder bent a strike off target as City continued to venture forward.

Then, Ünder had another opportunity to open the scoring in Ukraine. Harvey Barnes played a perfectly-weighted pass into the feet of the lively Turkey attacker, who side-footed just inches wide under the pressure of onrushing Zorya goalkeeper Nikola Vasilj.

At the other end, Ward was forced into a fine save with 10 minutes of the first half to play, as the City No.12 pulled off a two-handed stop to prevent Andrejs Ciganiks’ thunderous left-footed strike from nestling into the back of the net.

Rodgers’ side continued to probe and it was Barnes who was next to threaten the Zorya goal, only to end his penetrating run by dragging a low effort wide of the mark five minutes before the interval.

At the break, as expected, Ricardo was replaced after 45 minutes by Luke Thomas, who moved into his natural left-back position, while Justin switched to the right of Leicester’s four-man defence.  

City produced more positive wing play just 40 seconds into the second half, with Ünder cutting in from the right before sending a curling shot over the Zorya bar, while on the other flank, substitute Thomas lifted off target with a powerful effort.

Viktor Skrypnyk‘s Zorya signalled their intent, too, with only Ward’s crossbar denying Vladlen Yurchenko’s header from a Kochergin cross on 51 minutes.

Leicester made their third and fourth changes of the evening on 56 minutes, with Papy Mendy coming on for the returning Ndidi, while skipper Wes Morgan came off in place of Christian Fuchs.

It wasn’t until the 76th minute that another major goalscoring opportunity arrived in the game, but it was a significant one for Fofana, who glanced Ünder’s free-kick wide from six yards out.

With 13 minutes to play, Dennis Praet made way for James Maddison as Rodgers introduced fresh legs into the Leicester front line, and the City No.10 came close to breaking the deadlock after his follow-up was saved by the feet of Vasilj, who just moments earlier had got his fingertips to Kelechi Iheanacho’s low strike.

Maddison turned creator with seven minutes to play, slipping in Justin, who couldn’t get a clean connection on the ball, which hit the side-netting.

However, a minute later, the hosts took the lead. A low cross into the box from Denys Favorov was turned in at the back post by Iran international forward Allahyar Sayyadmanesh.

A superb strike from Ünder followed deep into injury time, but Vasilj clawed the effort out of the top corner and City were unable to find an equaliser in Zaporizhzhia.

Who impressed?

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Cengiz Ünder
Cengiz Ünder

The man on loan from AS Roma asked serious questions of the Zorya defence.

Speaking on LCFC Radio’s Matchday Live, Iwan Roberts said: “The chance for [Cengiz] Ünder in the first half, one-on-one with the goalkeeper... He was tremendous tonight, a real threat. He was lively and tried to make things happen. It was a big chance, though. If that goes in, I think Leicester would have won.”

Major moment

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Allahyar Sayyadmanesh
Allahyar Sayyadmanesh

The game was decided by Allahyar Sayyadmanesh's 84th-minute effort.

The introduction of James Maddison on 78 minutes gave City added impetus going forward, and the No.10 nearly found the back of the net when Nikola Vasilj made a good stop with his feet.

However, Zorya remained a threat on the counter-attack and claimed a winner with six minutes of normal time to play via a close-range finish from Allahyar Sayyadmanesh. 

Where do we stand?

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James Justin & Brendan Rodgers
James Justin & Brendan Rodgers

The Foxes are still in pole position to secure top spot in Group G.

After matchday five in the Europa League, City remain top in Group G, and know a victory against AEK Athens next week will ensure they win the group.

Coming up…

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Luke Thomas
Luke Thomas

City are next in action on Sunday, away at Sheffield United, in the Premier League.

Leicester City’s 2020/21 Premier League season continues on Sunday when they travel to Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United (2:15pm kick-off), before they conclude their UEFA Europa League campaign against AEK Athens on Filbert Way four days later (8pm kick-off).

All times GMT.

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