Youri Tielemans

Leicester Pegged Back By Napoli In UEL Opener

Leicester City were held to a 2-2 draw by Italian outfit Napoli on matchday one in the UEFA Europa League group stage on Thursday evening.
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Brendan Rodgers made five changes to the starting XI which was narrowly defeated by Manchester City in the Premier League on Saturday, as Patson Daka and Boubakary Soumaré made full debuts for the Club, coming in alongside Jonny Evans, Ayoze Pérez and Kelechi Iheanacho

Within two minutes, captain Kasper Schmeichel was able to save Victor Osimhen's long-ranger for the visitors. Leicester then came close to an opener. Pérez sheltered the ball in the area and slipped it through to Daka, who then located Harvey Barnes. David Ospina, though, came off his line to save.

It wouldn't be long, though. On nine minutes, Barnes galloped down the left channel, looking up and picking out Pérez, rushing into the 18-yard box on the far side. The delivery was perfect and so was the finish from City's No.17, who side-footed a volley beyond Ospina. Cue an enormous roar from the Blue Army.

Napoli, though, headed to the East Midlands on the back of a Serie A victory over Juventus last weekend - their third successive win to start 2021/22. Their pedigree on the European stage is also impressive and it wasn't long before the 1989 UEFA Cup winners started to pose a considerable threat.

Lorenzo Insigne was unfortunate with a free-kick from 20 yards out, which flew over Schmeichel's crossbar. Victor Osimhen, reportedly signed for over £60M last summer, also went close from the edge of the area, before Kevin Malcuit couldn't quite get onto the end of Insigne's deep, searching cross. 

Malcuit also missed the target himself, firing over, after aggressive wing play from André-Frank Anguissa. Gli Azzurri's pace also led to two Leicester bookings as Wilfred Ndidi and Soumaré went into referee Tiago Martins's book midway through the opening 45 minutes on Filbert Way.

It was almost 2-0 to the Foxes on 35 minutes, though, as Pérez cut out a loose pass from Ospina. He was able to feed Iheanacho and, although the Nigerian couldn't shoot himself, he did tee up Daka. Kalidou Koulibaly was on hand, however, to dive into a last-minute block to deny Leicester's No.29.

The Naples outfit immediately broke and Insigne arrowed a low drive wide, before Timothy Castagne got an ankle on Giovanni Di Lorenzo's close-range effort, which also needed a touch from Schmeichel's toe to keep it out. Insigne and Osimhen then missed the target for Napoli in quick succession.

They did muster an effort on goal before the break, though, with Malcuit's cross being nodded at goal by Mexico striker Hirving Lozano. It needed a strong arm from Schmeichel, which is among the Dane's specialities, while the Foxes captain was there again to deny Fabián Ruiz from the rebound.

At the break, the Blue Army acknowledged Leicester's efforts with applause, before they emerged for the second period with two fresh faces in the XI. Youri Tielemans and Çağlar Söyüncü joined the fray, replacing Pérez and Evans respectively. Luciano Spalletti's side started brightly once more, though.

Leicester remained composed, perhaps best demonstrated by the pirouette performed by Soumaré to skip past Ruiz and Osimhen in one sweeping movement. Napoli, however, were winning plenty of free-kicks, infuriating the Foxes faithful in the stands. If anything, though, it galvanised the home support more. 

The volume level reached new heights on the hour mark too as Iheanacho fed Tielemans and he, in turn, slid it in Daka to rifle the ball into the bottom corner. Filbert Way erupted and the two sides were back in their places for kick-off when VAR interjected to rule the strike out for offside. 

That stadium-wide frustration fizzled away, though, as Barnes beat the offside trap to dance past Malcuit in the area - after latching onto Iheanacho's inventive cross-field pass - to send a low drive cannoning into the bottom corner. This one would stand. 

Napoli were unrelenting, however. Insigne, Elif Elmas and Ruiz all linked up on the edge of the area, with the latter threading it through to Osimhen to loop the ball over Schmeichel and halve the arrears with 21 minutes to play. Ademola Lookman and, later, James Maddison would join the action for City.

Söyüncü, on the other hand, also went into the book for a last-ditch challenge on Adam Ounas. The Foxes No.4 was the last man, but Tielemans was covering. While Insigne's free-kick was off target, Eljif Elmas' curler moments later wasn't, but Schmeichel was able to punch it clear of danger.

There was nothing Leicester's No.1 could do about Napoli's equaliser, though, as Osimhen got his head onto Politano's cross and nodded it into the far corner. Frustration was in the air on Filbert Way and it grew as Ndidi was dismissed for a second booking in added time. A point to start 2021/22 in Europe.

Major moment

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Jamie Vardy
Jamie Vardy

Leicester No.9 Jamie Vardy was a late substitute for the home side.

Leicester had battled through sustained pressure in the first half to lead at the break, thanks to Ayoze Pérez's stylish ninth-minute volley. It got even better for the Foxes when Harvey Barnes doubled their advantage.

But the three points would elude City in the end as Victor Osimhen struck twice. His second effort, a looping header, was enough for a point for the visitors, before Wilfred Ndidi's red card.

Who impressed?

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Harvey Barnes
Harvey Barnes

Academy graduate Harvey Barnes netted a fine low drive to put Leicester two goals ahead in the second half against Napoli.

Former Foxes captain Matt Elliott, speaking on LCFC Radio's Matchday Live, said: "It's a frustrating end to a night with plenty of positives to Leicester. One of those was Harvey Barnes, who is becoming an excellent footballer. His finish for his goal was brilliant and a reward for the threat he gave City."

Where do we stand?

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Ayoze Pérez
Ayoze Pérez

Ayoze Pérez wheels away in delight after opening his account in 2021/22 to open the scoring.

After Legia Warsaw's 1-0 win over Spartak Moscow on Wednesday, Leicester City sit third in Group C with one point at the end of matchday one.

Coming up...

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Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

The Foxes manager thanks the home faithful for their support at full-time.

The Foxes return to Premier League duties on Sunday with a trip south to tackle Brighton & Hove Albion (2pm kick-off), before also heading to Millwall the following Wednesday in the third round of the Carabao Cup (7:45pm kick-off). Legia Warsaw in Poland is next up on the European stage on Thursday 30 September (5:45pm kick-off).

All times BST.

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