Leicester’s indifferent start to the season continued on Thursday as they were beaten 1-0 by Legia Warsaw in the Europa League, thanks to a fine strike from Mahir Emreli.
Brendan Rodgers made six changes to his starting line-up from the weekend draw at Burnley, benching many of his star players, and it showed in a lacklustre first half.
Legia had beaten Spartak Moscow late on in their opening group game, but found the net just after the 30-minute mark against Leicester. Emreli outmuscled Daniel Amartey at the top of the area before firing home via the post.
The goal seemed to galvanise Leicester, who improved in the final minutes of the first half and were better in the second, but even the introduction of the Foxes’ raft of attacking substitutes could not guide them to victory.
The result will go down as a famous night for Legia Warsaw, with teenage goalkeeper Cezary Miszta in tears at full-time after keeping a clean sheet, having deputised for regular No 1 Artur Boruc.
Legia take a shock early lead in Group C with six points, while Leicester sit bottom of the table with plenty of work to do to qualify for the knockout round.
How Leicester were beaten at Legia
Legia had two identical chances inside six minutes. Mattias Johansson easily got the better of Caglar Soyuncu down the right flank, getting into the box before cutting the ball back for a waiting Andre Martins at the top of the area. However, his low effort was deflected behind for a corner. Minutes later, it was a very similar move with the same players, but Martins’ shot was weak and rolled easily into Kasper Schmeichel’s hands.
Leicester had their first real sight of goal in the 18th minute. It was a lovely forward pass from Ayoze Perez, picking out Patson Daka, but the ball pinged off the latter’s shin and headed wide.
Legia Warsaw: Miszta (7), Jedrzejczyk (7), Wieteska (6), Nawrocki (7), Johansson (7), Slisz (7), Kharatin (6), Martins (6), Mladenovic (6), Jouse (6), Emreli (7).
Subs used: Kastrati (6), Abu Hanna (5), Lopes (n/a), Pekhart (n/a).
Leicester: Schmeichel (7), Amartey (5), Soyuncu (6), Vestergaard (6), Castagne (7), Soumare (7), Tielemans (7), Dewsbury-Hall (7), Thomas (7), Perez (7), Daka (7).
Subs used: Barnes (7), Maddison (7), Lookman (6),Vardy (n/a).
Man of the match: Mahir Emreli.
Legia continued to see half-chances fall their way, and finally made the breakthrough just after the half-hour mark. Emreli muscled Amartey off the ball far too easily just inside the area, taking a few touches before lashing an effort into the back of the net via the post and leaving Schmeichel rooted to the spot.
Leicester improved somewhat after conceding and had a few sights of goal as the game headed towards half-time. Timothy Castagne nodded an effort into Cezary Miszta’s hands, before Perez fired just wide. Youri Tielemans had slotted a wonderful ball through the middle, which Daka tapped into Perez’s path. However, the forward lashed his effort a fair distance past the post.
- Brendan Rodgers made six changes. Ricardo Pereira, Ryan Bertrand, Ademola Lookman, Jamie Vardy and Harvey Barnes all dropped to the bench, while Wilfried Ndidi was suspended.
- Daniel Amartey, Timothy Castagne, Dewsbury-Hall, Luke Thomas, Ayoze Perez and Patson Daka came into the XI.
- Kelechi Iheanacho was also ruled out of after being turned away by Polish border control due to an issue with his travel documents
The Foxes thought they had equalised three minutes after the break, but Perez’s fine hooked effort from a corner was ruled out for a foul elsewhere in the area. Emreli then tried his luck for a second at the other end, but his effort from range lifted over the crossbar.
Leicester soon began to see big chance fall their way in an improved second-half performance. Miszta made a point-blank save, keeping the ball from rolling over the line after Jannik Vestergaard steered a corner goalwards with his shoulder. Then, Daka poked just wide after some lovely play through the centre of midfield, unable to get the ball fully under his control.
Despite the cavalry arriving for Leicester, it was Legia who could have added a second late in the game. Lirim Kastrati burst through on goal and only had Schmeichel to beat, but his low effort was seen away brilliantly by the goalkeeper’s foot. Kastrati was in behind again soon after, but Tomas Pekhart could only fire over from his cross.
James Maddison looked lively after being introduced as a substitute, but could not find the net with two last-gasp efforts as Leicester left Warsaw empty-handed.
Man of the match – Mahir Emreli
It was Emreli’s fourth goal in four games for Legia, and as he did in the Europa League qualifying rounds, almost single-handedly steered his side to victory. He was guilty of some poor finishing later in the game, but did well overall.
Rodgers still confident of qualification
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said: “It’s very open, there are four games to go. Legia have made a good start but our aim is to qualify. We still have work to do.
“We’ve got one point from two games but there is enough time to do that.
“I’m disappointed with the result. We were too passive in the game in the first half. Then we had a couple of really good chances.
“We didn’t concede too much, we dominated the second half and were much more active. We had opportunities to get something from the game.
“I’ve made the changes but it doesn’t take away the importance from it. We have four more games to qualify. As a football club, we’re new to the level.”
Legia coach Czeslaw Michniewicz added: “I’m happy because we did a good job. It was the right idea to put three defensive midfielders. It worked out well. Then Kastrati replaced Martins and we also had more options in front of goal.
“We should have scored two more goals in the last few minutes, but Kastrati’s first effort was fantastically saved by Schmeichel and then he passed ball to Pekhart but he missed.
“I spoke to Brendan Rodgers after the game, it is true he is a role model as a coach for me. We gave him a nice gift. So I hope he will be happy how he was welcomed here. He showed that even when you’re losing on the pitch, you can do so with class.”
Claridge: Rodgers got it wrong
Steve Claridge on Sky Sports News:
“Leicester will be really disappointed. They were really poor. They were architects of their own downfall.
“The side sent out didn’t really understand what the job was and I don’t think they believed they could win this game.
“This was a performance that said the manager and players had one eye on Crystal Palace, and I don’t understand that when you’ve got a squad of this size.
“Brendan Rodgers has got the system wrong and he’s got the personnel wrong tonight.”
- Polish sides have won their last three home meetings with English clubs in European competition, with Lech Poznan beating Man City in November 2010 and Wisla Kraków beating Fulham in October 2011 before tonight.
- Having kept a clean sheet in their first two matches this season, Leicester have kept just one shutout in their last eight games in all competitions.
- Mahir Emreli’s opener for Legia Warsaw was his first-ever Europa League goal, in his 18th appearance in the competition.
Leicester are back in Premier League action on Sunday when they visit Crystal Palace, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 2pm. They will be back in Europa League action on Wednesday 20 October when they visit Spartak Moscow.