Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel keep Leicester dream alive
Striker scores crucial away goal and goalkeeping heroics keep Sevilla at bay as Foxes cling on in Europe
Sevilla 2 Leicester City 1
Jamie Vardy rediscovered the party spirit in Spain to score a crucial away goal for struggling Leicester that keeps their Champions League dream alive.
The Foxes frontman had not scored since 10 December but against Sevilla he showed a glimpse of the form that last season propelled the Foxes to the Premier League title, losing his marker and then latching on to the end of Danny Drinkwater's cross.
It was Vardy's only shot on goal the whole game (and his first on target in 380 minutes of football) - and one of just 25 touches in total for the out-of-form forward - but it gives Leicester hope for next month's return leg against a Sevilla side who dominated their visitors.
That the side from La Liga didn't put the tie to bed in the first leg was largely down to Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. Though he was beaten by Pablo Sarabia and Joaquin Correa, the Danish gloveman saved Correa's penalty kick and made a string of fine stops to frustrate the Spaniards. Sevilla also hit the bar and struck the post as they laid siege to the Leicester goal but their slender 2-1 advantage was all they managed despite having 70 per cent of possession.
"I am happy with how the game went because we had chances, but disappointed with the result because we deserved more," said Sevilla manager Jorge Sampaoli. "It is difficult to imagine such a big difference [between teams] in a Champions League game."
Surely the stat of the night was the fact that two Sevilla players, Samir Nasri and Steven N'Zonzi, completed more passes than the entire Leicester side.
Without a league win this year, and dumped out of the FA Cup by Millwall last weekend, Leicester are a shadow of the side that ran away with the Premier League title last season. Vardy epitomises their plight with the England striker without a goal in nine goals before Wednesday and Claudio Ranieri believes finding the net against Sevilla will do him the world of good. "The goalscorer needs to score, needs to get confidence," he said. "This goal reopens our confidence."
Admitting that Sevilla had been the better team, the Leicester manager said: "We suffered. They showed their quality but we showed our heart. We showed belief and never game up. That makes me satisfied."
The Foxes also enjoyed some good fortune but Ranieri said sometimes you make your own luck. "When we play with this character, also the luck comes on your side."
Asked if the dogged performance could represent a turning point in Leicester's wretched season, which has seen them slip to 17th, one point above the drop zone, Rainieri said: "It could be a turning point, but it's important to make another good match against Liverpool [on Monday night]. We have to continue in this way and keep going."
Leicester pray European escape will invigorate not humiliate
Not for the first time this season will Leicester City go into a European tie hoping it will spark a turnaround in their domestic fortunes. The Foxes face Sevilla in the last 16 of the Champions League tonight hoping to rediscover the form that saw them clinch the Premier League title last season rather than slump to 17th place this term.
The clash is billed by Stuart James of The Guardian as "arguably the biggest game in their 133-year history", and it comes with Leicester in dire straits. They have not won, or indeed scored a goal, in the Premier League this year and were knocked out of the FA Cup by Millwall at the weekend. They currently sit one point and one place above the relegation zone and are in real danger of going from champions to chumps in the space of nine months.
"The key question is whether Leicester can put their wretched domestic form behind them and, inspired by the sense of occasion once that Champions League anthem starts playing under the floodlights in one of Spain's most atmospheric stadiums, rediscover the indomitable spirit of last season, when Ranieri's team were fuelled by an inner belief that anything is possible," says the Guardian.
"The Leicester of last year would have savoured this sort of contest, where the odds are stacked against them, yet so much has changed since the tenor Andrea Bocelli serenaded the King Power Stadium on the same day that Wes Morgan and Ranieri thrust the Premier League trophy into the sky."
Prior to the match manager Claudio Ranieri revealed he could have walked away from Leicester last season after he was inundated with offers of work. He chose to stay, yet finds himself fighting to keep his job in the teeth of a relegation scrap.
The pressure "must be close to overwhelming", says Alyson Rudd in The Times. To make matters worse, their opponents Sevilla are mounting an assault on La Liga in Spain and success would rival that which Leicester enjoyed last season.
Yet it's clear that European humiliation could "send them plummeting out of the Premier League", says the Times. "Ranieri's only hope is that he and his team can somehow forget the nightmare unfolding at home and perform with the joy and freedom they exhibited as they strolled to qualification from their group to earn the right to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League."
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ryan Giggs suggests the game could be "a release" for Leicester.
"Last season everything that could go right for Leicester did go right for them. You would also say that everything that could go wrong for them this time has gone wrong," he adds.
Leicester have gone from the surprise package to the prize scalp in the Premier League, but are likely to be able to play the way they did last season against Sevilla. "Counter-attacking football, combined with a solid, compact defence, is a great asset in the Champions League," says Giggs. "Maybe this is the change of pace Leicester need."