Football: Foxes up for a late season rescue act

Leicester will look to Jamie Vardy for goals today against Sevilla. The striker has found his scoring boots with a brace against Liverpool last month.
Leicester will look to Jamie Vardy for goals today against Sevilla. The striker has found his scoring boots with a brace against Liverpool last month.PHOTO: REUTERS

Under Shakespeare, revived Leicester seek 3rd straight win but Sevilla stand in their way

LONDON • A relative unknown on the global football scene just weeks ago, Craig Shakespeare now stands poised to steer Leicester City into the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

The jocular coach was promoted from his role as assistant manager following Claudio Ranieri's shock dismissal last month, which he said left him feeling like a "pantomime villain".

But Leicester have won their two games under Shakespeare's stewardship and will attempt to overturn a 2-1 deficit in today's last-16 second-leg clash at home to Sevilla with confidence fully restored.

"He is a top coach, a top guy and he has taken it on naturally," says Leicester right-back Danny Simpson.

"He has kept it simple and told us what he wanted to do, which was simple and basic, and we've done that, so let's hope we can carry it on for him."

A GOOD LEADER

Craig Shakespeare is the glue that holds the squad together.

KEN WAY, Leicester's former psychologist, approving of Shakespeare's appointment as the club's manager until the end of the season.

Leicester's players were said to have been unsettled by Ranieri's tactical tinkering as the club slid towards the Premier League relegation zone and Shakespeare has unashamedly gone back to basics.

He has reverted to the starting XI that won the title last season, with January signing Wilfred Ndidi taking the place of N'Golo Kante, now of Chelsea.

Leicester produced a stirring display in Shakespeare's first game, Jamie Vardy scoring twice in a 3-1 home win over Liverpool, and came from behind to beat Hull City 3-1 on their last outing.

The squad subsequently spent time training and relaxing in Dubai, before Shakespeare was confirmed as manager until the end of the season on Sunday.

It is the 53-year-old's first full-time managerial role.

"Craig Shakespeare is the glue that holds the squad together," Ken Way, Leicester's former psychologist, told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"He's an exceptionally clever guy and he's also so, so funny. The one thing that allowed them to achieve the Premier League title the previous season was this incredible fun (and) enjoyment."

While Leicester are on a high under Shakespeare, Sevilla's refreshing drive for the Spanish La Liga title hit alarming roadblocks, with two draws so undistinguished that their demanding fans booed them off the pitch on Saturday after the home match against lowly Leganes finished 1-1.

The setback prompted hand-wringing from coach Jorge Sampaoli, who warned that if they did not rediscover their fluidity in a hurry, they would exit the Champions League.

"Playing like this, we're going to struggle to go far in the Champions League, because you face the toughest games against opponents who don't afford you any mistakes," Sampaoli said. "If we don't manage to improve the way we control games, then Tuesday's game is going to be very difficult.

"We haven't lost for eight games, but we have to try and do much better than we have been doing recently."

In Leicester's revival, Sampaoli has noted with concern how they appear to have reverted to their disciplined, title-winning best.

"We have a group of analysts who have produced a clear report of what happened in the Ranieri era, and what's happening now with the complete about-turn in morale," he said. "The team (Leicester) are now back to being as dangerous as they were last year.

"Leicester have demonstrated that they'll play this game as if it were a World Cup final and we know that, by not winning by the margin we deserved in the first match, we're going to be under a lot of pressure."

However, the game also gives Sampaoli's own five-time Europa League champions a chance to move closer to their long-cherished goal of proving they are good enough to annex a rather more significant continental trophy.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

LEICESTER V SEVILLA

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2017, with the headline 'Foxes up for a late season rescue act'. Print Edition | Subscribe