Leicester City mark return to European stage with comfortable win over Zorya Luhansk

John Percy
·3 min read
Harvey Barnes scored on his Europa League debut - GETTY IMAGES
Harvey Barnes scored on his Europa League debut - GETTY IMAGES

Five seasons ago Leicester reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, and the stories of those glorious nights are inspiring this new generation under Brendan Rodgers.

James Maddison and Harvey Barnes both made their European debuts here and assumed the look of seasoned veterans with excellent performances as Leicester produced an early statement of intent.

Leicester will face far tougher challenges ahead, yet their first ever victory in the Europa League was never in doubt from the minute Maddison poked in the scruffy opening goal.

Barnes, the new England international, was also outstanding, delivering an exquisite individual effort, as Leicester made a promising start in Group G, on Rodgers’s return to the competition for the first time since February 2019.

Qualifying for Europe, and flourishing, was one of the main targets when Rodgers took charge and this was a stress-free evening for the Leicester manager.

"The players deserve a huge amount of credit. They can be better, we need more movement at the top end of the pitch because we could have got in more,” said Rodgers.

 "It was a very good win, it's nice to get the points on the board and a clean sheet. We had to work hard, there's areas where we can get better.”

Rodgers also revealed that Jamie Vardy, who was not risked here due to a calf strain, could return for the Premier League game at Arsenal on Sunday.

Indeed, it would have been understandable for Rodgers to approach this tie with a degree of trepidation, with Vardy absent and injured trio Caglar Soyuncu, Wilfred Ndidi and Ricardo Pereira not expected to return until early next year.

There was also no place in Leicester’s Europa League squad for striker Islam Slimani, who has been given an unexpected reprieve by Rodgers after two-and-a-half years in the wilderness.

Successive defeats to West Ham and Aston Villa had dented Leicester’s promising start, and early on it appeared that Zorya Luhansk were going to prove resilient opponents.

Zorya were well organised in defence, building from the back and posing a threat going forward, with Leicester requiring a brilliant save from Kasper Schmeichel to avoid falling behind in the 22nd minute.

Schmeichel was made captain for the night and saved with his legs to deny Vladyslav Kabayev from close range after Maksym Lunov’s fine pass into the penalty area.

That was the jolt Leicester needed, for they took the lead seven minutes later. Barnes struck the upright from inside the area and as Kelechi Iheanacho struggled to get the loose ball from under his feet, Maddison seized control to convert from a yard out.

James Maddison and Barnes put in assured performances - GETTY IMAGES
James Maddison and Barnes put in assured performances - GETTY IMAGES

Leicester were now far more threatening in attack and the excellent Barnes claimed their second goal on the stroke of half-time.

The England international’s direct running and pace frequently unsettled Zorya’s defence and his finish here was exquisite, advancing into the area and then chipping the ball to the left of goalkeeper Mykyta Shevchenko.

Leicester were now in total control and Iheanacho killed off the game with the third goal.

Dmytro Ivanisenia’s poor pass went straight to Iheanacho, who turned Lovro Cvek on the edge of the area before drilling his shot into the bottom left corner.

Next week Leicester will face AEK Athens, who lost away at Sporting Braga, and on this evidence, they have nothing to fear.

Maddison said: "We wanted to get off to a good start in the competition. We didn't know too much about them but we handled the occasion well. 

“We play a Europa League game every week for the next few weeks so it was important to make that start.”