Their mid-week mission in Madrid accomplished, Leicester City manager Craig Shakespeare now has the unenviable task of juggling his roster for Saturday's match at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace knowing Premier League survival for next season is not fully assured.
The Foxes (10-6-15) - England's last team standing in the Champions League - gave themselves everything to play for with a cagey 1-0 loss at La Liga side Atletico Madrid on Wednesday in their first-leg quarterfinal match. It was a case of glass half-full, glass half-empty for Leicester City, who had plenty of reason to be aggrieved in conceding the lone goal of the match on a penalty by Antoine Griezmann in the 28th minute after the French striker was fouled by Marc Albrighton.
Replays clearly showed the foul took place outside the penalty area on the left side, but referee Jonas Eriksson pointed to the spot without any consultation from the goal line official. On the other side, the Foxes failed to generate any shots on target as Jamie Vardy was starved of service by a frenetic Atletico side that enjoyed a lion's share of the possession.
"We are still alive and want to stay in it," said Shakespeare, who played the match without injured captain Wes Morgan and will be without central defender Robert Huth in next Tuesday's second leg due to a yellow card accumulation. "We still have a challenge ahead against a very good team. We know it is bound to be a very difficult return match, but we have a very good record at King Power Stadium."
While Morgan's status remains unknown for this match, it appears all but certain he will sit out to give himself any chance of helping Leicester City reach the Champions League semifinals. And while the Foxes are in 11th place in the table, they are still only eight points clear of the drop with seven matches remaining.
That means Shakespeare is in a quandary of sorts because he can't fully sacrifice this match given the crowd of seven teams who have between 34 and 37 points. Vardy and Riyad Mahrez likely will come off the bench at Selhurst Park if they are used at all, and there could be changes throughout the lineup that will make Saturday's starting XI look markedly different from the one that put forth a game effort Wednesday.
But the collective state of mind for Leicester is far better than it was following the Feb. 22 loss at Sevilla, and Shakespeare deserves much of the credit for that. The Foxes won their first six games in all competitions under the caretaker manager before last weekend's 4-2 loss at Everton, though the precedent has been set in losing three straight road contests in all competitions this season.
Leicester City did that from Feb. 12-22, falling at Swansea City and League One side Milwall prior to the 2-1 loss to Sevilla, eventually costing Claudio Ranieri his job. Suffice to say, though, a loss here will not result in Shakespeare befalling the same tragedy.
Crystal Palace (10-4-17), meanwhile, are showing all the traits of a club who calls upon Sam Allardyce to save them from the prospects of relegation. The Eagles are playing simple football that often lacks glamour but has produced the results and the points that have taken them clear of the drop at the moment.
Allardyce's team enters this match six points clear of the bottom three after a comprehensive 3-0 thrashing of beleaguered Arsenal at home last weekend. Wilfried Zaha assisted on goals by Andros Townsend and Yohan Cabaye on either side of halftime, and Luka Milivojevic added a penalty on 68 minutes to power Crystal Palace to their fifth win in six league matches
"The quality of our final third play and particularly Yohan Cabaye's goal was outstanding, but the moves and the runs we made into the space Arsenal left were also a massive element of the success," Allardyce said. "Our attacking players are enjoying themselves more than they ever have this season and are flourishing in possession and scoring goals, so we have everything right at the moment and we just have to keep it up for a little bit longer."
The Eagles have become stingy at home, not conceding for 315 minutes at Selhurst Park since Jermain Defoe struck in first-half stoppage time for Sunderland in a 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace on Feb. 7.
"I think the basics the manager always goes on about in the meetings is having its affect now, he's drilled the basics into us from when he's come in," defender Martin Kelly told the team's official website. "I think us doing that on a game to game basis and then letting our flair players as such, do their thing, is working at the minute."
That defence under predecessor Alan Pardew was shambolic in the reverse fixture, a 3-1 win for Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Oct. 22. Ahmed Musa, Shinji Okazaki and Christian Fuchs scored goals for the Foxes, who have won three on the trot in this series and are seeking their second straight top-flight double over the Eagles.