Three quick thoughts from the 0-0 Champions League draw between Copenhagen and Leicester City at the Parken Stadium on Wednesday.
1. Leicester made to wait
The perfect run is over, and Leicester are still not assured of a place in the Champions League round of 16 after Porto beat Brugge, but a point in Copenhagen was a welcome haul on a difficult night for Claudio Ranieri’s team. It was an even more arduous experience for those spectators who had to endure 90 minutes of a dour stalemate.
It is a game that Leicester fans will probably remember far more for the pleasures of visiting the Danish capital than the turgid match their team played out with an opponent that more than had their measure. Had it not been for a fantastic low save from Kasper Schmeichel from Andreas Cornelius in the closing moments, and a skewing of the rebound by Federico Santander, the night would have been lost. Leicester’s goalkeeper was repeating the heroics of last week, when a save from the same player secured three home points.
In four matches, the Dane has yet to concede a Champions League goal, as Leicester stand alone in having collected four clean sheets. Copenhagen hardly pinned them back in the fashion of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, but their midfield passing was adroit, and they stopped Danny Drinkwater getting on the ball, thus cutting off Leicester’s supply lines.
What Copenhagen lacked was quality in attack. Cornelius, who briefly played for Cardiff City in the Premier League, and Paraguayan Santander may rip it up in the Danish league but Robert Huth and Wes Morgan had their measure until that late chance. Copenhagen, unbeaten in 15 months at their stadium, are used to dominating possession at home, and were pressing hard from the early stages but the final, key passes usually lacked the sophistication to trouble Leicester’s deep-lying defence.
Despite just two touches in Copenhagen’s penalty box during the first half, Leicester staged their own containment of their opponents, and hence the stalemate that eventually resulted. Schmeichel did not have to make a single save until the 70th minute.
When either team managed to patch passing moves together, the end result was disappointing. Peter Ankersen smashed over the bar for Copenhagen after being put in a position to shoot in the 59th minute. Benjamin Verbic, 10 minutes later, skied one that cleared the stand as it headed out into the North Sea. For Leicester, Daniel Amartey had been presented with an earlier second-half chance against his old club, only to drag his half-volley wide.
At that point, the game was opening up, with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez finally seeing something of the ball as the home team tired, but Copenhagen’s defence, despite a few panicky moments, ended up matching Leicester’s for stubbornness.
2. Vardy’s drought continues
In the teams’ previous meeting in Leicester, Vardy had looked unhappy with being asked to play a fetch-and-carry role with Islam Slimani as front man. The Algerian’s groin problem had restored Vardy to the centrality from which he blitzed the Premier League last season, but his goal drought is now running at 11 matches. Granted little space, and little in the way of service, this never looked a night when he might stop firing blanks.
At first glance, Ranieri’s team selection looked that of the “Tinkerman” of yore, with Shinji Okazaki, whose hard work at centre-forward has helped inspire a recent revival in Premier League form, dropped to the bench. Jeffrey Schlupp being named instead was a surprise.
Like Vardy, Ahmed Musa and Mahrez, Schlupp is a speedster, though one capable of tracking back to defend, with Ranieri cautiously favouring the counterattack as his team’s prime weapon. Musa was often the “out ball” for defenders clearing their lines, but in that tawdry opening half, that was usually as far as Leicester got. Musa, after some early touches, became a negligible force in the game.
Vardy meanwhile could do little when suffering a famine of possession, his brief cameos little more than running battles with a Copenhagen defence that outnumbered him. Okazaki was introduced with 20 minutes to play, taking some of the burden from Vardy, but the opportunities to impose himself still were scarce. A late chance for the pair to link saw Vardy misjudge his final pass.
3. Mahrez’s missing magic
Mahrez has not been able to produce the wizardry of last season in the Premier League, in which he has not scored since a 2-1 opening-day defeat to Hull City. The Champions League, though, has offered refuge, to remind of rich talents that pricked the attentions of Europe’s elite when the Algerian inspired last season’s title.
It was Mahrez’s impudent flick that secured Leicester’s 1-0 win over Copenhagen last month, his third in a competition in which he has been involved in four of his team’s five goals so far. That night, his contribution was in truth fitful, and he was even more anonymous in Denmark — never able to link up with Vardy, his touch often loose with frustration visible on his fleeting acquaintances with possession.
His involvement level increased a tad after the break, as Leicester finally gained a modicum of sustained possession. In his free, central role, he never quite found the space or inspiration to link with Vardy. There were a number of moments when Mahrez conceded possession just at the time a breakthrough looked on.
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