‘It may all be over but we’ll be back.’ As Leicester’s exhausted, heartbroken players made their way through the King Power Stadium to head home, it was the same message of defiance over and over again.
“Now we’ve had a taste of it, we want more. There’s nothing for us to be scared of,” Danny Drinkwater declared.
Could the Foxes one day return to the Champions League? “Yes, absolutely,” said Wes Morgan. “This season has been more downs than ups, but I feel we’ve turned it around and we’re coming good now. If we had shown the same form all season that we’ve shown of late, we could be in a Champions League spot again.”
Leicester 1 Atletico 1 player ratings
Leicester 1 Atletico 1 player ratings
1/22 Kasper Schmeichel - 6 out of 10
Pipped at his far post for Saul’s sublime header. Confident as always between the sticks and assertive under the high ball. Made a number of key saves.
2/22 Danny Simpson - 6
Hard-working but simply lacked the quality and composure for the big occasion.
3/22 Wes Morgan - 7
A captain’s performance. Considering Morgan was returning from a seven-game absence, the defender acquitted himself excellently. Physical as ever and put in some crucial challenges and interceptions.
4/22 Yohan Benalouane - 6
Nervy at times but still impressed with an occasional big challenge. Having been absent from Leicester’s backline all season long, he’s more than paid his dues these last couple of weeks.
5/22 Christan Fuchs - 6
Unafraid to push on and linked up well with Albrighton ahead of him. Struggled at times in his battle with Saul.
6/22 Riyad Mahrez - 6
Clever in his decision-making and passes. Grew into the game, with his mazy runs and silky feet proving a challenge for the experience Atletico backline. Still unable to recreate the magic of last season though.
7/22 Wilfred Ndidi - 7
A future star in the making. The 20-year-old showed all the qualities of a great midfielder tonight. Excellent in his break-up play, assured in his passing and demonstrated a knack to show up in the right places at the right time. Leicester will do well to hold onto him for next season.
8/22 Danny Drinkwater - 6
Tried to force too many balls over the top. Looked a bit overwhelmed at times but persisted nonetheless.
9/22 Marc Albrighton - 6
Tenacious and lively down the left flank. Linked up well with Fuchs and his inside men. Found space for a testing delivery here and there. Lost sight of Saul, though, for Atletico’s goal.
10/22 Shinji Okazaki - 7
A tireless performance from the Japanese. Complimented Vardy well, sitting just off the shoulder from the forward. Made the right movements and confident in dropping back in search of the ball.
11/22 Jamie Vardy - 7
Gave as good as he got all game long. Chased every single ball and relentless in his press. Took his goal very well to give Leicester hope.
12/22 Jan Oblak - 6
Did the basics well tonight and stepped up to the mark as he was increasingly called upon as the game wore on.
13/22 Juanfran - 7
Started well but was forced off through injury. Unbalanced Atletico after that.
14/22 Stefan Savić - 7
Won the majority of his challenges, both on the deck and in the air. Looked confident with the ball at feet too. A completely different defender from the one who played for Manchester City.
15/22 Diego Godín - 7
His experience shone through. Led the backline with maturity and composure. Enjoyed his challenges with Vardy all game long.
16/22 Filipe Luis - 7
It was his cross for the first goal. Up and down all game long. Very energetic.
17/22 Saúl Ñíguez - 7
Took his header excellently to put Atletico ahead. Proved to be a real nuisance and seemed to get the better of Fuchs whenever he pushed forward.
18/22 Gabi - 7
Got a lot of help from Gimenez but such a professional in that central role. So experienced. Never looked out of his comfort zone.
19/22 José Giménez - 7
Threatened with a number of direct runs that pushed the Leicester backline to the edge. Linked up well with Gabi.
20/22 Koke - 6
Kept the Atletico Madrid midfield ticking over all game long and got stuck in defensively to keep Leicester from finding a second.
21/22 Yannick Carrasco - 6
Not so dangerous in his running and his delivery was off at points. Unusual for him to feature up front. Nothing stand-out from his performance tonight.
22/22 Antoine Griezmann - 7
Provided a constant source of threat for the visitors but also more than happy to track back and help out his side defensively. A rounded performance that reaffirms why he’s one of Europe’s most-sought after players.
“The aim in future is to get more European football,” Wilfred Ndidi reiterated. “We battled and I've not known a team like Leicester before, we are something special.”
Defiant, humble, and wholly assured, the Foxes conducted themselves with the same aura of self-belief off the pitch as they had shown on it. Against the intelligence and experience of Atletico Madrid - one of Europe’s premium clubs – Leicester had gone down fighting until the bitter end.
Saul Niguez’s sublime headed goal may have dealt the hammer blow but after Craig Shakespeare’s tactical tweak, switching to three at the back and bringing Leonardo Ulloa into the fray, Leicester were in the ascendancy. Striking from close range just after the hour mark, Jamie Vardy’s equaliser sent ripples of electricity around the King Power Stadium to inject hope into the home side.
Shakespeare’s dogs of war were subsequently let slip, baring their teeth, snapping at the Atletico players, hungry for a second and third goal. Chances certainly came Leicester’s way. Ben Chilwell’s flashed half-volley fizzed inches past Jan Oblak’s right-hand side post while another goal mouth scramble was blocked on the line by defender Stefan Savic. In those final 30 minutes, there was a sense that, against the odds, Leicester were set to pull off yet another footballing miracle.
“We were living in fear all night of what they might achieve,” Diego Simeone admitted afterwards. “They never gave up for one minute. They pushed us all the way.” On this occasion, though, Atletico held on to clinch victory and bring down the curtain on the Foxes’ fairytale.
But the question that now remains for Leicester and their fans: what next?
Shakespeare and his players were unequivocal in their answer. “We have some unfinished business in the Premier League – we need to pick more points up,” Vardy insisted. “Now it is about getting back to the grind.”
Morgan echoed such sentiment. “We’re back to the league now. First of all we need to concentrate on the rest of the season, hopefully finishing on a high note, and then next season we need to dust ourselves off and look forward again.”
Leicester’s remaining six league games will undoubtedly serve as a telling indicator of what lies in store for the side, and whether the last 21 months have opened a new chapter in the club’s 133-year history.
If Tuesday’s performance is anything to go by, the side have certainly disproved the idea that they are a team with no Plan B. Although the side’s Sunday League idiosyncrasies continued to define their approach, the switch to 3-5-2, which brought them close to success, demonstrated that this is a team capable of evolving and adapting in the face of adversity.
With Shakespeare they have a manager who possesses the tactical nous to keep his side multi-dimensional and, perhaps more importantly, has the backing of the changing room. Offering continuity from Nigel Pearson's tenure, here is a man who can continue to drive Leicester in the right direction.
The changing of the guard, of course, poses an inevitable obstacle for the club, with players such as Morgan and Vardy already into their 30s. Recruitment in the summer will prove vital as Leicester bid to strengthen in the right way - as opposed to 'splashing the cash' on high-profile flops.
Even so, the future already looks bright on account of the club's emerging talent. The likes of Ndidi, Chilwell and Demarai Gray offer the Foxes a promising platform from which to build upon. The challenge, now, is holding on to these youthful prospects.
‘The ride may be over,’ as Morgan eventually concluded, but there’s no doubt Leicester stand on the brink of something rare in this day and age: redefining themselves as a club for the years to come.Reuse content