Football Features

An Ageing Vardy fluffs his lines as Napoli beat Leicester 3-2 to knock them out of the Europa League

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:10, 9 December 2021


In a rain-soaked Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, an injury-hit Napoli beat Leicester to condemn the Foxes to play in the Europa Conference League in 2022.

Leicester came into the game with their fate in their own hands, they knew a win would send them straight through to the Europa League round of 16 in March. And even a draw would have been enough to see them qualify via the round of 32 play-off.

Instead they fell to a 3-2 defeat, and as such finished third in the group behind Spartak Moscow (who head to the round of 16) while their opponents here, Napoli, leapfrog the Foxes and ensure they will play Europa League football in 2022.

It’s not a disaster for Leicester, as they are still in Europe, but it is yet another failure to take a step forward for a team that find themselves constantly falling at the final hurdle. And what makes it worse is that the chief culprit for their failure tonight was their star man Jamie Vardy.


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Alright, obviously the leaky defence need to take some responsibility. Leicester have kept just one clean sheet all season and it was back on the opening day of the Premier League season. That is a shocking streak and conceding three times to a Napoli side missing all their star forwards is a shocking state of affairs.

But ultimately: Leicester still had the firepower to win a shoot-out against their hosts. Brendan Rodgers said they were “good offensively” in the game but when you finish as poorly as Leicester did, that’s not good. With the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona nowhere close to being full and the famous atmosphere blown away by the wind and rain, this was a considerably easier task.

There was no Koulibaly, after all. The mythic centre-back who dominates the Napoli back-line. Yet despite being rested at the weekend in preparation for this game, the Leicester legend left such little impact on the game.

Vardy completed 0 dribbles, made 0 tackles, created 0 chances and worst of all had 0 shots on target from just 3 shots total. Leicester were constantly looking to their star man to save them as he has so many times over the years but he was incapable of raising to the occasion.

Sealing the misery was the fact that the classic “last chance” fell to Vardy. In stoppage time, Marc Albrighton sent a looping cross into the area and found Vardy unmarked 10 yards out from goal. There were so many options available to Vardy, but he went for a clunky first time header which predictably ballooned over the bar.

A horrific miss that summed up the uselessness of Vardy’s first start in the Europa League this season. At 34-years-old Jamie Vardy might still be able to hack it in the Premier League but tonight showed that Europe, even the Europa League, may be a step too far.

Brendan Rodgers needs to find a way to transition away from relying on Vardy because given where they’re at right now, the Foxes risk becoming a team permanently on the cusp of turning the corner. And their incredible 2021 FA Cup win over Chelsea, rather than being the start of something great, risks becoming a spectacular highlight before stagnation and downfall, ala Birmingham City after their EFL Cup victory over Arsenal in 2011.

 

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