Leicester slumped out of the Europa League with a whimper, falling to a deserved home defeat by the Czech champions. Brendan Rodgers never made it past the first knockout round of this tournament with Liverpool and Celtic and his Leicester side only briefly looked capable of improving on that record before succumbing to excellent second-half goals by Lukas Provod and Abdallah Sima.
The challenge for Leicester now is to make sure that this disappointment, and a worrying casualty list, does not lead to a repeat of the late-season dwindling that they suffered last year.
Leicester have coped exceptionally well with the loss of key players throughout this season but this week’s news that James Maddison will be out of action for an unspecified number of weeks with more hip trouble emphasised the need for Rodgers to make the most of his squad’s depth. So his starting lineup here did not include players such as Harvey Barnes, Ricardo Pereira and Timothy Castagne, who are likely to begin Sunday’s Premier League showdown with Arsenal, where Leicester will aim to cement their spot in the top four. Instead Cengiz Under, Daniel Amartey and Hamza Choudhury were cast into action against the Czech champions, who were at full strength after resting half their team in their last domestic fixture.
The Slavia central defenders David Zima and Ondrej Kudela were among those given the weekend off, no doubt to preserve them for the task of subduing Jamie Vardy, whom Zima described after the first leg as the Premier League’s best striker and a “terribly annoying” adversary. Leicester’s start sure irritated the visitors, who did not get a touch until the 90th second, when their goalkeeper had to bat away a shot by Under.
Under forced the keeper into action again in the 10th minute with a curling shot from the edge of the area but Ondrej Kolar saved with little fuss. By now the visitors were starting to confirm what they had demonstrated in the first leg, that they are a solid side short on sparkle but not on knowhow. Penetrating them would be no simple matter, especially as Leicester were not looking particularly rich in creativity either.
Vardy got his first chance in the 17th minute after Marc Albrighton ambushed Alexander Bah near half-way but the full-back sprinted back to atone, deflecting Vardy’s shot wide for a corner. That set-piece almost led to a fluky breakthrough but Kolar prevented an own goal after Peter Olayinka misdirected an attempted clearance.
The threat of conceding a dreaded away goal did not seem to prey on Leicester minds until the half-hour mark, when Caglar Soyuncu failed to deal with a long ball over the top. Sima hared on to it and chose to open fire early, his shot bouncing just wide from 20 yards. Slavia grew in confidence and forged an even better opening eight minutes later with a lovely move down the right, only for Jan Kuchta to miss the target with a free header from 12 yards. Rodgers had plenty to ponder at half-time.
His team started the second half sluggishly and even a narrow escape from a corner did not wake them up. Soon they were punished. When Nicolae Stanciu arrowed over a wonderful cross from the left, Provod arrived unmarked to sweep the ball into the net.
Leicester tried to muster a reply but Slavia were by now far more fluent.
They had a place in the last 16, and a first win in England, in their grasp and had no intention of letting go. Rodgers made a triple substitution with half an hour left.
The newcomers made little impact. Sima settled the tie by lashing a low shot into the net from 20 yards.