Leicester has a Champions League lifeline; Juventus capitalizes at Porto

Wednesday February 22nd, 2017

Juventus took a major step towards another Champions League quarterfinal with a 2-0 win at Porto, which was reduced to 10 men in the first half after the dismissal of Alex Telles. The other series played Wednesday, though, remains in the balance, with Sevilla restricted to a 2-1 win over Leicester City despite dominating for long spells.

Alex Telles picked up two yellow cards in rapid succession midway through the first half to give Juventus the initiative. It wasn’t until the final 20 minutes though that Juve took advantage with rapid-fire goals from substitutes Marko Pjaca and Dani Alves.

In Spain, Sevilla had a penalty saved, went 2-0 up with goals from Pablo Sarabia and Joaquin Correa and seemed in complete control until a late goal from Jamie Vardy gave Leicester hope heading into next month's second leg.

Here are three thoughts from the day in the Champions League:

Leicester remains alive, but doesn't help itself

Leicester’s form has plummeted of late. It’s lost its last five league games–and hasn’t scored in six–to slip to a perilous 17th in the table, while it crashed out of the FA Cup to Millwall of League One, despite having a man advantage for most of the second half. Defeat to Sevilla was no surprise and it does at least have an away goal, but that couldn’t disguise how soundly outplayed it was, especially in the first half. Defensively Leicester was in shambles.

That was exposed in the penalty it conceded after 13 minutes. Robert Huth’s clearing header was poor, presenting possession to Joaquin Correa, who was tripped by a clumsy lunge from Wes Morgan. Correa’s penalty, though, was poor, too, and Kasper Schemichel saved it without yielding a rebound, diving to his right.

But that was merely the breakthrough denied. Sevilla looked sharper, quicker and more aggressive from the opening whistle, pushing Leicester back to the extent that the first half was played almost entirely in the Leicester half. The opener came after 25 minutes. Sergio Escudero’s cross from the left was excellent, Pablo Sarabia’s downward header in off the post even better, but there was a clear sense that Leicester had contributed to its own downfall.

Sevilla, under Jorge Sampaoli, has become a master of the transition, with its game plan based on winning the ball back and getting forward quickly so the last thing an opponent wants to do is squander possession cheaply. In the build-up to the goal, though, Ahmed Musa, a £16.6 million signing from CSKA Moscow and a surprise starter given how poorly he had played against Millwall, was cheaply brushed off the ball. Leicester never recovered and Musa compounded his error by failing to close down Escudero.

To blame Musa alone, though, would be unfair. This was a collective failure and what’s most alarming is that it’s not simply a case of players who enjoyed a collective surge of form last season regressing to the mean; there’s been a tactical collapse. Again and again yawning gaps emerged between the lines and Sevilla frolicked in the spaces.

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Only a string of fine saves from Schmeichel kept the score manageable. Vitolo hit the post before Sevilla got its second 62 minutes in. Stevan Jovetic ran onto a long ball over the top, held it up and, as Huth and Morgan both went to him, flicked the ball outside for Correa to slam in off the underside of the bar. It was a great finish and fine play from Jovetic, but again Leicester’s defending was badly at fault.

But Leicester had shown signs of improvement in the second half and found a goal that offers some hope with quarter of an hour to go as Demarai Gray’s fine pass found Danny Drinkwater, and he crossed low for Vardy to score his first Champions League goal.

Jovetic's resurrection continues at Sevilla

When Manchester City signed Stevan Jovetic from Fiorentina, he as seen as one of the most promising forwards in Europe. His time at the Etihad was ruined by injuries and things didn’t get much better at Inter Milan. A loan move to Sevilla in January, though, seems to have revitalized him. This was only the Montenegrin’s eighth game for his new club, but already he seems an integral part of the side, working impressively hard to initiate the press and leading the line with surprising muscularity for a relatively spare frame. His intelligence and touch were key to teeing up the second.

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Porto undone by Alex Telles' stupidity

After all the fun–and 14 goals–of Tuesday, this looked like being a much more traditional first leg of a Champions League knockout tie between two sides with the best defensive records in their respective leagues. It was cagey and cautious, with Porto perhaps looking slightly the more dangerous team when, just after the midpoint of the first half, Alex Telles committed two fouls of staggering stupidity within the space of two minutes.

First he clattered into the back of Juan Cuadrado on the touchline, standing on the back of the Colombian’s ankle, then he flew into another entirely needless challenge on Stephan Lichtsteiner to collect an entirely deserved second yellow card.

Juve had already been dominating possession and remained in control. The game had seemed to be drifting, though, when Pjaca ran on to a deflected Pablo Dybala pass to open the scoring. Two minutes later another substitute, Dani Alves, took down Alex Sandro’s cross on his chest and volleyed a second. And with that Juventus is in the driver's seat on the road to the final eight.

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