After Marc Albrighton rifled gleefully past Sergio Rico to make it 2-0 to Leicester City, the chant bellowed around a King Power Stadium rumbling to its foundations once again.
“We know what we are, we know what we are – champions of England, we know what we are.”
Make no mistake this was Leicester, the Premier League champions vintage of a year ago. Those heady days of Bollinger and Bocelli seemed to come from another lifetime entirely as the depths of the Foxes’ identity crisis was laid bare in Seville last month.
Getting out of the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan 2-1 down was tantamount to a heist after the first-half battering they endured. How Sevilla and their coach Jorge Sampaoli will rue that profligacy as they return to a recently faltering LaLiga campaign.
— Leicester City (@LCFC) March 14, 2017
It seemed it would matter little 18 days ago, when Leicester sacked Claudio Ranieri to widespread outcry. For the return of this last-16 tie, replacement Craig Shakespeare would have to find out whether it was possible to continue a fairytale after Prince Charming had been banished from the kingdom.
A sea of blue and white flags aided the usual pre-match diet of local rock heroes Kasabian to stoke a crackling din by the time the sides emerged for kick-off.
The home supporters also unveiled a huge banner bearing the slogan “Let slip the dogs of war,” from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. It was not a time to dwell on whether another proud leader was stabbed in the back in these parts not so long ago.
Leicester answered the rallying call from kick-off with the performance of a team who were simply not going to die wondering.
Jamie Vardy was a relentless menace as he drew centre-back Adil Rami into a sapping duel. Slipping clear of the France international’s attentions, Vardy was brought down by the strapping Sevilla skipper Vicente Iborra – more brute than Brutus – and Wes Morgan bundled home Riyad Mahrez’s resulting free-kick.
Sampaoli’s pre-match warning that this was going to be “the Leicester that won the league” after their impressive victories over Liverpool and Hull City was playing out before his eyes. But his players froze.
On-loan Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri almost grasped the limelight of which he is so fond when he forced Kasper Schmeichel into an early near-post save, but Sevilla’s attempts to build on that moment of encouragement were fitful.
Steven N’Zonzi’s stock has soared in Spain since spells with Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City, but his decision-making faltered badly in the visitors’ midfield as a blizzard of blue scrambled his senses.
Sampaoli threw on Stevan Jovetic at the interval, with Iborra thrust into a centre-forward role for an attacking combination of brains and brawn. Save for the novelty of Morgan and Robert Huth having to look upwards at a man they were marking, it was a forgettable experiment.
Vardy continued to make merry before Albrighton – arguably the least vocal among last season’s assortment of unsung heroes – enjoyed an unforgettable moment.
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 14, 2017
England striker Vardy was the epitome of selflessly working for his team, while Nasri – whose grasp on what the collective requires too often falls short of his mercurial ability – earned himself a petulant red card for tangling with Leicester’s hero.
He gestured for Vardy to continue a frank exchange of views afterwards, leaving his team-mates to grapple with the hard yards on the field.
N’Zonzi gamely stepped up to be the saviour – where were Sevilla’s plethora of attacking talents when Schmeichel brought down Vitolo in the area? It was an apologetic penalty as the City keeper pouched quickfire redemption.
Sampaoli had been sent to the stands by that stage, having possibly fallen a couple of places lower on Barcelona’s shortlist to replace Luis Enrique. Such capitulations are the polar opposite of what is expected at Camp Nou, especially after THAT comeback.
It was a night of stinging damage to hard-earned reputations for Sevilla and one of restoration for the Leicester players who failed their mentor. They know who they are again.
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