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Leicester City remains stronger despite a first-half poor refereeing decision to ensure they remain in with a chance of making the last four.
It all began with one long throw, one counter-attack, one poor refereeing decision and then, one goal. Despite this huge gulf in both experience and quality between the two sides, that is all that separated the sides at Vicente Calderon as reigning Premier League champions yet again survived a Spanish onslaught to leave themselves with a real chance of making even more history.
Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann first-half penalty was the least the Calderon giants deserved from a though dominant display against the Foxes, despite the controversy surround it, but much like Sevilla in the last-16, Craig Shakespeare’s side will wonder just how they did not on to win by far more and put the tie to bed.
Instead, they will welcome the Rojiblancos at King Power Stadium with just a one-goal deficit to overcome in their hope or reaching the Champions League semi-final stage. Much like in Sevilla, they might not know quite how they managed it, but manage it they did.
The match on Wednesday night was a cue disaster. The Foxes were dominated from almost first minute to last, though they managed to limit the home side to mostly long-rage efforts, with team captain and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel not quite as busy as he has been in previous rounds. Holding out when under such intense pressure seemed to bring some confidence, and eventually they began to get a foothold.
Christian Fuchs’s 22′ long cross into the box from the left-hand side was a testing one, but with three-quarters of the Foxes backline in or around the Atletico area, they could not let any possession to be lost. Instead, the Spanish side half-cleared, Griezmann nipped the ball past Danny Simpson and the La Liga giants were away.
1 – Here is Leicester's average position map for the first half v Atletico Madrid. Isolation. pic.twitter.com/rTdUJQxCSY
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 12, 2017
Match Referee Jona Eriksson decision may have made an error in awarding the Rojiblancos a penalty for Marc Albrighton’s reckless foul on Griezmann, with the contact clearly outside the box, but from there the Foxes would have been forgiven for allowing their heads to drop at a ground where very few teams escape with at least a draw.
However, since Craig Shakespeare take over the reigns at King Power Stadium from former manager Claudio Ranieri, the EPL giants has found their self-belief once again and, though Jan Oblak denied Foxes of many chances for almost the whole 90 minutes in the Atletico goal, Schmeichel too had very little to do.
Andy King was introduce for Leicester from the bench at half-time so as to allow Wilfred Ndidi to man-mark Griezmann for the second time slowed the tension of the home side, with the French forward unable to put up brilliant displays as he had done so successfully earlier in the game.
Instead, Diego Simeone’s side kept possession without really creating any slight chances, though a slip from Fernando Torres when bearing fallen in front of gal could have resulted in something more than a throw-in had he not slipped at the point of impact. Robert Huth’s booking to rule for taking him down would rule him out of the second leg.
That is not to say the Foxes return leg will be as easy as the victory over Sevilla. Huth’s suspension means Wes Morgan’s recovery from a back injury will be sent into overdrive while Leicester will need to be hugely aware of getting too carried away in chasing the game after Griezmann showcased just how dangerous Atletico are on the counter.
But for now Leicester’s players – unlike a handful of their supporters following some disgraceful scenes in central Madrid earlier in the day – can be very proud of their efforts. Their dream of reaching the final four is very much still alive. This is Leicester, and few would bet against them again pulling off the impossible.