Leicester City’s world is a much different place since their 2-1 defeat to Sevilla at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán three weeks ago.
The Champions League last-16 first leg loss to the Spanish side was the last game Claudio Ranieri oversaw as Foxes boss, having been relieved of his duties upon returning to England.
And the Premier League champions, under the guidance of Craig Shakespeare, have turned their woeful domestic form around, recording 3-1 victories over both Liverpool and Hull City.
However, overcoming high-flying Sevilla will be the toughest test Leicester have faced in some time. We’ve taken a took at what Shakespeare’s new charges need to do to give themselves a chance of continuing their fairy-tale by progressing to the Champions League quarter-finals.
How Leicester should Lineup
We’ve used our brand new Lineup Predictor, which utilises a unique algorithm to determine which players are most likely to make the starting XI, to see how the Foxes might line up at the King Power Stadium.
Jorge Sampaoli is known for using a very fluid system, so pinpointing exactly what formation Sevilla will play in can be difficult, with players often swapping positions multiple times within a single game. However, some form of 3-4-3 is usually at the core of the way Los Nervionenses have been set up this term.
It’s been a difficult few months for Leicester. The comedown from their title-winning euphoria of last season has hit like a truck as the Foxes have been dragged into a relegation battle.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Leicester fans and neutrals alike when Claudio Ranieri, the mastermind behind the miraculous Premier League triumph, was given his marching orders three weeks ago.
But after losing seven and drawing two of their previous nine games, back-to-back wins over Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool and fellow drop zone-threatened Hull have given Leicester new hope, with the players clearly responding to Shakespeare’s methods.
Tonight’s visitors are enjoying a stellar campaign under their new manager, Sampaoli. The Andalusians currently sit third behind Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga, but disappointing draws against Deportivo Alavés and Leganés in their last two outings have blunted their title hopes.
What Leicester Need To Do
To a certain extent, the blueprint for Leicester’s success against Sevilla has already been written: they need to do what they did so well last season.
Although they have to win the game to go through, taking a gung-ho approach against such a gifted attacking side could potentially prove fatal.
Instead, the home side need to remain rigid in their defensive organisation, operating with the low-block press that served them so well last term. With Sevilla’s mesmerising movement in the final third, captain Wes Morgan will have to marsall his backline expertly to ensure they do not get pulled out of postion.
Similarly, in central midfield, impressive January signing Wilfred Ndidi will be required to protect the back four, picking up any Sevilla players looking to break from midfield while also limiting the space for any attacker wishing to drop off the front line. The 20-year-old Nigerian has done his best to fill the gaping void left by N’Golo Kanté’s summer departure and his average of 4.2 tackles and two interceptions per game has helped sure up Leicester’s leaky defence.
When in possession, Leicester should look to expoilt the zones in behind the opposition’s wing-backs by playing direct balls into space for Marc Albrighton and the rejuvenated Riyad Mahrez.
With Sevilla’s preference from building attacking moves from the back, the work rate and pressing of Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki will be vital. If they can hurry the Spanish side’s defenders and funnel the ball into wide zones, the Foxes towering centre-backs will fancy their chances in aerial duels should their rivals cross from the flanks.
Sevilla enjoy an average of 56 per cent possession in La Liga, while Leicester see only 43.5 per cent of the ball in the Premier League. Expect Sampaoli’s men to claim the lion’s share of the play at the Kind Power Stadium, but, with the right planning and structure, that could play right into the home side’s hands.
It’s a big ask, but Leicester fans no better than most that a little hope goes a long way.