23 October 2020 06:38
James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho scored as Leicester beat Zorya Luhansk. Leicester made the perfect start to their Europa League campaign after a comfortable 3-0 win over Zorya Luhansk. James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho struck to give the Foxes victory in their Group G opener. Kasper Schmeichel denied Vladyslav Kabayev but the hosts eventually brushed off the visitors from Ukraine without the injured Jamie Vardy. They travel to AEK Athens next week, after facing Arsenal on Sunday, having made their European return following a three-year absence.
Brendan Rodgers' side also earned a morale-boosting win after damaging home defeats to West Ham and Aston Villa. But the Foxes – also without the injured Caglar Soyuncu and Wilfred Ndidi – were still forced to sweat in the first half. Zorya, who have qualified for Europe in the last seven seasons, made a solid start and Vladlen Yurchenko shot over. Leicester were initially sloppy and almost paid the price against limited Zorya in the 22nd minute. Maksym Lunov slid the ball across the box for the onrushing Kabayev but, with the forward stretching, Schmeichel saved well at the far post.
Yet the Foxes ended any lingering fears by doubling their lead in first-half stoppage time. Christian Fuchs' fine pass found Iheanacho and he held the ball up for Barnes to race though and produce an impudent finish past Shevchenko. A second allowed Leicester to relax and they pressed for another with Wesley Fofana flashing a header wide 10 minutes after the break. Zorya's roughhouse tactics did little to upset the Foxes and, after Maddison drilled over, Iheanacho got his goal after 67 minutes. It was a gift from Zorya as Ivanisenia's loose pass went straight to the striker who turned Lovro Cvek to find the bottom corner.
He then hit the side netting with 20 minutes left as Leicester cruised to victory. In its first meeting with Ukrainian opposition, Leicester had to withstand a sharp start from its Group G rival at the King Power Stadium on Friday (AEDT). However, Maddison's 29th-minute effort put Brendan Rodgers' side ahead, with Barnes – who had played a crucial role in the opener – doubling the lead on the stroke of half-time. Wesley Fofana missed a chance to make matters even more comfortable, though the points were wrapped up when Iheanacho slotted in a low finish. Vladyslav Kabaev should have capped a dominant start for Zorya with an opener in the 22nd minute, only for the forward to fail to beat Kasper Schmeichel from close range. Maddison saw a goal rightly disallowed for offside from the counter-attacking move that followed, but he broke the deadlock moments later. Barnes' wonderful strike hit the post but Iheanacho managed to turn the rebound into the path of Maddison, who prodded into an empty net. Leicester got lucky when Dmitriy Ivanisenya volleyed wide from Schmeichel's poor clearance, yet they had their second when Barnes raced onto Iheanacho's flick and lifted a sublime finish over Mykyta Shevchenko. Fofana headed just wide 10 minutes after the restart, with Maddison then curling over from the egde of the penalty area. A third for the host did eventually arrive in the 67th minute, Iheanacho – who became the first Nigerian to assist two goals in a single UEFA Europa League game – rounding off a fine individual display with a brilliant finish to add further gloss to the scoreline. With only around eight months left on his deal, it is a huge relief that Leicester City veteran defender Jonny Evans should be about to sign a new contract. Brendan Rodgers provided a surprising answer to an intriguing question at his pre-Europa League press conference. Before Zorya Luhansk meet the Foxes on Thursday evening, the Northern Irishman was asked why Croatian centre-back Filip Benkovic has been sent out on loan again. This time he's at Cardiff City, which is odd when there is an injury crisis on Filbert Way. Rodgers replied – in a fresh and candid manner which Foxes of Leicester loved – that Benkovic "isn't ready" for Premier League action. While that will be difficult for the defender to hear, it is refreshing to have insight into a scenario that was mildly confusing. Nevertheless, with Caglar Soyuncu possibly out until as long as January – the Turk may require surgery – new arrival Wesley Fofana acclimatising to his new club and Wes Morgan unsatisfactory, Jonny Evans' presence is undeniably calming. Jonny Evans in line for new Leicester City deal The Northern Ireland international's current contract expires at the end of the 2020/21 season, and Leicester are said to want to tie him down to another deal. Thankfully the centre-half has confirmed that he desires an extension, but also stated that formal negotiations have not begun. Premier League news today is dominated by two topics at present. Firstly this talk of a breakaway European division, which is rather unsettling for fans of clubs the size of the King Power outfit. For the three English teams starting their UEFA Europa League groups today, there must be confidence that they can make deep runs in this tournament. Manchester United (2017) and Chelsea (2019) have won the Europa League recently, while Liverpool (2016) and Arsenal (2019) have made finals. United also made a semifinal last season, while Wolves went deep into the knockout rounds as well. Basically, the tournament is there to be won for the better clubs: Spain (Sevilla, 4, and Atletico Madrid, 3) and England (Chelsea, 2, and Manchester United, 1) have combined to win 10 of the last 11, and every one since Porto in 2011. Before we know the teams that drop down from the Champions League, the three English sides in the cup are all in the top five odds to win the tournament. Look for Arsenal, Leicester City, and Tottenham to all win today. Check Fubo.tv for channel listings UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE MATCHDAY 1 Rapid Wien (+425) vs. Arsenal (-177), draw (+340), 12:55 p.m. EDT (TUDN, CBS All Access, and Fubo.tv) Zorya Luhansk (+950), draw (+410), 3 p.m. EDT (CBS All Access, TUDNXtra, and Fubo.tv) GROUP J LASK Linz (+800), draw (+480), 3 p.m. EDT (UniMas, CBS All Access, and Fubo.tv) Arsenal -1 Asian handicap (-105) Arsenal/Wien Over 2.75 goals (-125) Leicester City -0.5 first half (-135) Leicester City -1.5 (-105) Leicester/Zorya over 2.75 goals (-115) Tottenham -0.75 first half (-105) Tottenham -1.5 (-125) Tottenham/LASK over 3.25 goals (-105)