Brendan Rodgers said Leicester will „fight to be better next year“ after his side were dumped out of the Europa League by Czech side Slavia Prague at the King Power Stadium.
With playmaker James Maddison missing with a hip injury and in-form winger Harvey Barnes left on the bench for the first hour, Rodgers’ team were a shadow of the vibrant side pushing for Champions League qualification at the top of the Premier League.
Rodgers took responsibility for leaving Barnes out and said a strong league finish and an FA Cup run are his main priorities.
„We have to learn from it,“ he said. „We can accept it a lot easier as we weren’t good enough on the night and over the two legs.
„We’ll get back in, move on and we’ve enjoyed the European experience and we want to fight this year and be better next year.
„If we had to prioritise, they (the Premier League and the FA Cup) were the two we would want to do well in. We wanted to do well in the Europa League, but now we can focus on the Premier League and FA Cup.“
Jamie Vardy was kept quiet by efficient if limited opposition, and a spirited second-half showing from the visitors earned a shock win.
Midfielder Lukas Provod volleyed in the opener before 19-year-old striker Abdallah Sima wrapped up a thoroughly deserved victory with a fine low drive late on.
Slavia were raided by West Ham for defender Vladimir Coufal and midfielder Tomas Soucek in the last year and could soon be fielding more Premier League interest after this superb win.
Sima, in particular, looks a real asset.
Rodgers – who has now lost at this stage of the competition on five occasions – could still steer the Foxes into the Champions League next year, of course.
But he will have to hope that this insipid display was a one-off and not a sign that last season’s late collapse could be about to be repeated.
Foxes left feeling flat
Leicester had only lost once in 2021 and were counted among the favourites to go deep into the Europa League.
But throughout the 90 minutes they failed to find any sense of spark or adventure without the excellence and inspiration of Maddison and Barnes. They never looked like joining Manchester United,Arsenal and Tottenham in the last 16.
The best chance of a cagey first half-hour saw a long clearance catch out the Leicester backline and Sima clip a lob just wide.
The Czech leaders are unbeaten in the league but it was still a surprise when they capped a bright start to the second period with the opener.
Nicolae Stanciu’s deep cross caught left-back Luke Thomas out and Provod was all alone to steer a volley in and leave Leicester needing to score twice to progress.
Rodgers reacted swiftly with a triple change featuring the introduction of Barnes but, despite a marked rise in tempo, there was no change to the script.
Vardy and Barnes had shots blocked but Slavia were rarely troubled and were able to secure their place in the last 16 when Sima was afforded space to turn and drill home past Kasper Schmeichel from outside the area.
‘A sporting miracle’
The shock victory was celebrated in style by the visitors, with Hammers midfielder Soucek joining in via video call.
Manager Jindrich Trpisovsky put his team’s progress on a par with Leicester’s own fabled title win of 2015-16.
„The difference between the teams is incredible, it’s a sporting miracle,“ he said. „I would compare us winning here to Leicester winning the league.
„It’s a different league for us. I’ve asked my team to realise what they’ve achieved and I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.“
- Leicester suffered their first home defeat in any European competition since September 1997 against Atletico Madrid in the Uefa Cup, ending a run of nine such matches without defeat (W7 D2).
- Slavia Prague picked up just their second win over an English club in all competitions (March 2000 v Leeds United), and first away from home in their sixth such visit (D1 L4 previously).
- Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers has been eliminated from all five of his Europa League knockout ties as a manager (all last 32) – with Liverpool in 2012-13 and 2014-15, Celtic in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and Leicester this season.
- Slavia Prague won an away knockout stage match in a major European competition (excluding qualifiers) while also keeping a clean sheet for the first time since September 2000, a 2-0 Uefa Cup win over Akademisk Boldklub.
- Lukas Provod’s goal was Slavia Prague’s first shot on target of the night against Leicester, ending the Foxes’ run of 234 minutes without conceding a goal in the Europa League.
- Abdallah Sima’s four goals for Slavia Prague is the most by a teenager in this season’s Europa League.