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Leicester City's Champions League journey: The story of the Foxes' first season among Europe's elite

1:44 AM GMT+4 19/04/2017
Jamie Vardy Leicester City Champions League
Another remarkable run by the Foxes, this time in European competition, came to an end on Tuesday with their 2-1 aggregate defeat to Atletico Madrid

This time, the story did not quite have its fairytale ending.

But Leicester City's players and fans can hold their heads high after exiting the Champions League at the quarter-final stage despite a gallant second-leg performance against Atletico Madrid.

Leicester's fairytale finally ends

In the end, one of the competition's best teams proved too large a hurdle for the Foxes to overcome but, as was the case with their Premier League miracle, they created plenty of memories that will last during an admirable run.

This is how their debut campaign in Europe's top competition played out from beginning to end.


Having qualified for the Champions League as English champions, Leicester went straight into the group stage and were drawn against Club Brugge, Porto and Copenhagen - avoiding all of the probable contenders to win the competition.

They got off to the ideal start in Belgium, breezing to a 3-0 victory over Club Brugge. Marc Albrighton scored in the fifth minute from a long throw and from there the Foxes could play on their own terms, giving up possession of the ball (they finished the match with 38% of it) in favour of launching quick counter-attacks. Riyad Mahrez added a second from a direct free-kick and, after half-time, Jamie Vardy was brought down in the box while attempting to round the Brugge goalkeeper. Mahrez took care of the penalty.

"It's the perfect start," Vardy said of a result that had not been bettered by a Champions League debutant since Atletico Madrid in 1996. "We showed exactly what we can do. No fear, we just played our football and let that do the talking."

Leicester were back at the King Power Stadium for two games after that and returned to the formula that had delivered the Premier League title, grinding out 1-0 wins over Porto and Copenhagen to top the group at the halfway stage and leave themselves on the verge of qualification.

Home Score Away Scorers
Club Brugge 0-3 Leicester City Albrighton, Mahrez (2)
Leicester City 1-0 Porto Slimani
Leicester City 1-0 Copenhagen Mahrez
Copenhagen 0-0 Leicester City None
Leicester City 2-1 Club Brugge Okazaki, Mahrez
Porto 5-0 Leicester City None

A 0-0 draw away to Copenhagen kept Leicester's run without conceding alive and, though it was broken when Club Brugge came to England, the Foxes' 2-1 win secured their passage to the knockout stage as group winners.

By this point Leicester's league form was beginning to dip dramatically, and they looked a completely different side in the Champions League. "For a club like Leicester to finish top of our Champions League group is an amazing achievement," captain Wes Morgan said. "It's been better than we could have imagined."

The 5-0 humbling away to Porto to conclude the group did not matter, but a much-changed XI did serve to highlight the failings in the summer transfer market that were costing the Foxes domestically. It was not until Wilfred Ndidi was signed in January that Leicester finally filled the void left by N'Golo Kante, and since then they have lined up in much the same way as they did last season.


Leicester were drawn against Sevilla in the last 16, once again steering clear of the competition's big guns. Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid had all been possible opponents after finishing second in their groups.

By the time the first leg in Andalusia came around, however, the Foxes were a mess. They had lost five straight games, been knocked out of the FA Cup by League One side Millwall and were in real danger of their Premier League title defence ending, incredibly, in relegation.

Home Score Away Scorers
Sevilla 2-1 Leicester City Vardy

Unsurprisingly, Sevilla came out on the front foot and, after Pablo Sarabia had given them a 1-0 lead before the half-hour mark, there looked to be a very real chance that things could get ugly. Kasper Schmeichel had already saved a penalty by that point and the hosts were completely dominant.

Leicester held out until the 62nd minute, mostly thanks to Schmeichel, when Joaquin Correa added a second. But, when Jorge Sampaoli said after the match that it was "difficult to imagine" such a vast gulf between two sides in the Champions League, he did so out of frustration rather than celebration - because Vardy had netted a 73rd-minute goal at the end of a rare Leicester attack to keep his team in the tie.


Despite giving themselves a chance in the second leg, however, Leicester's owners decided they had seen enough. Ranieri was sacked the next day, nine months after being crowned a Premier League champion.

"[Ranieri's] status as the most successful Leicester City manager of all time is without question," a statement released by the club read. "However, domestic results in the current campaign have placed the club's Premier League status under threat."

There was public outcry at the decision, though it must be said that much of it came from neutrals who had enjoyed the Leicester fairytale rather than supporters who had watched the team plummet down the table. Gary Lineker was among the fans who did express their anger, however, labelling the decision "inexplicable, unforgiveable and gut-wrenchingly sad".

"Yesterday my dream died," Ranieri said in his own statement. "After the euphoria of last season and being crowned Premier League champions, all I dreamed of was staying with Leicester City, the club I love, for always. Sadly, this was not to be."

Craig Shakespeare was named caretaker manager and immediately questioned over reports both he and the club's players had lost faith in Ranieri. "I can understand why the public would perceive that but hopefully I have allayed those fears [and conveyed] that it was pure speculation," he said. "There is no foundation to it."


The turnaround under Shakespeare was remarkable. Leicester won their next two home games, against Liverpool and Hull City, to send confidence soaring ahead of the visit of Sevilla to England on March 14.

It was that night that the belief and euphoria that had been the hallmark of the Foxes' home games the previous season returned. Amid a raucous atmosphere, Morgan bundled in a Mahrez free-kick to put Leicester ahead on aggregate. Sevilla toiled against the wall of noise but, just as they got close to swinging the tie back in their favour, with Sergio Escudero hammering a shot against the crossbar, the Foxes responded by doubling their lead through Albrighton.

Home Score Away Scorers
Leicester City 2-0 Sevilla Morgan, Albrighton

Once Vardy had wound a temperamental, undisciplined Samir Nasri up sufficiently to draw a second yellow card out of the midfielder for putting his head where it shouldn't have been, the job was done.

"I'm not sure if it will happen again but we did it," Morgan said. "We proved a lot of people wrong and pulled off the impossible again." Added Shakespeare: "We know there's going to be some terrific teams [in the quarter-finals], as there were in the previous round. We're in there on merit. Make no mistake about that."


Leicester may have had some help with the draw to reach the quarter-finals, but their luck ran out when the balls were scooped out for the last eight. Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid, losing finalists in two of the previous three seasons, were waiting.

Shakespeare's men, once again, travelled to Spain first and, once again, did an admirable job of staying in the tie, losing to a single goal scored by Antoine Griezmann. Their inability to get on the scoresheet and notch an away goal in the 1-0 defeat, however, would prove costly.

When Atletico came to England, they took no chances. Simeone sent his side out in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with centre-back Jose Gimenez deployed in holding midfield, and the Rojiblancos set about stifling Mahrez's attempts to drift in from the right.

It worked. Saul Niguez powered in a superb header at the end of an Atleti break upfield to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at half-time and, with Leicester requiring three to progress due to the away goals rule, the tie looked all but over.

Home Score Away Scorers
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Leicester City None
Leicester City 1-1 Atletico Madrid Vardy

There was one last show of the Foxes' spirit, however, before their exit was confirmed. Shakespeare switched to a 3-5-2 formation at half-time and it worked a treat, with Leicester piling on the pressure and Vardy scoring just after the hour mark to give them hope.

Few teams are more stubborn at the back than Atleti, however, and some last-ditch defending kept the unlikely comeback at bay. The final whistle was met with the collapse of many of those in blue to the turf and a standing ovation from the 31,548 crowd.

"It wasn’t to be, but the lads can be proud of themselves," Vardy said. "Everyone’s given everything. That was a new experience for most of us in that dressing room and I think you can see we’ve given it our all. We’ve definitely enjoyed it, but now it’s back to the grind with the Premier League."