Leicester made it two wins from two Europa League group games as first-half goals from Jamie Vardy and Hamza Choudhury proved enough to secure victory over AEK Athens. The home side threatened to ruin Leicester’s trip to Greece when Muamer Tankovic cut the deficit early in the second half but Brendan Rodgers’ team thwarted any comeback, setting themselves up perfectly for next week’s duel with Braga, who also have maximum points in the group.
Rodgers made five changes to the side that started last weekend’s Premier League win over Arsenal but that did not reflect a lack of commitment to a tournament in which Leicester aim to go far. Rather, the high turnover was down partly to another couple of injuries, with Timothy Castagne and Jonny Evans suffering strains that forced them to miss this match; Rodgers suggested the Belgian is likely to be out of action for about three weeks with hamstring trouble. The demands of an exceptional season are taking a heavy toll But that did not stop them from chalking up another good result.
Their slightly patched-up team looked a little dishevelled at times but they showed quality when it mattered most, unlike AEK, who were left to curse wasteful finishing. Leicester gave up a chance in the 12th minute when they were caught dozing at a quick throw-in, leaving Petros Mantalos to whack the ball just over the bar from the edge of the area. After that, Rodgers’ team took over for a spell.
Wesley Fofana, the most assured of the three central defenders, launched a lovely move in the 16th minute that James Maddison almost crowned with a goal, sweeping a shot from the edge of the box just inches wide. Two minutes later the visitors took the lead thanks to another clever move, with Maddison picking the ball up in space behind the frontline and slipping a pass through to Vardy, who was taken down by the goalkeeper. Vardy thrashed the penalty into the net, his shot too powerful for Panagiotis Tsintotas to keep out.
Vardy and Maddison combined niftily again in the 23rd minute to present Cengiz Under with a chance to cap his first start for Leicester with a goal. The winger, on loan from Roma, tried to send a shot between the legs of Tsintotas but the keeper blocked it.
AEK, who lost their opening group game 3-0 to Braga, needed to fight back and soon they created two chances for Marko Livaja to equalise. First, Kasper Schmeichel clawed away his header from eight yards and then, after Wes Morgan unintentionally wrongfooted Christian Fuchs with a loose pass, Livaja rifled a low just wide from the edge of the box. The home team’s manager made plain his judgment of those two misses by replacing Livaja at half-time.
Before that, though, Leicester underlined the value of being clinical. Maddison’s corner from the right ran to the far side of the box, from where Choudhury whipped a cunning low shot past the keeper at the near post. It was only Choudhury’s second goal since graduating from Leicester’s academy, and an ideal way to mark his first start in European competition.
The complexion of the game changed just after the interval when Tankovic justified his manager’s decision to send him on in place of Livaja. The Swede sprung Leicester’s offside trap by making a smart run from deep to collect a chipped pass from Mantalos and ram the ball past Schmeichel from seven yards.
Mantalos invited Tankovic to do something similar two minutes later but this time the forward wafted his shot over the bar. That came as a mighty relief to a Leicester defence that lacked cohesion even after being rejigged at half-time, when Fuchs was replaced by Luke Thomas and James Justin shifted into the centre from wing-back.
Under nearly gave Leicester more breathing space just after the hour, but his deft curling shot from the corner of the box bounced out off a post. Under was taken off soon afterwards as Rodgers made more substitutions, part of his efforts to ration players’ workloads. They got the job done without any further scares.