Leicester slumped out of the Europa League with a whimper, falling to a deserved defeat by the Czech champions. Brendan Rodgers never made it past the first knockout round of this tournament with either Liverpool or Celtic and his Leicester side only briefly looked capable of improving on that record before succumbing to excellent second-half goals by Lukas Provod and Abdallah Sima.
“There are no excuses, the better team won,” Rodgers admitted.
The challenge for Leicester now is to make sure that this disappointment, and a worrying casualty list that was lengthened this week by the loss of James Maddison with hip trouble, does not lead to a repeat of the late-season dwindling that they suffered last year. Here, with a place in the last 16 of the Europa League up for grabs, they were flat and erratic.
After the final whistle the home players endured the indignity of watching their opponents whoop and dance on the King Power pitch. Slavia had fully earned the right to celebrate their progress and a first-ever win in England.
Even though Rodgers, possibly with an eye on Sunday’s Premier League clash with Arsenal, chose to start without Harvey Barnes, Timothy Castagne and Ricardo Pereira, Leicester began like a side determined to put down Slavia quickly. The visitors did not get a touch of the ball until their goalkeeper, Ondrej Kolar, batted away a shot by Cengiz Under.
The Turkish winger forced another stop from the goalkeeper with a blast from the edge of the area in the 10th minute but that was when he peaked. Neither he nor the rest of his team looked likely to score after that.
Jamie Vardy got a chance in the 17th minute after Marc Albrighton ambushed Alexander Bah near halfway but the full-back sprinted back to atone, deflecting Vardy’s shot wide for a corner. That set-piece almost led to a fluky breakthrough but Kolar prevented an own goal after Peter Olayinka misdirected an attempted clearance.
Slavia gradually began to look the stronger and more accomplished side. The threat of conceding an away goal may have been preying on Caglar Soyuncu’s mind when he failed to deal properly with a long pass from the back by Nicolae Stanciu. Sima hared on to it and chose to open fire early, his shot bouncing just wide from 20 yards. Soyuncu continued to look slapdash for much of the game.
Slavia, their confidence rising, forged an even better opening eight minutes later with a lovely move down the right, only for Jan Kuchta to miss the target with a free header from 12 yards. Rodgers had plenty to ponder at half-time.
But his team started the second half sluggishly. Even a narrow escape from a corner did not wake them up. Soon they were punished. When Stanciu arrowed over a wonderful cross from the left, Provod arrived unmarked to sweep the ball into the net.
Leicester tried to muster a reply but Slavia were by now far more fluent and robust. Rodgers made a triple substitution with half an hour left but the newcomers made no impact. Sima secured Slavia victory 11 minutes from time, when he was given time to drill a low shot into the net from 20 yards.
“I said to the players afterwards we have to learn from that,” said Rodgers. “I’m disappointed with the couple of goals we conceded, especially the second one, where we needed to defend with more urgency. Today we lacked aggression and intensity in our defending. And with the ball we just lacked quality when we arrived into the final third. We’ve enjoyed the European experience this year and we will try to get into Europe again and be better next year.”