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The first meeting between these teams was high-scoring and we could be set for another entertaining encounter on matchday four.
Back over 3.5 goals (+130)
When the draw for the Europa League group stage was made, Group C seemed to have a clear hierarchy. Many assumed Leicester and Napoli would fight over top spot, with Spartak Moscow and Legia Warsaw expected to be trailing the top two by some distance. Yet at the midway point of the group phase, all four teams are still in contention for a place in the round of 16. Leicester and Napoli have not found it as easy as they might have imagined back in August.
The Foxes, of course, did not particularly want to be here in the first place. For the second season running they narrowly missed out on Champions League qualification in 2020/21, dropping out of the Premier League’s top four just before the curtain came down on the campaign. That was a major blow, although Leicester had still punched above their weight in finishing fifth and winning the FA Cup. Moreover, there is a desire to make a better fist of the Europa League this season after a disappointing exit in the round of 32 last time out.
A 2-2 draw with Napoli on matchday one looks like a good result when you consider how strong the Italian outfit have been in Serie A this season. Yet Leicester led 2-0 in that match at the King Power Stadium and should really have collected maximum points from that position of strength. Their second European outing was even more disappointing, as Brendan Rodgers’ side slumped to a 1-0 defeat by Legia Warsaw.
Were it not for Patson Daka, Leicester might still be waiting for their first continental triumph. As it was, the Zambia international scored all four goals in a stunning showing on matchday three, as Leicester eked out a 4-3 victory over Spartak Moscow. That result means they are outside the top two on goal difference alone ahead of Thursday’s rematch, but there is plenty of work still to be done if Leicester are to get out of a dangerous looking Group C.
Spartak Moscow must be cursing Daka’s incredible display in Russia last month. His four goals included a nine-minute hat-trick, without which Leicester would surely have suffered defeat. A victory in that game would have moved Spartak onto six points. But their 4-3 loss means they head to the King Power Stadium with just three points to their name, and the manager Rui Vitoria will know that defeat would push his team close to the brink of elimination.
Spartak’s first game against Leicester provided a good indication of where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Only one team in the Europa League has conceded more goals at this stage of the competition than the Russians. Yet the six goals they have scored means Spartak have a more productive attacking unit than 10 of the 16 teams currently occupying top-two places.
Spartak have had similar problems domestically, where they are averaging significantly more than a goal per game conceded. Clean sheets have proved elusive in all competitions, and an eyebrow-raising 7-1 defeat by Zenit Saint Petersburg in late October illustrates how difficult they are finding it to shut opponents out. Vitoria only arrived at the Otkritie Arena in May but he is already under pressure to tighten up his team’s backline.
How soon the Portuguese coach will be able to do that remains to be seen, and Leicester are far from ideal opponents for a manager in desperate need of a clean sheet. Indeed, Vitoria might reason it is better to play to his team’s strengths on Thursday, particularly as a meek loss would only increase the pressure on his shoulders while also leaving Spartak in a precarious position in the competition.
Leicester have shown signs of improvement in defense of late, with Jonny Evans proving a stabilizing figure on his return from injury. Yet they too are stronger going forward than they are at the back, and Rodgers will look to feed off the atmosphere of the home crowd by taking a proactive, forward-thinking approach. Leicester could also do with a victory to put their fate in their own hands ahead of the two final matchdays.
There is another reason why we can expect goals. Because even a tie would leave Spartak on the back foot in the group, there is not really a result here that would suit both teams. That means one of them will always be looking to score, and that should lead to an entertaining encounter. Back over 3.5 goals when Leicester host Spartak Moscow this week.
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|Leicester City vs Spartak Moscow Information|
|Teams||Leicester City vs Spartak Moscow|
|Location||King Power Stadium, Leicester, England|
|Time||Thursday, 4 November 2021, 16.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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