Leicester relish underdog billing, eye unthinkable UCL upset as goals flow
Leicester City are on the verge of the unthinkable: a place in the semifinals of the Champions League. They host Atletico Madrid trailing 1-0 from the first leg with the knowledge that they are very much in the tie, especially given that they have won every game at home since Craig Shakespeare replaced Claudio Ranieri.
City will be delighted with a slender loss from the Vincente Calderon, even if they couldn't steal an away goal like they did against Sevilla in the previous round. They proved they weren't over-awed and that bodes well ahead of a crucial return leg.
Atleti are still very much the favourites, especially when you consider they haven't lost away since a 3-0 defeat at Villarreal in early December. Leicester, though, are suddenly scoring goals for fun and will thus expect -- at the very worst -- to get on the scoresheet.
Leicester's biggest concern could be fatigue. Shakespeare boldly chose to field his stars in the 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace on Saturday. The point might prove a vital one, since a tally of 37 could be enough to stay up, but if Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez look tired and the Foxes go out the manager could well come under a bit of criticism.
City also have issues at the back. Robert Huth picked up a yellow card in Madrid and is suspended, while captain Wes Morgan could still be sidelined or forced to play at less than 100 percent.
Yohan Benalouane also limped off at Palace, leaving Leicester very short of centre-backs and putting significant pressure on Wilfred Ndidi to protect them in what may be closer to a 4-1-4-1 formation than a 4-4-2.
Marcin Wasilewski or Daniel Amartey may have to come into the side and both would be targeted by Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres. Leicester have looked extremely susceptible at the back when their regular defence is disrupted. This was arguably most apparent in a 5-0 drubbing at Porto in the group stage of the Champions League, though that was a game where City had nothing to play for.
Atleti won't care about scoring five. It won't even be on their minds. As one of Spain's top defensive outfits they will simply look for an early away goal, forcing the Foxes to score three to progress.
The other thing perhaps working somewhat against Leicester is the second leg against Sevilla. Diego Simeone would be wise to play parts of it to his squad ahead of kickoff to ensure they avoid complacency and get an idea of the cauldron-like atmosphere at the King Power Stadium. A visit to the east Midlands shouldn't be a surprise or culture shock to any of Atleti's stars, even those who remember watching on television the more modest surroundings of Filbert Street around 20 years ago.
Irrespective of their current purple patch, Leicester are huge underdogs with very little to lose and they will relish that billing. Mahrez and Marc Albrighton are in excellent form and Vardy suddenly looks sharp, hungry and most importantly clinical. If he can fire in the opening goal the Foxes will smell an upset.
It might not be the biggest game in Leicester's history, although some will certainly call it that -- and that argument can be made. But the run-in to win the Premier League title surely had more significance and, unless Leicester win the Champions League, will live longer in the memory. However, this is easily the most prestigious individual fixture Leicester have ever played and there is a real sense around the city that the fairytale won't end on Tuesday.
Ben Jacobs is ESPN FC's Leicester City blogger. Follow him on Twitter @JacobsBen.