Vardy's strike gives Leicester a lifeline in 2-1 Champions League loss at Sevilla
Three quick thoughts from Sevilla's 2-1 Champions League win over Leicester City on Wednesday at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in their round-of-16 first leg.
1. Vardy strike rescues Leicester
Leicester found a lifeline, perhaps to their season as a whole. Jamie Vardy's 73rd-minute goal, his first in the Champions League, came after the striker had suffered three fallow months, gave his team an away goal when it looked as if their recent domestic disasters were being repeated in Europe.
It came at a point when Sevilla looked highly capable of adding to goals from Pablo Sarabia and Joaquin Correa. For that, Leicester had goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel to thank, for repeatedly bailing out what had been an evening of defensive disorganisation in front of him.
There had been nervousness from the early stages when Christian Fuchs' nodded back-pass almost caught Schmeichel unawares. With the ball salvaged, the Danish keeper launched a volley of complaints at his Austrian defender. The collywobbles continued when Wes Morgan's thoroughly rash 14th-minute foul on Correa gave Sevilla a penalty after long minutes of the Spaniards dominating possession.
Schmeichel dived down low to stop Correa's admittedly very saveable shot. That should have been a psychological boost to Leicester, but Sevilla soon continued probing at that soft centre. Sarabia's headed goal in the 25th minute came after more sustained pressure, with Leicester loose in closing down full-back Sergio Escudero on the overlap down the flank.
Schmeichel would make further first-half saves from Sarabia and Correa. Half-time gave Leicester time to regroup, and at last organise themselves, and there was an improvement in their work rate.
Yet they still could not halt Sevilla's surges forward, and Vitolo might have doubled the lead when his angled shot came off the foot of the post with Schmeichel beaten. Correa's goal, set up for him after Stevan Jovetic was granted far too much space by Morgan and Robert Huth to make an exquisite reverse pass, came as Leicester had finally found sustained possession in their opponent's territory.
As so often in England's champions' slide into ignominy, poor defending had left them exposed. At least they had Schmeichel and Vardy to save them. Danny Drinkwater found space down the left, released by a pass from substitute Demarai Gray and set up Vardy to crash home from close range.
It was an away goal that leaves this tie wide open. It might yet regenerate Vardy, and Leicester's season with it.
2. Leicester ride their luck
For 70 minutes, this was the Leicester of the Premier League, not the Champions League version that had temporarily drawn a veil over their domestic slide.
The starting selection of Ahmed Musa ahead of Gray was surprising, considering the pair's performances during Saturday's 1-0 FA Cup defeat at League One Millwall. Leicester's fade owes no small part to manager Claudio Ranieri's inability to find a settled team, as was the bedrock of their title campaign.
Musa and January addition Wilfred Ndidi in midfield were the only two new players since last season, reflecting the failures in recruitment that are another contributor to the crash. Ranieri is instead left hoping Vardy and Riyad Mahrez can somehow play themselves back into form, when there had been little sign of that for months now.
While Mahrez was again pretty quiet, at least Vardy finally came to life, though both he and Musa were extremely lax in allowing Sevilla to get the ball to Escudero to Sarabia's goal. The unstinting effort that took Leicester to last season's title and this stage in Europe's premier competition had slackened.
With it the organisation, the rigidity. At times in the first half, there was the curious sight of centre-half Morgan charging forward, with Vardy and Musa miles ahead of a deep-lying midfield, giving Sevilla acres of space in which to pass the ball around.
This was something approaching tactical anarchy, bringing once more into question whether Ranieri is now able to organise his players into something like a recognisable shape. They did not play like a team acting under any kind of instructions. Gray came on for Musa in the 58th minute, Ranieri finally correcting his selection error -- Musa had been as poor as he was at Millwall -- and Leicester at last had some thrust in the team.
Alongside that came a rediscovery of their fighting qualities, and Vardy's strike. While Sevilla might wonder what could have been, Leicester might reflect that they had staged an almighty escape from their first-half horrors.
3. Sevilla's quality does not receive its reward
Sevilla has not lost a home European knockout tie since August 2011. The winners of the past three Europa League tournaments now look a real danger in the Champions League. Coach Jorge Sampaoli, who sat in the stands as he completed a European ban, is in his first season of club football across the Atlantic from South America and has already become a name linked with the top jobs on the continent.
Earlier in the day, Real Madrid's 2-1 La Liga defeat to Valencia opened a route back into the Spanish title race, and the slickness of Sevilla's football in this first leg confirmed them as no pushover for anyone they might soon meet in the last eight. This was a team vastly different from last season, with there being only five starting survivors from May's Basel final victory over Liverpool.
Sampaoli's system allows freedom of expression while at the same time demanding a high work ethic. Steven N'Zonzi and Samir Nasri, a pair of French Premier League graduates, controlled the centre.
N'Zonzi patrolled in a style that would have given Leicester fans painful memories of N'Golo Kante, as Nasri sprinkled creative dust, but an eventual lack of finishing quality and Schmeichel's performance denied Sevilla the result they would have desired.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.