Separated by just a point and a place in the Group C table, Leicester City welcome Polish champions Legia Warsaw to the King Power Stadium on Thursday, for a potentially decisive Europa League encounter.
While Legia would be confirmed in the top two if they win and group rivals Spartak Moscow do not, the Foxes must avoid defeat and hope Napoli falter if they are to avoid either an early exit or finishing third – which means demotion to the Conference League.
Since their defeat to Thursday’s opponents on the second matchday, which left them with just one point from a possible six and in danger of being cut adrift, a minor revival has kept Leicester in the hunt for a place in the Europa League’s last 32.
Late last month, the Premier League side went 2-0 down in Moscow just before the half-time interval, seemingly leaving their hopes in tatters, but stand-in striker Patson Daka then took matters into his own hands and struck four times, as the game ultimately finished 4-3 to the visitors.
Brendan Rodgers then saw his team held at home by the same opponents – who had suffered a record 7-1 league defeat in between – when former Chelsea winger Victor Moses opened the scoring and Leicester’s blushes were spared by a Daniel Amartey equaliser.
Therefore, the Foxes are still in a perilous position coming into the penultimate round, so Rodgers will hope the club’s unbeaten record at the King Power throughout five previous Europa League group games will stand them in good stead.
If the FA Cup winners want to continue their journey into the knockout stages in their second straight competition appearance, then a significant improvement on their stuttering league form will be required.
Forced to settle for a draw against Leeds just before the international break, Leicester returned to action with a deflating 3-0 loss at home to Chelsea last weekend, so find themselves languishing 12th in the domestic standings: with 15 points from 12 games leaving them closer to the drop zone than the top-four place they occupied for much of last season.
Separated from the shame of rock-bottom only by goal difference after Sunday’s last-gasp defeat at Gornik Zabrze, the Legionisci have incredibly lost eight of their nine matches in all competitions since getting the better of Leicester in September.
On that occasion, as Mahir Emreli’s strike earned the home side their second straight Europa League win, then-manager Czeslaw Michniewicz spoke of his joy at sharing a touchline with his counterpart Rodgers, who he named as a “role model” coach.
However, things have turned spectacularly sour in the intervening period, and Michniewicz was summarily replaced last month by his assistant Marek Golebiewski. A change in the dugout has engendered little positive effect in terms of results though, as Legia have now lost four games in a row – by a cumulative margin of 12 goals to four.
Amid that woeful run, the Polish champions were beaten 4-1 by Napoli last time out in Group C, so having begun their continental campaign at the height of summer in the Champions League first qualifying round, they will not want to let domestic failings further derail their European journey.
Leicester City Europa League form:
Leicester City form (all competitions):
Legia Warsaw Europa League form:
Legia Warsaw form (all competitions):
We say: Leicester City 2-0 Legia Warsaw
With their visitors in complete disarray, this is the time for the Foxes to strike in Group C, as they face a tough trip to Naples in their final game.
Even if Leicester make a handful of changes, their squad players are more than capable of picking off an ailing Legia side which will surely sit back and hope to survive for 90 minutes.