Leicester City will look to build on their smashing win over Manchester United when they travel to Spartak Moscow for a UEFA Europa League Group C clash.

This week sees the resumption of European football, with Spartak Moscow playing hosts to Leicester City in the UEFA Europa League at Otkritie Arena on Wednesday afternoon.

After coming so close to qualifying for the Champions League in back-to-back seasons, the Foxes are feeling the consequences. The Europa League is proving to be a difficult enough challenge for the East Midlands side, who suffered a dismal 1-0 defeat to the hands of Polish side Legia Warsaw on Matchday two.

The result leaves Leicester at the foot of the Group C standings after they threw away a 2-0 advantage to draw 2-2 with Napoli in their first continental encounter this term. The Foxes’ fortunes have been filled with mixed results in the Premier League. But most importantly, they are coming into this game with rejuvenated confidence by ending their three-game winless run with a memorable 4-2 victory over Manchester United.

Spartak Moscow’s Europa League opener may have resulted in a disappointing setback to Legia Warsaw, but the Russian titans did not linger on that defeat for long as they produced a spectacular performance to overcome Napoli 3-2 away from home last time out. The hosts now sit second with one win and one loss in Group C.

Rui Vitoria’s men had to come back from two goals down to rescue a 2-2 stalemate against Dynamo Moscow in their most recent fixture. While their turnaround versus Dynamo was commendable, the result with their top-flight rivals left them seventh in the Russian Premier League standings.

With the group in a very tricky situation and all at stake, this one promises to be an intriguing game. We at The Hard Tackle will now take a look at both sides.

Team News & Tactics

Spartak Moscow

Spartak Moscow boss Rui Vitoria will have to tinker with his selection as he faces a dilemma with huge injury concerns to his key players. The hosts have been struck with multiple blows in the attacking department, with Quincy Promes (knee), Ezequiel Ponce (meniscus) and Georgi Melkadze (muscle) all out, along with central midfielder Nail Umyarov (tendon).

Vitoria is likely to set up his side in their regular 3-4-3 formation, as they have done so in the past eight games since late August. Goalkeeper Aleksandr Maksimenko has started in all of the 15 matches so far this campaign, so he is a certainty in goal, but Vitoria will be forced to make radical changes in front of his N0. 1.

With Maximiliano Caufriez suspended and Pavel Maslov injured, Georgiy Dzhikiya, Samuel Gigot, Ilya Kutepov will be the likely trio in their backline. There will be a familiar face on the right wing-back position, in the form of ex-Chelsea defender Victor Moses, who has found a new home in Moscow and is a regular fixture on the right flank, with Brazilian Ayrton Lucas featuring on the other flank.

Roman Zobnin could partner Ruslan Litvinov to form a double midfield pivot. Russian international Zobnin possesses remarkable technique and vision and will be the home team’s primary creator from deep. Aleksandr Sobolev will lead the line this midweek, while Jordan Larsson and Zelimkhan Bakaev will form the supporting cast slotting on the wings.

Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Maksimenko; Dzhikiya, Gigot, Kutepov; Lucas, Litvinov, Zobnin, Moses; Bakaev, Sobolev, Larsson

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Leicester City

Similar to his counterpart in the Spartak dugout, Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers has several injuries to contend with as Wesley Fofana (ankle), Wilfred Ndidi (hamstring), Nampalys Mendy (groin) and James Justin (ACL) remain sidelined with long-term injuries. Veteran defender Jonny Evans has also been ruled out after coming off suffering from cramp against his former club Manchester United.

With these many injuries, Rodgers is unlikely to rotate with a few exceptions, and in all fairness, with them at precarious 4th position in the group, there is not much room either. Rodgers will go with a 3-4-1-2 formation, which worked to perfection the other week. Kasper Schmeichel is the indispensable pick between the sticks. Guarding him will be a three-man backline of Daniel Amartey, Caglar Soyuncu, Jannik Vestergaard.

Vestergaard and Soyuncu will be the hub for playing out from the back, while Amartey will provide the solidity with his physicality and no-nonsense approach. Portuguese defender Ricardo Pereira and Timothy Castagne will operate as advancing wing-backs; both are expected to be high on the pitch to provide the outlet to midfielders and forwards, especially Pereira, whose rapid pace would be a key asset against rigid systems.

Boubakary Soumare and Youri Tielemans played exceptionally well against Manchester United. They could remain intact at the middle of the park for this game, too, providing forward thrust and composure, while Ayoze Perez should return to the starting XI, replacing James Maddison after providing two assists coming as a substitute last weekend.

The Spaniard will sit in the hole just behind the two strikers. Summer signing Patson Daka, who became the first Zambian player to register a goal in the English top-flight last weekend, should come in alongside Kelechi Ịheanachọ in a two-man frontline.

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Schmeichel; Soyuncu, Vestergaard, Amartey; Castagne, Soumare, Tielemans, Pereira; Perez; Daka, Iheanacho

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Key Stats

  • Spartak Moscow and Leicester City will meet for the first time in any tournament on Wednesday afternoon.
  • The hosts have a track record of five wins from their nine home games against English teams, most notably drawing 1-1 with Liverpool back in 2017.
  • However, Spartak has won only two of their previous 11 Europa League home matches since 2011, although their next opponents have not been known for their exceptional away record either in the 2021-22 campaign.
  • The Foxes have just once emerged victorious in their last 7 Europa League games (D3 L3) and are winless in their last four away Europa League trips (D2 L2).
  • Foxes’ boss Brendan Rodgers has faced defeats in all three away trips to Russian sides in his managerial career – against Anzhi Makhachkala and Zenit St Petersburg in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and with Celtic again versus Zenit.

Player to watch

Kelechi Iheanacho

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Leicester’s overall attacking ability increases multi-folds whenever he plays, with his hold-up play and constant pressing creating quality goal-scoring opportunities by winning the ball high up the pitch. Iheanacho may not be a top-quality out-and-out No. 9, but in a two up-top system, the partner alongside him is bound to benefit from thriving off his abilities.

Moreover, in the absence of recognized wingers, he is flexible to shift and work the channels and half-spaces very well. Patson Daka and Jamie Vardy are both ideal partners, with both of them lightning-quick and lethal finishers. Iheanacho has six goal involvements from just under 450 minutes of footballing action which bears the question of why he hasn’t been used more often by Brendan Rodgers.

Prediction

Spartak Moscow 1-3 Leicester City

The Foxes are one of the better clubs in the UEFA Europa League and are strong outside candidates to go all the way and win Europe’s second most coveted title. However, with them going winless in their first two games, qualifying for the knockout rounds appears to be increasingly tricky than expected.

But they are likely to face a weakened Spartak Moscow side plagued with injuries to key players. Known for playing on the front foot, their usual plan could backfire and effectively play the ball into Leicester’s court. Hence, The Hard Tackle predicts a convincing 3-1 victory for Brendan Rodgers & co. to continue the momentum from last weekend’s exploits.

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