Leicester City will hope to take an early advantage in their UEFA Europa Conference League Round of 16 tie against Rennes.

Leicester City welcome Rennes to the King Power Stadium for the first leg of their UEFA Europa Conference League Round of 16 tie on Thursday. The Foxes dropped down to the competition after finishing third in their group in the Europa League.

The Premier League side registered two wins, defeats and draws each, finishing third in Group D of the 2021/22 Europa League behind Spartak Moscow and Napoli, respectively. Leicester were then pitted against Danish club Randers in their Conference League knockout playoffs. Brendan Rodgers’s side comfortably won 7-2 on aggregate to book a spot in the Round of 16 of the newly-introduced competition.

Leicester are not having the best of seasons, though. After a fifth-place finish last term in the Premier League, much more was expected of them this time around. However, they have struggled to stay in the top half of the table. Their recent form has been decent, though, as they have won four of their last five encounters across competitions. Two of those wins came against Randers in the Conference League playoffs.

On the other hand, Rennes qualified for the Conference League after finishing sixth in the 2020/21 Ligue 1 season. They were impressive in the group stages, topping their group with four wins and two draws. The French club’s final group stage fixture, an away clash against Tottenham, was cancelled, and they were awarded all three points. But they would have finished atop the group table even if the match had gone ahead.

Rennes have been flying high in Ligue 1 this season and are currently fourth with 46 points after 27 gameweeks. They are just three points off second-placed Nice and will want to keep pushing for an automatic Champions League berth next season. Bruno Genesio’s side, too, have won four of their last five matches, with the one defeat coming against league leaders Paris Saint-Germain.

Team News & Tactics

Leicester City

Brendan Rodgers will be without some of his regular starters for the Rennes encounter but also will also enjoy the returns of James Justin and James Maddison. The Leicester boss confirmed that Jamie Vardy, Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans, Timothy Castagne and Ricardo Pereira would all miss the Round of 16 clash. Vardy suffered a knee in the Foxes’ latest Premier League encounter against Leeds United.

Centre-back Fofana was set for a return after a lengthy injury lay-off, but Rodgers revealed that the defender has tested positive for COVID-19 which further extends his time on the sidelines. Ricardo is close to full fitness, but the Leicester manager is not willing to risk him yet.

The returns of Maddison and Justin will surely boost the Foxes, but the latter will most probably start on the bench. Kasper Schmeichel will take his spot between the sticks. Hamza Choudhury, who started as the right-back against Leeds, is expected to retain his place. Daniel Amartey, Caglar Soyuncu and Luke Thomas will complete the backline.

Rodgers is expected to go with a 4-3-3 for the encounter. Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall will form the midfield. Kelechi Iheanacho will take up striking duties in Vardy’s absence with Maddison and Harvey Barnes on the flanks.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Schmeichel; Choudhury, Amartey, Soyuncu, Thomas; Tielemans, Ndidi, Dewsbury-Hall; Maddison, Iheanacho, Barnes

Rennes

Among regular starters, Rennes will miss the services of centre-back Loic Bade and winger Kamaldeen Sulemana, both of whom are nursing injuries. Manager Bruno Genesio is not expected to tinker much with the starting XI that faced Angers in Ligue 1 this weekend.

Alfred Gomis will man the goal, with Hamari Traore, Nayef Aguerd, Warmed Omari and Birger Meling forming the defensive line in front of him. Baptiste Santamaria and Jonas Martin will be the two central midfielders in the second line of press, with Benjamin Bourigeaud and Martin Terrier taking up the right and left flanks, respectively.

Gaetan Laborde and Serhou Guirassy will complete the line-up, with Genesio expected to employ a 4-4-2 against Leicester.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Gomis; Traore, Omari, Aguerd, Meling; Bourigeaud, Santamaria, Martin, Terrier; Laborde, Guirassy

Key Stats

  • This will be the first-ever encounter between Leicester City and Rennes. The match will also mark Leicester’s first encounter against a French opponent in UEFA competitions.
  • Leicester City have been unbeaten at home in Europe this season. They drew against Napoli and Spartak Moscow and defeated Legia Warszawa and Randers.
  • Rennes have won all of their away matches in Europe this season.
  • Rennes have so far played three European matches in England, but have lost all of them, and without scoring.
  • Bruno Genesio, the Rennes manager, has yet to lose to English opposition in a 23-year long coaching career.

Player to Watch

James Maddison

James Maddison needs to step up. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

James Maddison needs to step up. (Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

While Leicester City will miss the services of Jamie Vardy, the return of James Maddison after missing the Leeds encounter is a welcome one. With Brendan Rodgers eager to take a healthy first-leg lead to Rennes, the Englishman will have a crucial role to play.

The 25-year-old has been Leicester’s joint top scorer with 12 goals in 36 matches alongside Vardy. Maddison has also provided the second-most assists for the Foxes this season with seven. He has scored twice in the Conference League already on top of a strike in the Europa League group stage.

Maddison’s ball control and directness will be a handful for the Rennes defenders. Expect him to play a starring role if the Foxes come out on top at the King Power Stadium.

Prediction

Leicester City 2-1 Rennes

Rennes gave a strong account of themselves during a 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season, and thus it won’t be easy for the Foxes. But considering the match will be played at the King Power, Leicester will go into it with a slight advantage. The Foxes should come out victorious but considering their defensive struggles this season, expect Rennes to score at least one goal on the night, and set up an enticing second leg.

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