Leicester are out of the Europa League after losing 3-2 at Napoli.
An end-to-end encounter saw four goals shared in the first half in Naples, where the hosts led 2-0 courtesy of strikes from Adam Ounas and Eljif Elmas.
However, the Foxes responded through Jonny Evans and academy graduate Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s first goal for the club.
Elmas struck again early in the second half and, despite Brendan Rodgers’ side having chances to get themselves level once more, it proved decisive.
Leicester began the night top of Group C, but they ended it in third place and headed into the Europa Conference League after their defeat was compounded by Spartak Moscow’s 1-0 win at Legia Warsaw, with the Russian club topping the table.
Napoli: Meret (6), Di Lorenzo (6), Rrahmani (6), Juan Jesus (7), Mario Rui (6), Demme (6), Zielinski (7), Ounas (7), Lozano (5), Elmas (8), Petagna (7).
Subs: Malcuit (6), Mertens (6), Manolas (n/a).
Leicester: Schmeichel (7), Castagne (7), Evans (6), Soyuncu (6), Bertrand (6), Ndidi (6), Tielemans (6), Dewsbury-Hall (7), Maddison (7), Barnes (6), Vardy (6).
Subs: Albrighton (n/a), Daka (6), Soumare (n/a).
Man of the match: Eljif Elmas.
How Foxes fell short in Naples
Much of the pre-match talk was of Leicester having to leave behind seven players through illness. Rodgers confirmed some of the unnamed players had tested positive for coronavirus, while others had been left at home as a precaution.
But it was a strong Foxes team that took to the field, which included Belgium midfielder Youri Tielemans returning from a five-match absence with a calf problem.
Napoli were also ravaged by injury, with boss Luciano Spalletti without star players Kalidou Koulibaly, Victor Osimhen, Lorenzo Insigne and Fabian Ruiz. Frank Anguissa and Stanislav Lobotka were also absent.
Leicester made a bright start and should have taken an early lead. Dewsbury-Hall charged down the left flank all the way to the by-line and his far-post cross was met by Timothy Castagne inside the six-yard box, but goalkeeper Alex Meret somehow made a smothering save on his goal line.
Napoli went straight up the other end and scored. A mistake by Tielemans, although the midfielder was not helped by the pass from Caglar Soyuncu, resulted in Ounas finding the corner of the net with a low shot across Kasper Schmeichel after four minutes.
It saw the midfielder mark his first start for the club since April 2019 with a goal.
Elmas doubled Napoli’s lead 20 minutes later. Andrea Petagna strolled through the middle of the Leicester defence before unselfishly teeing up Elmas for a tap -in.
With Spartak Moscow also leading at Legia Warsaw, it looked like the Foxes were exiting the Europa League with a whimper.
However, Evans immediately pulled a goal back, smashing home the loose ball from eight yards out after James Maddison’s free-kick had struck a defender and landed in his path.
Leicester team news
Brendan Rodgers made three changes to the side that got beat at Aston Villa. Jamie Vardy, Youri Tielemans and Ryan Bertrand came in for Patson Daka, Ademola Lookman and Luke Thomas. The return of Youri Tielemans was a big boost. The Belgian midfielder had missed City’s last five games with a calf problem.
With 33 minutes on the clock, Leicester were level. Another free-kick was only half-cleared by the hosts and Dewsbury-Hall volleyed the ball into the bottom corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area.
Leicester’s hard work in getting back into the match was almost undone at the beginning of the second half, with only a fine save by Schmeichel by his near post preventing Ounas from getting his second goal of the night.
However, the Foxes did find themselves behind again after 53 minutes when Elmas grabbed his second goal of the night, controlling Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s low cross before giving Schmeichel no chance with his close-range finish.
Immediately at the other end, Di Lorenzo inexplicably passed the ball across his own penalty area where Maddison intercepted before, with the goal at his mercy, letting Napoli off the hook as his shot clipped the outside of a post and went wide.
The frenetic pace slowed a little after that, with Napoli becoming increasingly more comfortable to sit back and allow Leicester more possession. The Foxes were not creating chances with their previous frequency and it was not until the 75th minute that Jamie Vardy rifled a shot into the side-netting.
Five minutes later Dewsbury-Hall slipped at the vital moment as he attempted to round off a lovely Leicester attack.
The Foxes looked like they might be handed a dramatic reprieve in Warsaw when Legia were awarded a penalty deep into injury time. An equaliser would have seen Leicester go through despite their defeat, but the spot-kick was saved.
Rodgers: I don’t know what Europa Conference League is
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers to BT Sport: “I think we’ve done that [gone back to basics]. I think there’s a lot of naivety in our team and we’ve got a lot of young players. There’s been a bigger demand from them this season, and we’ve played a number of different systems and shapes. Individually it then comes down to having that mentality to track our runner or to stop a cross.
“That can be in whatever shape it is, but it’s my responsibility to find that solution. Tonight, we were good offensively but we were nowhere good enough defensively. I said to the players [at half-time] if we could just tighten up the gaps, and do the dirty side of the game.
“We’ve got to do more to block the shot for their first goal from their first attack. We needed to be more aggressive, the second goal we jump at the wrong time and that opens up the space and for the third goal, you’ve got to track the runner and stop the cross. These are the basics of the game we aren’t doing so well.
“We had chances to score a third in the second half. James [Maddison] has a huge chance that he’ll be disappointed with and there were other opportunities but we didn’t defend well enough ultimately.”
Can you go on and win the Europa Conference League?
“I have to be honest – I don’t even know what the competition is in all fairness. I was focused on the Europa League and winning this group. At the very least, finishing second so with all due respect to the competition, I’m not sure what it is. I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.
“The Newcastle game now is very important. Our offensive side of the game has been bright. We look like we can score goals but you have to defend much better than we are and we need to look to get back to having that solidity in the team in every aspect. Being hard to beat is always your basis and we have to get back to that.”
- Napoli have progressed past the group stages of the UEFA Europa League on all six occasions they’ve been in the competition from the beginning.
- Leicester have conceded at least once in each of their last 16 games in all competitions, their longest run without a clean sheet since a run of 17 between November 2005 and January 2006.
- Leicester became just the second English side to score more than once away against Napoli in all European competition, after Man City who won 4-2 there in November 2017.
- Napoli’s Eljif Elmas has been involved in five goals in his last five appearances in major European competition (4 goals, 1 assist), having failed to register a single goal involvement in his first 19 such games (excluding qualifiers).
- Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall scored his first goal for Leicester, in what was his 15th appearance for the Foxes in all competitions.
- Jonny Evans’ goal for Leicester was his first in major European competition since netting for Manchester United against Bayer Leverkusen in the group stage of the 2013-14 Champions League.
Live Renault Super Sunday
Leicester host Newcastle in the Premier League on Super Sunday; coverage starts on Sky Sports Premier League at 1pm with kick-off at 2pm.