Tirana is in touching distance for Leicester City, but they face their toughest test yet in Roma


Leicester City host Italian outfit AS Roma on Thursday evening for the first leg of the Foxes’ Europa Conference League semi-final.

Despite dropping out of the Europa League at the group stage, Brendan Rodgers’ men have had their work cut out for them in the inaugural campaign of UEFA’s third tier European competition.

Danish side Randers proved no immediate threat in the play-off round with the Foxes winning comfortably 7-2 on aggregate. However, the tasks of overcoming both Stade Rennais and PSV Eindhoven were certainly tall.

The French outfit have recently become a regular in continental competition, with appearances in both the Champions League and Europa League whilst the Dutch giants boast serious European pedigree.

Impressively, Leicester overcame those challenges and now look to get past a Roma side managed by a figure very familiar to English fans in Jose Mourinho.

The former Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham boss took charge in the Italian capital last summer and has his side fifth in Serie A, whilst also targeting European success in the Conference League.

Another face that English supporters will recognise is that of Tammy Abraham who swapped England for Italy with regular game time at Chelsea not guaranteed.

What had previously been a rarity is now becoming more and more common as English players, particularly bright prospects, are opting to make the move abroad.

Jadon Sancho, Fikayo Tomori and, although the older, Kieran Trippier are some of the higher-profile Englishmen that have sought game time outside of their home nation and succeeded.

Abraham is also in that category, with the 24-year-old netting 24 goals in 46 appearances thus far in what has been a productive start to life in Italy.

Granted, playing the home leg first for the fourth time won’t necessarily please the Foxes, although the recent scrapping of the away goals rule may hinder the strength of that argument slightly.

What Rodgers’ men can take confidence from is the fact that they’ve conceded just one goal in the home legs of their European knockout matches this term, with clean sheets against both Rennes and PSV.

Having the two-goal advantage against Rennes certainly helped as the French side won the second leg 2-1 whilst a late rally of character, determination and quality saw Leicester turn a one-goal disadvantage into a 2-1 lead in Eindhoven after a goalless draw at the King Power.

That stalemate undoubtedly should’ve seen the Foxes find the back of the net, with their clinical edge limited that evening. The reaction to going behind in Holland was something that has certainly been lacking too often in the Premier League this season.

However, undoubtedly Roma provides the toughest test with the quality of their squad arguably better than any of the sides Leicester faced in the Europa League, let alone the Conference League.

As well as Abraham, Leicester fans will remember Roma goalkeeper Rui Patricio for his time at Wolves with the Portuguese man returning to the Midlands on Thursday.

The former Arsenal and Manchester United player Henrikh Mkhitaryan will surely ring bells too as will English defenders Chris Smalling and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, more natives who have crossed the Channel for football elsewhere with the latter on loan from Arsenal.

Attacking midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini has been exciting this campaign as has 22-year-old winger Nicolo Zaniolo, whilst young defender Marash Kumbulla has been a regular fixture in Mourinho’s side.

Taking a lead to Rome next week isn’t essential, as shown in Eindhoven, however, it would make Leicester’s job a whole lot easier with the Conference League undoubtedly the Foxes’ priority for the rest of the campaign.

European qualification via the league is virtually impossible now whilst triumph in Tirana would see Rodgers’ men start the season in the Europa League from the group stage for the third season in a row.

Therefore, Thursday night’s clash is arguably the biggest at the King Power since the Northern Irishman took over.

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