In what has been a pretty terrible season domestically for Leicester City, the Europa Conference League was their last beacon of hope. Having reached the semi-finals, the tantalising prospect of a European final was stretching out before Brendan Rodgers and his side — a date with destiny in Tirana.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be for Foxes, as a familiar figure put an end to their hopes. Roma, managed by José Mourinho who was once a mentor to Rodgers, edged out Leicester in a tense two-legged affair, leaving nothing but tatters left of their season.
Tammy Abraham’s early goal in Rome made all the difference, after the sides had drawn 1-1 at the King Power Stadium a week before. Leicester just couldn’t find the elusive leveller, with Mourinho overseeing yet another defensive masterclass.
“Of course when you lose a second leg of a semi-final it’s disappointing,” Rodgers reflected. “In the first half it wasn’t aggressive enough. The players kept going until the very end but we couldn’t find that big chance. There wasn’t many in the game for both teams.”
“It’s been a great journey for us in Europe in the last couple of years. We have a lot of young players that are finding their way and this was a great experience for them. That will provide motivation for them next season. We just missed out so we’re disappointed but we need to finish the season strongly now and look to progress in the summer for next season.”
The pain is clear to see in Rodgers’ words. The prospect of a positive end to the campaign was pinned on the Conference League, and there was a distinct emptiness to be felt after that dream had been crushed. Unfortunately, Leicester were just a level below Roma in terms of nous and game management, and as Rodgers alluded to, this was perhaps one game too far for this young Leicester side.
That said, they can take pride in their journey to the final. There were some memorable victories along the way, not least the second-leg away win against PSV Eindhoven in the quarter-finals and a battling performance against Rennes in the round before. On more than one occasion, the bets for football were proved wrong by the plucky Foxes.
It must be remembered that Leicester started off in the Europa League this season, and it was only through some poor results that they ended up in the Conference League. However, given the fact that they have enjoyed a deep run in the competition and gained some valuable experience, you could say that dropping into the Conference League has provided more memories.
With Leicester’s Premier League campaign having gone awry this season, we certainly won’t be seeing the Foxes in Europe for a little while, and that’s why their exit at the hands of Roma is all the more agonising.
But it must be remembered that this is a team full of young players, and when Rodgers inevitably gets them back on the right track domestically, they’ll be in a good place to have another crack in Europe in the future. This season’s Conference League campaign might have ended in disappointment, but the squad will have learned a lot from their experiences.