Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Leicester make a dream start to Champions League campaign

David Nugent in Editorial, UEFA Champions League 15 Sep 2016

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Leicester's Algerian playmaker was back on form in the Foxes 3-0 Champions League win against Club Brugge

Leicester’s Algerian playmaker was back on form in the Foxes 3-0 Champions League win against Club Brugge

I have to admit I was not sure how Leicester was going to take to the Champions League following their stuttering start to the season.

The Foxes entered the competition as Premier League champions, but their opponents were always going to be more experienced on the European stage, as the side from the Midlands has no experience of this competition and very little European experience at all.

However, Leicester produced a highly-accomplished display on Wednesday night to win 3-0 at Club Brugge and pass their first test in Europe’s elite competition.

Indifferent start was forgotten

The Foxes have made a very inconsistent start to their Premier League campaign, losing two of their first four games and winning just once in the top-flight this season.

In their last top-flight game, they were hammered 4-1 at Liverpool and looked like a shadow of the team that secured the Premier League title last season. That inconsistent domestic start was put to one side in this clash, as the Foxes once again produced the form of last season.

The Foxes definitely looked more like the dangerous counter-attacking team of last season, as Jamie Vardy’s pace and Mahrez’s skill was enough to defeat a Brugge side who themselves have endured a poor defence of their title in the Belgian top-flight so far this season.

Mahrez has struggled for form this season, but looked back to his tricky best in this encounter, scoring with a superb free-kick and sealing the game with a penalty kick in the second half.

Brugge are hardened Europa League campaigners, but in truth have hardly featured in the Champions League in the last decade. The result was still a very good one for the Foxes.

Catalyst for an improvement this season

This game has to be used as a catalyst for the Foxes form to improve this season. Teams are paying Claudio Ranieri’s team more respect this season, so they are adjusting their tactics to combat the Foxes main strength of counter-attacking, although to be fair Liverpool only know one way to play anyway under Jurgen Klopp.

Premier League teams are not allowing the Foxes as much time on the ball this season, so the pacey Vardy cannot be hit over the top and Mahrez is being closed down much quicker than last season when the Algerian thrived in the top-flight.

In short, Leicester are no longer the surprise package and Ranieri will have to combat the fact that teams have worked out strategies to stop the champions getting the best out of their most potent players.

However, that comes with the territory of being champions. Teams are more aware of your strengths and weaknesses and are more determined to beat you. Their results in the Premier League have to improve soon, starting with a home game against Burnley this Saturday afternoon.

Advantage Leicester in the race for qualification

Leicester started their Champions League group campaign as second favourites with bookmakers to qualify from the group, also containing FC Porto and Copenhagen. The Portuguese side was seen as the strongest team by many due to having more experience at European level than the Foxes.

Porto started their campaign with a frustrating 1-1 draw at home to Danish side Copenhagen. Following game week one, Leicester are now the favourites to win the group at odds of 4/7.

Leicester and Porto are obviously seen as the strongest teams in the group and both will be desperate to finish top, as winning the group will no doubt give them what is perceived as an easier draw in the knockout stages of the competition.

It may only be one game down in the Champions League, but the Foxes have blown away any doubts about their ability to compete in Europe’s elite competition.

The Foxes now have an advantage over the other teams in the group having secured maximum points in their first group game and it definitely makes qualification for the last-16 a bit easier now.

Will Leicester win their Champions League group?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Nugent


David is a freelance football writer with nearly a decade of experience writing about the beautiful game. The 33-year-old has written for over a dozen websites and also an international soccer magazine offline.
Arguably his best work has come as an editorial writer for Soccernews, sharing his good, bad and ugly opinions on the world’s favourite sport. During David’s writing career he has written editorials, betting previews, match previews, banter, news and opinion pieces.

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