Leicester City’s Successful European Debut

 Leicester City, the unlikely champions of England last season, have continued their fairytale by marking a Champions League debut with three convincing group stage wins. They share a group with Belgian champions Club Brugge KV, Danish champions FC København, and FC Porto who finished 3rd in Portugal. Having begun by grabbing a 3-0 victory away in Bruges, two 1-0 home victories followed against Porto and København, the latter during the week.

The opening win away in Bruges, possibly the most convincing of the three, saw an early goal from Marc Albrighton coupled by two from Riyad Mahrez either side of half time. Leicester came into the match following at 4-1 defeat away at Liverpool. Manager Claudio Ranieri commented on the early Champions League goal, which “gave us more confidence.” Ranieri hailed the match to be “an important win after the Liverpool defeat.” Leicester impressed in defence that evening with Club Brugge managing just three shots on goal, none of which beat keeper Kasper Schmeichel. It was this first match in September that set the stage for a fiery Leicester City side, ready to show Europe that they were up to the challenge of the prestigious competition.

Leicester City headed back to the East Midlands to host FC Porto, an experienced side with many years under the belt in European competition. Expected by many to top the group, Porto’s own campaign this season began with a draw at home to København. Islam Slimani, the club record summer signing for Leicester from Sporting CP, was the eventual scorer of the decisive goal in the clash between these two sides. He earned the nickname of “Dragon Slayer” during his time in Portugal, a testament to his strong performances against Porto (known colloquially in Portugal as the Dragons). Slimani did not disappoint in maintaining his nemesis value for a new club, finding the net from a cross by Mahrez past keeper Iker Casillas. Jesús Corona, Porto’s young Mexican winger, hit the post in the dying minutes but the Foxes were able to hold on to all three points.

During the week at the King Power Stadium, Leicester hosted FC København. They had impressed in their second match by thumping four goals past Club Brugge. The Danish champions were in fine form, unbeaten in 23 matches before the Tuesday night clash. A nervy start to the first half saw Leicester go 1-0 up, with Slimani this time assisting for a back-heeled Mahrez finish. Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel denied former Cardiff City striker Andreas Cornelius an equalizer just minutes after. Jamie Vardy, although goalless in his last eight games, put in a real shift. His work rate paid off and culminated in a cross to Slimani for the winning goal. Schmeichel denied Cornelius again in the dying minutes, keeping a third European clean sheet.

As the referee blew the whistle for full time at the King Power, Leicester had achieved what so many believed they could not. Nine points in three Champions League fixtures, and three clean sheets. The Foxes are on absolute fire in Europe.

Leicester travel to Denmark for the reverse fixture on November 2nd, arguably one of the toughest matches they have scheduled in their group. Qualification from the group seems almost inevitable, as the Foxes look to make their debut European campaign one to remember. Will they continue their soaring form, or will lacklustre performances in the Premier League begin to reflect in Europe?

Jeremy Pepino
jpepino@umass.edu

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