Ranieri’s experience eases Leicester nerves
Champions League debuts are seldom so routine. European football’s premier competition is the ultimate acid test for pretenders like Leicester City. The giddying optimism which has stalked their first voyage on the continent could have betrayed Claudio Ranieri’s men in Bruges. Their maiden steps in Europe became a stroll for the Premier League champions despite their manager warning it would be anything but just 24 hours beforehand.
The Roman was statuesque on the touch-line as Leicester tore the Club Brugge defence open, beholding the almost dream-like action with a reassuring air of calm. That the Foxes’ football was perhaps naive at times was plainly evident but so, too, was the experience of the man orchestrating it on the side-lines.
Mahrez at home on Champions League stage
Out of all Leicester’s title-winning heroes of last season, Riyad Mahrez provides the most glitz and glamour. A modest man off the field, the 25-year-old, as his manager says, is their “light”. The talents of N’Golo Kante have been sorely missed. This Foxes line-up without Jamie Vardy just wouldn’t function either. But it is Mahrez who Leicester have always leaned upon the most.
Their form tends to fluctuate in symmetry with the Algerian’s fortunes on the field. If Mahrez turns up, Leicester invariably follow. On occasions such as these, they really needed their main man to lead from the front. The winger dutifully obliged – scoring a super free-kick before adding a second from the spot – to provide a timely reminder of why Leicester laboured so much to keep him.
Brugge vs Leicester player ratings
Kasper Schmeichel – 7 out of 10
Precious little to be alarmed about for the Denmark international other than making sure to join the celebrations whenever his team-mates scored at the opposite end.
Luis Hernandez – 7 out of 10
Drafted in to replace the injured Danny Simpson, former Sporting Gijon Hernandez defender delivered an assured and physical display, marauding forwards when the time was right.
Wes Morgan – 8 out of 10
Arguably the biggest night of Wes Morgan’s career, the bulky defender and Leicester captain was never likely to wilt under the glare of expectation. A near perfect centre-back’s display.
Robert Huth – 8 out of 10
Like his defensive lieutenant, Robert Huth delivered where it mattered to help Leicester book a clean sheet on their Champions League debut with his unique blend of power and poise.
Christian Fuchs – 7 out of 10
One of the few players among Claudio Ranieri’s ranks to boast Champions League experience, the Austrian left-back was a commanding figure on the flanks, sticking to his position when others might have strayed.
Riyad Mahrez – 9 out of 10
Curled in a lovely free-kick in the first-half, showcasing all the his talents with a dead ball, before stepping up and answering his critics to score from the spot. What would Leicester do without him?
Danny Drinkwater – 8 out of 10
Cut an authoritative figure in the middle of the park to settle any early nerves before proving the source of Leicester’s attacking endeavour. Slowly coming to terms with life without N’Golo Kante by his side.
Daniel Amartey – 7 out of 10
The man expected to replace Kante. After a nightmare at Liverpool on Saturday evening, the former Copenhagen defender-turned-midfielder was more composed for the Foxes this time around.
Marc Albrighton – 8 out of 10
Scored his – and Leicester’s – first ever Champions League goal to silence the Jan Breydel Stadium and set his side on their way to a momentous result. A piece of history.
Islam Slimani – 7 out of 10
Showed the athleticism and stamina which prompted Leicester to pay £30m for the former Sporting Lisbon striker but lacked match fitness and subsequently excelled in patches rather than prolonged spells.
Jamie Vardy – 7 out of 10
Galloped at defenders with the same warp-speed pace we have come to expect but nonetheless the former Fleetwood Town striker struggled to make his mark where it mattered.
Leicester yet to sample a true European night
It was billed as the battle of Belgian and English champions and yet unrest among the home supporters meant the Jan Breydel Stadion was littered with empty seats. Some of the fans who did turn up were wearing Leicester shirts. So, in truth, Ranieri and Co. are still waiting for their first real taste of life among the elite. Leicester handled the situation with the required fortitude. The pressure which comes with civic pride on this scale – as Leicestershire fought over sofas and barstools back home – could have made Leicester freeze in the Belgian heat.
Wes Morgan and Robert Huth were magnificent, Danny Drinkwater and Daniel Amartay assured, Jamie Vardy and Islam Slamini menacing. It wasn’t perfect but, against such timid opposition, it didn’t need to be.
Albrighton emerges from the shadows to shine
As he was huddled from one gaggle of journalists to the next in the Bruges mixed zone, Marc Albrighton beamed as he described his opener. Footballers of this generation rarely even stop in such circumstances, keen to get back to their families and hotel rooms. But Albrighton, one of Leicester’s overlooked heroes, took a moment to bask in the glare which some thought would make Leicester wilt on such a big night in their history.
“Scoring felt as good as I had dreamt it,” he grinned. It was fitting for Leicester’s first-ever Champions League goal to fall to Albrighton. Ranieri has signed Bartosz Kapustka and Ahmed Musa this summer but still Albrighton remains. Last night, he etched his name into the Leicester history books forever.
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- Leicester City
- Club Brugge
- Champions League
- Claudio Ranieri
- Marc Albrighton
- Riyad Mahrez