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.
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.