Leicester City fans have had some notbable centre-forwards to worship down the years – from Frank Worthington to Gary Lineker to Jamie Vardy – but surely no Foxes hero has made the immediate impact of Islam Slimani, their club-record signing and hero of the hour against Porto on Tuesday.
The Algerian striker scored twice on his home debut in the Premier League but he eclipsed that with the only goal of his new club’s first UEFA Champions League home fixture. With it the tournament newcomers made it two wins from two in Group G and Slimani assured himself instant cult status – his name was sung as loudly as any Leicester player’s and he left the field to a standing ovation.
For Porto’s players and 1,500 visiting fans, it was an unhappy case of deja vu – the former Sporting CP striker’s sixth goal against them in 2016. “It’s a team I do well against,” Slimani said, with a touch of understatement.
Understanding with Mahrez
On this evidence, Slimani’s powerful 25th-minute header may soon become a recurring motif in these parts. All three of his goals for Leicester have been headers and his understanding with Riyad Mahrez, supplier of the brilliant cross on Tuesday, looks likely to prove highly fruitful, as Slimani acknowledged afterwards.
“He’s a player I know well; we play together in the national team and I’ve played with him for three years now,” Slimani said. “He knows my strengths and I know his. It’s a good thing for Leicester.”
The pair could be seen chatting away with another Algerian international, Porto’s Yacine Brahimi, both before and after the game. That closeness off the pitch is replicated on it, as Marc Albrighton, the team’s other winger, acknowledged.
“He just loves the ball being put in the box and Riyad tonight has put a beauty in there and it is right on his head,” he said. “Riyad knows he is going to be there and Islam knows Riyad is going to put it there. He has done fantastic to come in and settle straight away.”
Albrighton had an impressive evening too and reflected afterwards on the way Leicester succeeded in upsetting Porto in the first half with their high-tempo football and a stream of balls into the box. “We got in their faces early on, we didn’t let them settle on the ball and we got the goal at a good time.”
The second half, when they escaped a late scare with Jesús Corona hitting a post, showed another of Leicester’s strengths: that ability to dig in together for a result. “We knew they were going to come at us late on and chuck everything at it,” added Albrighton, “but we stood firm and kept our clean sheet intact.
“We know we’ve got four tough games coming up but we couldn’t have got off to a better start – two wins and two clean sheets – and it’s a great base to build on.”