Friday 9 December 2016

Mahrez gets Foxes off to a flier

Club Brugge 0 Leicester 3

Mark Ogden

Published 15/09/2016 | 02:30

Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City celebrates with team-mates Wes Morgan and Danny Drinkwater. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City celebrates with team-mates Wes Morgan and Danny Drinkwater. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

It was not supposed to be this easy for Leicester City in the Champions League, but as debuts go, Claudio Ranieri's team could not have been more emphatic, impressive and at ease on the biggest stage as they dispatched Club Brugge with brutal efficiency.

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Easy? Leicester made it easy, overcoming an early scare against the Belgian champions to produce the kind of performance which carried the club to the Premier League title last season.

Leicester City's Leonardo Ulloa in action with Club Brugge's Laurens De Bock. Photo: Eric Vidal/Reuters
Leicester City's Leonardo Ulloa in action with Club Brugge's Laurens De Bock. Photo: Eric Vidal/Reuters

With Riyad Mahrez scoring twice following Marc Albrighton's fifth-minute opener, Leicester dismantled Brugge with a solid defence, composed midfield and the usual rapier-like speed on the counter attack through Jamie Vardy.

The Champions League will provide much sterner tests than Michel Preud'homme's limited team - FC Porto will bring streetwise European experience to the King Power Stadium in a fortnight - but Leicester announced themselves as worthy competitors and they will now fancy themselves to progress from Group G.

Leicester captain Wes Morgan admitted prior to the game that Champions League nights, until now, meant a 'trip round to my mates' house' to watch the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in Europe's premier competition.

There was a sense of innocence, a refreshing naivety, about Leicester taking their first steps in the Champions League and their supporters certainly made the most of a sun-drenched afternoon in one of Europe's most picturesque cities, mixing with locals, having photographs taken with police officers and showing themselves to be the kind of football tourists that England could have done with in France during the summer.

Leicester City's Danny Drinkwater in action with Club Brugge's Timmy Simons. Photo: Eric Vidal/Reuters
Leicester City's Danny Drinkwater in action with Club Brugge's Timmy Simons. Photo: Eric Vidal/Reuters

In truth, it felt like a holiday, an unexpected sojourn, but as Premier League champions, Leicester could not allow the starry-eyed tourist routine to continue out on the pitch.

This was business, the serious business of the Champions League, and it was perhaps the perfect wake-up call for Ranieri's players to see Jose Izquierdo miss a clear chance for Brugge inside the first three minutes.

Released by Hans Vanaken's through-ball, Izquierdo escaped Morgan and broke to the edge of the penalty area before wastefully shooting wide of Kasper Schmeichel's left-hand post.

It was a bad miss, but it made Leicester realise quickly that Europe is a different environment to the Premier League and that pace and movement are particularly potent at this level - even against a team languishing in mid-table in the Belgian Jupiler League.

Ranieri, embarking on his sixth Champions League campaign with his sixth different club, could sniff the danger and he was out in the technical area, urging his players to focus their minds.

Response

And the Italian was rewarded with an instant response. Islam Slimani, the £29.8m club record signing making his debut, won a throw-in with tenacity and desire and, from Luis Hernandez's long throw, Albrighton gave Leicester the lead on five minutes.

A lack of communication between Vanaken and goalkeeper Ludovic Butelle led to the midfielder heading the ball out of his keeper's grasp, allowing Albrighton to burst into the six-yard box and the bundle it into the net.

Moments after almost falling behind, Leicester had grabbed the lead and it was the perfect start and one which silenced a previously noisy Jan Breydel Stadion.

Any nerves Leicester may have had evaporated and Ranieri's players began to dominate, with Danny Drinkwater and Daniel Amartey controlling the midfield.

Vardy had a powerful run blocked by Ruud Vormer and Morgan headed an Albrighton cross over the bar before Mahrez made it 2-0 on 29 minutes with a gem of a free-kick. Vardy's pace won the set-piece, with the England forward's run being brought to an unceremonious end by Brugge captain Timmy Simons on the edge of the box.

Simons was booked, but more painful punishment was to come, with Mahrez floating a left-foot shot over the wall and into the far corner.

Leicester were now in cruise control and Drinkwater almost made it 3-0 before half-time with a dipping left-foot volley from 30 yards.

Trailing 2-0, Brugge were now at risk of suffering the same kind of heavy defeat as Manchester United inflicted when winning 4-0 here in the qualifiers last season.

Slimani bullied their back four - shoving Bjorn Engels to the ground and appeared to cause the defender to dislocate his shoulder - and caused panic whenever he ran at them, but it was Vardy's direct running which ultimately led to Leicester's third.

After racing past two defenders, Vardy was brought down by the on-rushing Butelle on the penalty spot. Butelle could have seen red, with Greek referee Tasos Sidiropoulos opting to be lenient with a yellow, but further punishment was inflicted when Mahrez sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot.

Game over and points won. It will not always be so straightforward for Leicester, but what a way to announce themselves in the Champions League. (© Independent News Service)

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