After achieving the impossible last season by winning the #Premier League, Leicester City appear to have set their sights on shocking the world again. The Foxes defeated Club Brugge 2-1 at the King Power stadium on Tuesday night to qualify for the #Champions League last 16 with a game to spare. They will go through as winners of Group G.
Tottenham Hotspur meanwhile crashed out following a 2-1 loss in Monaco. Spurs have struggled in the Champions League this season, particularly playing their home games at Wembley. It took a magnificent performance from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to keep the scoreline close and avoid conceding further goals.
Mahrez stars again
Riyad Mahrez was excellent again on Tuesday night. His first-half penalty gave Leicester a 2-0 lead which they would never relinquish. The Premier League champions have amassed 13 points from five Champions League games, conceding just once (to Brugge last night). Remarkably, their points tally in Europe is greater than their domestic total of 12 after 12 games. They are just two points above the Premier League relegation zone.
The form of Mahrez has been symptomatic of the English champions. He has excelled in Europe, netting four times in five games. But his domestic showings have been well short of last season as he has scored only twice in 12. He was named PFA player of the year during the previous campaign thanks to 17 goals and ten assists.
Foxes raise game in Europe
While Leicester undoubtedly benefited from a kind Champions League draw, they have upped their game for European fixtures. Club Brugge, FC Copenhagen and Porto are by no means the top sides in Europe, but Leicester have nonetheless dispatched them with a minimum of fuss. The Foxes are not expected to challenge for the Champions League this season, much like they weren’t expected to lift the Premier League title last season.
But their counter-attacking #Football appears well-suited to the Champions League. Teams such as Atlético Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have reached the final in recent years playing a similar style. The main question is why they are struggling so much domestically.
The Premier League is no longer the goal it was last season. Manager Claudio Ranieri accepted their miraculous triumph could not be repeated, so the team have struggled to raise themselves to the same level. In contrast, the Champions League is a new adventure. They are still the hunters in Europe, the unknown, whereas teams are hunting them domestically given their status as reigning champions.
Kanté-sized hole in midfield
There is of course another big factor in Leicester’s poor Premier League form. When N’Golo Kanté was sold to Chelsea in the summer, the Foxes lost their engine room. As assistant manager Steve Walsh once said about the Frenchman’s workrate in midfield, “we play Drinkwater in the middle and Kanté either side”. Fans were encouraged when they managed to keep hold of key players such as Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, but Kanté was arguably the most important reason behind Leicester’s success last season.
His all-round midfield displays have helped Chelsea to top the Premier League this season. He ranks in the top ten for both passes and tackles made. What’s more, his form this season and last has secured him a regular place in the France national side.
Leicester signed Nampalys Mendy as a replacement for over £13 million from Nice, but injuries have so far restricted him to just the sole Premier League appearance. Fellow signing Ahmed Musa has struggled to add a great deal in attack, while only former Sporting Lisbon striker Islam Slimani could be qualified as a success. He has scored five goals in 11 games to date. Players do take time to get used to the English league, however. Mahrez, who arrived in January 2014, is the prime example.
It may therefore be better to judge Leicester in the Premier League at the end of the season. In the meantime, Foxes fans can enjoy another sporting fairytale in the Champions League.