Leicester City ease to victory over Club Brugge on Champions League debut

Riyad Mahrez scored with a superb free-kick and a penalty as Leicester City beat Club Brugge 3-0 away on their Champions League debut

As first experiences of the Champions League go, Leicester City are probably entitled to wonder whether it is always this straightforward. It is not, as they will no doubt discover later in the competition, but this was a hugely satisfying way to start their European excursions and a reassuring way to discover there is no reason to be apprehensive about taking their place at the top table.

Not every team will be as generous as Club Brugge but it was still striking to see Claudio Ranieris side rediscovering the form that won the Premier League last season. Tough at the back, penetrative in attack this was more in keeping with the story of the English champions, as opposed to the slightly dishevelled performances that have marked the start of their title defence.

It finished with Leicesters first win in Europe since 1961 when Matt Gilliess team beat Glenavon in the preliminary round of the Cup Winners Cup and, for the current side, it leaves them in a position of strength as they try to add to the statistic that says that, since 2002, only nine out of the 46 teams playing in the Champions League for the first time have qualified for the knockout rounds.

They can certainly be encouraged when Jamie Vardy is worrying defences in this manner. Riyad Mahrez had started the season slowly but his two goals, the first a splendid free-kick, should soothe his confidence. I said to the players that when you hear the Champions League music it charges the battery and makes you fight, Ranieri said. The entire team looked energised, taking control once Marc Albrighton gave them an early lead and never looking like they might hand it back.

Leicester certainly set off like a team in a hurry. Only five minutes had elapsed when Albrighton applied the decisive touch after the Club Brugge goalkeeper, Ludovic Butelle, made a hash of trying to claim the ball in mid-air. Luis Hernndez had hurled in a long throw from the right and Albrighton was loitering at the far post when Hans Vanaken inadvertently flicked the ball into the path of the Leicester player.

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Jamie Vardy is brought down by Ludovic Butelle, leading to a second-half penalty for the visitors. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

It was the kind of goal that demonstrated why the Belgian team had lost three of their opening six fixtures in the Jupiler Pro League and a reminder Leicester had been placed in just about as obliging a group as they could have wished. The evening might have taken a different complexion if Jos Izquierdo had shown more composure when he ran clear inside the opening three minutes. Yet his shot was careless trundling wide, and the same could be said for the rest of the home sides performance.

Leicester looked as if they were enjoying themselves, unfazed by a stadium that had large pockets of empty seats and quickly working out that their opponents were not going to subject them to the same kind of pressure, or even close, that Ranieris men experienced in their previous <a href=”https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/sep/10/liverpool-leicester-city-premier-league-match-report” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>match at Liverpool. Mahrezs free-kick was curled elegantly into the top corner and could be an important goal if it is the catalyst for last seasons Professional Footballers Association player of the year to return to the point of maximum expression. Maybe the music woke him up, Ranieri suggested.

Vardy later described being two ahead before half an hour had been played as the perfect start and by half-time Danny Drinkwater had come close to adding a third with an audacious left-foot volley that was dipping beneath the crossbar until Butelle tipped it over for a corner. The fact that Drinkwater was willing to take on a shot from almost 40 yards seemed to epitomise the teams self-belief.

There were only fleeting moments when Islam Slimani, starting for the first time, showed why Leicester had broken their transfer record to recruit the 29m forward from Sporting Lisbon but the team played with structure and control, and that is always a good starting point in this competition.

It helps as well that they have a striker with the pace and directness of Vardy. It was his running that led to the free-kick for Mahrezs first goal and in the 62nd minute he set off again, picking up speed and darting between the two centre-backs. The sprint took him into the penalty area and Vardy was too quick for the goalkeeper as well, touching the ball past Butelle before being taken down. Mahrez had failed to score with three of his previous four penalties, leaving Ranieri contemplating handing the role to Slimani, but this one was struck with power and was still rising as it hit the net. If he doesnt score I take the neck and crush the neck, Ranieri joked.

Izquierdo did strike the post a few minutes later but the visitors can also reflect on a number of other opportunities in the second half. Robert Huth had two headed chances from corners. Ahmed Musa, a substitute, was lively after taking over from Vardy and Leicester will look back on their first Champions League assignment as a lot of fun.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/sep/14/club-brugge-leicester-city-champions-league-group-g-match-report

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