Can Leicester Go Far In The Champions League?
October 17, 2016
Many Leicester City fans will still feel there are vicariously living their remarkable Premier League success through a hazy dream, but the Foxes have once again defied the bookmakers – only this time on the European stage.
Claudio Ranieri’s team sit proudly at the top of Group G with maximum points from their opening two encounters and are the only British entrant amongst Europe’s elite to achieve such a feat. They also remain one of only four teams in the competition yet to concede a goal.
Whilst their league form has been mediocre at best, the Walkers Stadium outfit have saved their finest performances for the Holy Grail that is the Champions League. Typified by resilience, fuelled by boundless energy and fused by the spirit of the underdog – all fundamental elements of last season’s unforgettable chapter.
A classic away performance in Belgium saw the Foxes pick off Club Brugge KV in the club’s inaugural Champions League outing by three goals to nil. This was arguably Leicester’s most emphatic display of the campaign to date, although they were generously assisted by some catastrophic defending from the reigning Belgian Champions.
Nevertheless, three points on the road in Europe are never the proverbial ‘walk in the park’ and this resounding victory gave Leicester a platform to build on, as well as the belief that they can compete at this level.
Following this up with another maximum haul at home to FC Porto was met with another degree of surprise as this titanic tussle followed just days after the Foxes had been annihilated 4-1 at Old Trafford. However, Ranieri once again inspired his men to rediscover their momentum and more importantly their intensity as their supporters immersed themselves in the magical atmosphere created by the spine-tingling Champions League anthem which reverberated around the Walkers Stadium prior to kick-off.
Shades of last season were evident all over again. The sensation that something miraculous was appearing before your very eyes as the home side attacked without fear and defended heroically like they were in the dying moments of a cup final.
Sometimes it is just meant to be. It was written in the stars for club record signing Islam Slimani to ruthlessly head home the winner and continue his exceptional record against Porto – as a Sporting Lisbon player, “the Dragon Slayer” netted six in six against their perpetual title rivals. It was the judgement of fate and fortune to favour the brave as Leicester survived a late onslaught against a team that have tasted the pinnacle of European glory on two occasions.
With three defeats in their opening seven league games, the Foxes have suffered as many losses as they did over the course of their entire title-winning campaign. Leicester seem uncomfortable now that they are being targeted as a prized scalp and this unease has been demonstrated with some apathetic defensive showings – Leicester have conceded four goals in a game on three occasions in 2016/17; in contrast, last season they conceded more than twice in a match only once.
It seems that the thrill has disappeared on a domestic scale, but the Foxes remain an unknown quantity on this elevated podium compared to the colossal names that are associated with this illustrious competition. This ‘little guy’ status suits Leicester down to the ground and will no doubt be a key motive behind them going deep in the club’s first ever European adventure.
Group G’s two unbeaten teams face off on Tuesday when FC Copenhagen travel to England to take on Ranieri’s side. If the home side can emerge with another three points, it will take a significant capitulation for them not to qualify for the last 16, which in itself would be another stunning achievement. Leicester have now gone a whole year unbeaten at home in the Premier League and will have high hopes of making it nine points from nine after the visit of Denmark’s leading club.
Their odds of Leicester winning the tournament have already dropped to 40/1 with bwin – ahead of the likes of Tottenham and Sevilla. They overcame odds of 5000/1 last season to conquer England’s top-flight, but lifting the iconic Champions League trophy would make even that extraordinary triumph seem ordinary.
Dependent on a kind draw in the round of 16, Leicester definitely have a chance of making the quarter-finals which is incongruous given they were knocking on the trapdoor of relegation just 18 months ago.
The Foxes may not see the top level of European football for quite some time after this season is over, but while it does the masses will be captivated and the enchantment will still loiter. Let’s just enjoy it while it lasts, but write them off at your peril. After all, stranger things have happened.