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Leicester keep fairy-tale alive with 3-0 UCL victory over Club Brugge
It is a long-standing tradition for Club Brugge fans to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” before each home match, but for Champions League visitors Leicester City, the tune must have been a sour reminder of their 4-1 thrashing by Liverpool at the weekend. The Foxes have endured a patchy start to their Premier League title defense and their title odds were slashed in thirds by the bookies after the side was thrashed so ruthlessly by Liverpool.
Just when the stardust from their magical 2015/16 campaign seemed to be wearing off, however, Leicester’s cast of heroes rediscovered their swagger to defeat Club Brugge 3-1 in their first-ever Champions League outing.
“I said to the players when you hear the Champions League music it charges the battery and makes you fight,” said manager Claudio Ranieri, per Leicester’s official website.
For a squad that famously contains former non-league players, Leicester handled the jump to the European stage with surprising maturity and confidence. Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez shared the spoils at the Jan Breydel Stadium in Belgium and for only the second time in six competitive fixtures this season, Leicester’s backline kept a clean sheet.
It was as if Ranieri’s men were venting their pent-up frustrations from recent weeks and they couldn’t have envisaged a less stressful opening to their Champions League campaign.
Jose Izquierdo’s pace and trickery was cause for concern down Leicester’s left wing the whole night, but couldn’t find the target when he snuck his way in behind the lines — missing a good opportunity early on.
Leicester then took the lead after just five minutes as Marc Albrighton converted a long throw-in at the far post. Club Burgge keeper Ludovic Butelle had jumped up to punch the ball away at the near post, but it was headed on by one of his own defenders for Albrighton to poke home.
Leicester never looked back, with Mahrez curling a beautiful free-kick into the top corner to double their lead on the half-hour mark and converting a second-half penalty to seal the victory.
Vardy had intercepted a weak lateral pass and turned on the afterburners to burst in between Club Brugge’s centerbacks to win the penalty. He drew Butelle off his line with a long touch but got there in time to poke the ball to the side and go clattering down with the keeper. Butelle gave the referee a dull look of bemusement before hauling Vardy off the ground, knowing he had been outsmarted.
“It was an important win for us after the Liverpool defeat. We scored very early and that gave us more confidence during all the match,” Ranieri said.
“After this, we were more calm and we could play our own match. Brugge had control of the ball and moved it well, but we had control of the match and that was good for us. Maybe at the beginning we surprised them.”
Izquierdo came close again in the dying minutes of the match, but he could only find the post after selling Wes Morgan with a neat fake down the left, cutting into the middle and drilling a low effort across goal.
Leicester’s fairytale, it seems, still has some life yet.
Homepage photo credit: Ronnie Macdonald [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr