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Thursday 29 September 2016

Euro-friendly Foxes catch Brugge cold

Riyad Mahrez. Photo: Reuters
Riyad Mahrez. Photo: Reuters

After Leicester lifted the most unlikely of unlikely Premier League titles from under the noses of the elite, much was made of how smart Claudio Ranieri was to do very little.

Taking over from Nigel Pearson, he recognised very quickly that he had every element of a good team in place and after a few half-hearted attempts to change things, he decided to leave well enough alone.

With a slapstick combination of humour and eccentric English, he deflected pressure but tinkered not at all while his player kept winning 1-0.

Now he's in his natural element in European football and can bring all his experience into play with players mostly new to the environment. It worked nicely in Belgium last night.

After the worst start to the season imaginable and a great deal of head-wagging from pundits who predicted a bad second album from Ranieiri's band of brothers without the man who set the rhythm, N'Golo Kante, Ranieri set out on an another adventure in Brugge and this one could match last season's for the sheer improbability of it all.

Ranieri took his underdog tour on the road, battered Brugge 3-0 with goals from Marc Albrighton, Riyad Mahrez (2) and left with a precious three away Champions League points from Leicester's first ever game in the competition.

His team may have fulfilled all the stereotypical requirements of a surprise winner defending a title during the open blows of the new Premier League season but they have the Champions League cracked and can already think about the knockout phase.

The simplicity of Leicester's approach remains the same and if clubs in the Premier League have had a year to analyse and find ways to beat them, Brugge were caught cold by the vicious counter-attack and intense physical commitment which won them the title.

Kante may be gone but Ranieiri has subbed in a £6m Ghanaian, Daniel Amartey, who has a way to go to match the French international but looks the real deal. Mahrez might have gone too but he didn't and is still the creative spark which could take the Foxes a long, long way in this competition.

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