Leicester continue contrasting form by topping Group G

Premier League champions have looked a different team in Europe and go into last 16 as group winners

Leicester City 2 Club Brugge 1

For Leicester City it was a night to savour even if they made hard work of it in the end. The club that won 2-1 at Scunthorpe eight years ago to the day to go top of League One, in front of 7,967 people at Glanford Park, will be among the select band of teams taking their seats in Nyon next month for the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League.

It is, in short, easy to see why Claudio Ranieri keeps talking about fairytales. Leicester, the 5,000-1 title winners, have secured their place in the knockout stage of Europe's premier club competition with a match to spare and will be among the first seeds after topping their group.

This was a fourth victory in five Champions League games, in contrast to their poor domestic form, yet it was nothing like as comfortable as it should have been. Shinji Okazaki gave Leicester an early lead and when Riyad Mahrez converted from the spot to register his fourth Champions League goal, it looked like being an exercise in damage limitation for Club Brugge.


Instead a wonderful solo goal from José Izquierdo early in the second half changed the complexion of the match and there were some anxious moments for Leicester in the closing stages. They held on and can now look forward to at least another two Champions League games in February and March.

Ranieri had talked up Brugge’s threat the day before, yet both the past and the present suggested Leicester had nothing to worry about here. The Belgian club arrived at the King Power Stadium pointless from their opening four matches in the Champions League and with a record in England that read P12 W0 D2 L10.

The way the game started, it was hard to see things improving for the visitors. There were only five minutes gone when Leicester took the lead and it is no exaggeration to say Ranieri’s side could have had another two goals inside the opening quarter of an hour. Brugge looked woeful defensively and were giving Leicester far too much time and space to move the ball around.

Nevertheless, there was still much to admire about the way Okazaki opened the scoring. It was a counterattack reminiscent of last season as Leicester broke from one end of the pitch to the other in the blink of an eye. Marc Albrighton started the move by pinching possession deep inside his own half and picking out Jamie Vardy on the halfway line. With a neat touch, Vardy offloaded the ball to Christian Fuchs, who made up ground on the left before delivering a low, inviting cross that Okazaki expertly lifted high into the net with a first-time left-footed shot on the run.

It was already clear Brugge were there for the taking. Mahrez turned Laurens de Bock inside out before drilling a low shot that Ludovic Butelle, the Brugge goalkeeper, pushed around his near post. Brugge were an accident waiting to happen at the back. Butelle and De Bock got involved in a mix-up that ended with them needlessly conceding a corner. Moments later Vardy robbed Brandon Mechele, who was half asleep inside his own area, prodded the ball to Fuchs and the Austrian set up Okazaki for a second time, only on this occasion the forward never got any purchase on his shot.

The predictable second goal arrived in the 28th minute after Dion Cools, the Brugge right-back, clumsily brought down Albrighton as the winger darted into the penalty area. Ruddy Buquet, the French referee, will never have an easier decision to make and Mahrez confidently dispatched his penalty kick, sending Butelle the wrong way.

At times it felt more like a training exercise for Leicester as they confidently passed the ball without being put under any pressure. The only danger to Leicester was complacency, although it was questionable whether Brugge had enough about them to punish any mistakes. José Izquierdo did force Ron-Robert Zieler into a flying save with a curling shot shortly before the break but that was a rare Brugge attack.

The second half started rather differently and it was a moment of brilliance from Izquierdo that got Brugge back into the match. Exchanging passes with Jelle Vossen, Izquierdo scampered clear on the right, leaving Fuchs trailing in his wake, cut inside and thumped a rising right-footed shot from just inside the area that flashed inside Zieler’s near post.

It was a fine goal, the first goal that Leicester had conceded in 412 minutes of Champions League football, and suddenly Brugge started to play with the belief that suggested they fancied their chances of scoring another. Anthony Limbombe, a second-half substitute, found himself in a similar position to Izquierdo but was nothing like as deadly and blazed over.

Vardy had a goal disallowed for offside and Jeffrey Schlupp, on for Mahrez, forced Butelle into a save, but there was a vulnerability about Leicester at the other end of the pitch in a frantic finale that also saw Demarai Gray come close to adding a third.

(Guardian service)