Leicester beat Brugge 3-0 to pass their first Champions League test with ease
Leicester thrashed Club Brugge 3-0 to kick off their maiden Champions League journey in style. Here are three points about their win.
1. Leicester cruise in first UCL test
This was a brand-new experience for Leicester City, but in so easily handling it, they finally showed signs of their old title-winning side. Claudio Ranieri's team eased what has been a difficult start to the season by getting Leicester's first Champions League campaign off to a fine start with a simple 3-0 win away to Brugge.
Other than a scare through a Jose Izquierdo chance in the third minute, Leicester were simply never troubled. That was greatly helped by the fact they immediately went straight up the other end and scored, with what was an elementary goal. Luis Hernandez played in one of his patented long throws, and it wreaked the havoc expected: Defender Hans Vanaken headed the ball across his own goal before a despairing Ludovic Butelle could get his hands to it. It left Marc Albrighton with an easy close-range finish and the honour of hitting Leicester's first-ever goal in this competition.
After 30 minutes, Riyad Mahrez added to that with a flourish. The Algerian hit a brilliant curling free kick to make it 2-0 after Jamie Vardy had been taken down by Brugge's 39-year-old captain Timmy Simons.
Vardy was taken down again on the hour allowing Mahrez to score again, this time from the penalty spot. A series of errors from the Belgian side on the break finally put the striker one-on-one with Butelle, with the goalkeeper clumsily sticking his leg out to bring Vardy down. Mahrez stepped up and fired the ball down the middle.
It summed up how Brugge repeatedly struggled with Leicester's pace. It also means that Leicester are now much less likely to struggle in this competition. They are England's 10th debutant in the Champions League, with four of those sides having been knocked out in the group stage or before as Everton were eliminated in the 2005-06 preliminaries.
After Wednesday's win, Leicester at least look like bettering the Merseyside club as well as Blackburn Rovers in 1995-96, Arsenal in 1998-99 and Manchester City in 2011-12. They could yet top this group. They've given themselves the best possible start in Europe. The key will be translating this confidence back to the league campaign.
2. Mahrez, Leicester finally hit top form
This was a little more like it from the Foxes as a team, at last, and it was so fitting that one particular player scored two goals to secure the win. It wasn't just that Mahrez finally scored for the first time since their Premier League opening day 2-1 defeat to Hull City. It was the expression he showed in hitting such a brilliant free kick.
One of the things that made Mahrez stand out last season was how he married his imagination with an equal level of execution, but it's not an exaggeration to say it had been largely missing in this campaign to date. It was back tonight as Mahrez radiated assurance again. His cutting edge, and the security of that early goal, also allowed Leicester to just look like themselves again in general.
Other than Wes Morgan rather haphazardly stepping out to present the hosts with their early chance, they were solid at the back, and dealt with almost every Brugge attack very well.
It was actually the perfect template of a 2015-16 Leicester display in that way, as they got their first European win in 55 years. They were comfortable enough to let the Belgian champions have the ball, shuttling them down the flanks any time there was any real danger and then pouncing any time there was an opening. The game was tailor-made for Vardy and Mahrez, but there were also some pleasing touches from new signing Islam Slimani and the mood clearly spread to Danny Drinkwater, who attempted an audacious volley after 40 minutes that went just over.
This was just a pleasing night overall. It remains to be seen whether they have their old verve back and whether this can translate to their domestic form. But they, and especially Mahrez, at least have some of their mojo back.
3. Club Brugge's lack of confidence gets punished
Naturally things could have been so different had Izquierdo scored that early chance. Except that after he'd been put through on goal in what was a rare Leicester slip on the night, he slotted the ball wide.
That early goal wouldn't have just prevented Leicester from playing on the break and also immediately put the pressure on them as has been happening in the Premier League. It would have given Brugge confidence to take the game to them. The Belgians looked like they needed it but once they went behind, they crumbled.
The irony was that Izquierdo was their one real bright spark and he could have had a goal again on 63 minutes when he ended a lovely run inside by hitting the post. The Colombian was at least a constant threat. Other than that, Brugge were really a constant threat to themselves.
By the time Simons tripped Vardy for Leicester's second, they were making significant errors all over the pitch. It got so bad in the second half, as their own mistakes and misplaced passes repeatedly gave the English champions chances, that a third goal was inevitable. Benoit Poulain almost gifted Slimani a goal of his own just before Mahrez hit his second.
Ultimately, Brugge didn't give a good account of themselves to the point that any what-might-have-beens about Izquierdo's opening chance were completely eroded by the end. The only wonder, then, is what it means about the account Leicester gave.
Did Michel Preud'homme's side too readily play into their hands? Did they offer the type of approach that Leicester most enjoy playing against? Was this the English champions really adjusting to the Champions League, or just easily overcoming a poor side.
The next few games will say more. Brugge, however, allowed Leicester to give a fine opening statement. The Belgians look as if they'll be battling with Copenhagen for third place in the group.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.