NEWS

Leicester City close in on Champions League knock-out stages

October 19, 2016

If last year's extraordinary Premier League-winning triumph was one of sport's great stories, it seems Leicester City are creating another this year in the Champions League.

The Foxes are on the brink of qualifying for the knock-out stages after making it three wins from three so far in the group stages.

Following the 3-0 win away to Club Brugge in the opening game and the 1-0 victory at home to two-time European champions Porto at the King Power Stadium, FC Copenhagen were the latest opponents to come to the East Midlands.

Having rested key players for the previous weekend's game away to Chelsea, head coach Claudio Ranieri was hoping for a big performance from his key men, and once more they delivered.

While Wes Morgan was solid at the back and Danny Drinkwater produced another fine midfield display, Jamie Vardy ran himself into the ground as he tirelessly worked to create openings. Ultimately, it was his cross that was headed back across goal by Islam Slimani and deftly volleyed in by Riyad Mahrez after 40 minutes for what turned out to be the only goal of the game.

Having set themselves up to organise and defend doggedly, the Danes now had to come out and attack. But the ability of Leicester to defend and counter-attack that made history last year carried them through. Slimani would have had a second had he not just strayed offside, forcing the ball over the line after his own shot had rebounded from the crossbar. However, it was a brilliant late save by Kasper Schmeichel that denied his compatriots a late equaliser and ensured a third successive clean sheet to go with the flawless points haul.

Fans booking corporate hospitality for upcoming home games can expect plenty more European football at the King Power Stadium. Claudio Ranieri's men are just a win away from qualification, and while that may come in the Danish capital next month, fans will be excited about the visit of Club Brugge on November 22nd. The Belgians may not be one of Europe's top sides just now, but their pedigree includes being European Cup finalists in 1978 and a win over them will guarantee the Foxes a second-round place.

In addition, should a win against Brugge be coupled with another away win in Copenhagen or Porto, Leicester will top the group and face the runner-up from one of the other groups in the second round. As they cannot face an English club at that stage, it could mean a visit by a big-name side such as Paris St Germain, Benfica, Monaco, Dynamo Kiev, Atletico Madrid, Juventus or Borussia Dortmund.

Of course, there will soon be a hiatus before the knock-out stages resume, and with it a chance for Leicester to focus more on the Premier League and pick up their form. It also means an exciting list of big home games to come, with the visits of Manchester City in December, Chelsea in January, Manchester United and Liverpool in February and Tottenham in April.

By Keith Prowse

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