Leicester City‘s Champions League debut was a roaring success. A comfortable 3-0 win in Bruges was the perfect start to the latest chapter in the club’s fairytale, putting them top of Group G. Their next challenge is against two-time winners of the competition, Porto.
The Dragões ended up comfortably seeing off Roma to make it through to the group stage, but got off on the wrong foot in the tournament proper with a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to København. They are third in the Primeira Liga, three points behind leaders Benfica, but thus far their domestic form has been adequate.
The Portuguese giants have a terrible record in England, losing every single one of their sixteen away games in the country. Most recently, they lost 2-0 against Chelsea in last season’s group stage. New manager Nuno, who was an unused substitute when Porto were beaten 5-0 away to Arsenal in the Last 16 of the 2009-10 competition, has spoken of his desire to end this barren run:
“These moments are like records – they are there to break. The Premier League is one of most competitive leagues in the world with very good squads and fantastic teams, what Leicester did is remarkable and we must respect it.”
Porto’s squad contains just three players over the age of 30: ex-Real Madrid hero Iker Casillas, winger Silvestre Varela and Uruguayan right-back Maxi Pereira. The current crop of young talent—presumably ready to be sold off for huge profits at some point—with 19-year-old midfield sensation, Rúben Neves, the pick of the bunch. Atlético Madrid loanee Óliver Torres will be looking to impress his parent club on the biggest stage of all if he is picked; the young midfielder will have to be marked closely by one of Daniel Amartey and Danny Drinkwater.
The defence has leaked goals on occasion this season, but Nuno has a number of talented individuals at his disposal. The key now is getting the likes of Felipe, Pereira, Alex Telles, Miguel Layún and Iván Marcano to defend well as a unit. Nevertheless, Leicester’s attackers should have their work cut out going forward.
The Foxes have been inconsistent in the Premier League thus far. They have struggled to replicate the championship-winning form of last season, but a European adventure will seem much more enticing at this point. The draw was kind to them, so they should be looking to go far in this competition, which will rely on the defence playing to the best of its ability and the whole team not getting overawed by the occasion.
Striker Islam Slimani, who was signed from Porto’s rivals Sporting, will be looking to torment his former rivals should he start. The 28-year-old has scored five times in his last three games against this particular opposition. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, heroes of last season, have an opportunity to add top performances against pretty strong opposition in Europe’s premier competition to their CVs.
Should Leicester win this match, they will go five points clear of Porto, who were expected to be their main rivals in this group, and at least two points clear of the other two teams in their group, København and Club Brugge. They will have to improve greatly on their showing at Old Trafford at the weekend if they are to take this huge step towards progressing to the next round.
Since they are at home, Leicester should look to take the game to the opposition. Claudio Ranieri has stuck to his preferred 4-4-2 formation so far this season, playing Amartey alongside Drinkwater in the centre for the last few games. Porto’s impressive midfield means that these two will be busy, so Andy King should be kept waiting in the wings if the two-man central midfield starts to be overrun, allowing the Foxes to switch to a 4-3-3.
Should Nuno choose to play a narrow game, the width of Mahrez and Marc Albrighton will be needed to play the strikers in. Vardy must use his ability to make runs in behind the defenders to perfection, as the likes of Felipe and Marcano are strong in the air and should be able to deal with crosses even with the height of Slimani factored in.
This will be the first time the King Power Stadium has hosted a Champions League match, but there will be no time for sentiment as the home side look to top their group.