Mahrez fires Leicester to win on Champions League bow
Riyad Mahrez scored in each half as Leicester City enjoyed a dream debut in the Champions League on Wednesday, cruising to a 3-0 win over Club Brugge in Belgium.
Voted England’s player of the year for his role in Leicester’s remarkable Premier League title triumph last season, it was appropriate that the Algerian winger should be so central to their victory in this Group G clash.
However, it was Marc Albrighton who opened the scoring inside five minutes at the Jan Breydelstadion before Mahrez whipped in a wonderful free-kick just before the half-hour.
He then converted a 61st-minute penalty to seal a perfect night for Claudio Ranieri’s side, who are already top of the section after Porto and FC Copenhagen drew 1-1 in the other game.
Much tougher tests surely await for the Foxes, but this was an accomplished, clinical performance in their first European outing since losing to Red Star Belgrade in the UEFA Cup first round in 2000.
Ranieri handed a debut to Algerian club record signing Islam Slimani and also brought in another summer recruit, Luis Hernandez starting at right-back with Danny Simpson declared unfit.
This, though, was largely the Leicester team that won the Premier League against all the odds.
Their new status manifestly failed to impress the locals, with empty seats dotted all around the Jan Breydelstadion, but the Foxes will not care about being considered unfashionable in Belgium.
They may have had a poor start to their domestic title defence but Club Brugge have also been struggling for form and there was a yawning gulf in class between the sides.
The hosts should have been in front inside three minutes, but rapid Colombian winger Jose Izquierdo dragged his shot wide after a Hans Vanaken pass sent him clean through on goal, and Leicester made them pay by seizing the lead just two minutes later.
A Hernandez long throw from the right caused chaos in the penalty box, with Club Brugge goalkeeper Ludovic Butelle racing out only to miscue his punch, and the ball was flicked on by Hans Vanaken for Albrighton to convert into the empty net.
– Delirious –
With their team in front so soon into their first ever Champions League game, it was little wonder the Leicester fans in two corners of the stadium were delirious.
Now Ranieri’s side were able to play to their strengths on the counter-attack, and the Club Brugge defence could not cope with the searing pace of Jamie Vardy.
The England striker provoked a free-kick on the edge of the penalty box when he was chopped down by the hosts’ 39-year-old captain Timmy Simons, who was booked.
Mahrez stepped up to curl a tremendous left-foot strike into the top-left corner of the net with Butelle helpless.
The quarter of an hour between that stunning strike and the half-time whistle could have brought more goals for the English side, but Mahrez curled another effort just wide after a one-two with Slimani just outside the box.
Danny Drinkwater then forced Butelle to tip over from a 35-yard left-foot volley and Vardy ran through to test the French goalkeeper with the interval approaching.
Goal number three duly arrived just after the hour mark, Mahrez making no mistake from 12 yards after Vardy had once again burst into the box only to be brought down by the outrushing, hapless Butelle.
“We’re just too good for you”, was the chant from the away supporters, before Izquierdo struck the post as the Belgian champions pushed for a consolation goal.
Leicester could have won by more, though, Robert Huth heading just wide from an Albrighton corner late on.