Leicester require at least a draw at home to Club Brugge in their penultimate UEFA Champions League group match on Tuesday in order to book their place in the Round of 16. The defending Premier League champions will top the group with one game to spare if they take all three points against the Belgians and group rivals FC Porto fail to win at Parken against FC Copenhagen. Those circumstances would also provide a little more history for Ranieri’s Leicester, as they would become the first Champions League newcomers since Málaga in 2012/13 to win their group.
Victories for both Leicester and Porto however would mean the final group match between the two sides will decide top spot in Group G, with the Foxes travelling to the Estadio do Dragao to face off against the Portuguese club.
Leicester’s European conquests have proved an anomaly to their stuttering domestic form. Saturday’s 2-1 Premier League defeat at Watford has left the Foxes a mere two points above the drop zone with six losses already this season, twice the amount they managed during the entirety of last season.
The Foxes have however looked right at home in the Champions League, and became the first team in the competition’s history to keep a clean sheet in each of their opening four game, taking ten points from a possible 12 in the process. Leicester’s two home games in the Champions League so far have both culminated in 1-0 shut-outs, with Algeria international duo Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani involved in both goals in both games, Mahrez the provider for Slimani in the win over Porto, and vice versa in the home clash with Danish champions Copenhagen.
Despite a better run domestically with seven points from an available 12 in their previous four games in the Belgian Pro League, Club Brugge are winless in their last nine games against English opposition in all competitions (D2 L7), without keeping a clean sheet in any of them. Their only previous encounters with English clubs in is competition, both in the current format and the old European Cup, both culminated in losses, a 0-1 defeat against Liverpool in the 1978 European Cup final and of course a 0-3 against Leicester City in the opening round of fixtures in this season’s competition.
The Belgian club are also on a run of keeping just one clean sheet in their last 13 Champions League games, and have managed a mere three goals in their last ten in the competition.
With an extensive injury list for hosts Leicester, Ron-Robert Zieler is set to deputise Kasper Schmeichel in goal, whilst Andy King is the favourite to partner Danny Drinkwater in centre-midfield. Ahmed Musa is set to start on the left of midfield, and with Islam Slimani looking like being out, Shinji Okazaki should be the man to feature up front alongside Jamie Vardy, who is yet to score in the competition this season.
Club Brugge have a lesser list of absentees to contend with, but do have absentees nonetheless. Michel Preud’homme is expected to deploy a 3-4-2-1 for this match-up, with a familiar face in English football featuring as the lone striker; former Middlesbrough and Burnley forward Jelle Vossen.
Former Ajax man Stefano Denswil should start in defence for the Belgians, with the internationally capped Timmy Simons in the heart of the three-man defence. Creative midfielder Claudemir is expected to start, with Hans Vanaken and Felipe Gedoz providing the creative presence behind Vossen. Ricardo Van Rhijn, also ex-Ajax, and José Izquierdo, should be the men to provide the width for the visitors.
Leicester City predicted starting XI Club Brugge KV predicted starting XI
£30million record signing Islam Slimani looks set to miss out for Leicester with a groin problem which also saw him sit out Saturday’s defeat at Watford in the league. Kasper Schmeichel is still missing thanks to the fractured hand he sustained in Leicester’s 0-0 draw in Copenhagen on Matchday Four, whilst Nampalys Mendy and Ben Chilwell are both out for Claudio Ranieri’s team with ankle complaints.
An accumulation of bookings sees Ruud Vormer suspended for visitors Brugge, whilst Lior Refaelov and Abdoulaye Diaby are both doubtful. Bjorn Engels returns to training following injury but is expected to miss out.
Leicester are yet to rubber-stamp their place in the first knockout round of this year’s Champions League, but they can smell the Round of 16 and a victory will see them through and likely all but see them progress as group winners. The Foxes ran out comfortable 3-0 winners in Belgium in the first meeting between the sides, and are thus heavy favourites coming into Matchday Five.
Club Bruges have lost all four of their Champions League fixtures this season, and they are in need of a win to boost their chances of clinching third place and the consolation of a Europa League spot. The Foxes have however only lost twice at home in all competitions this season, and with a record so imperious, this should prove a straightforward victory, though Brugge have improved since Matchday One and should keep the scoreline more respectable. Our call is Leicester City 2-0 Club Brugge.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Alex Hannam.