For all their domestic strife this season, defending Premier League champions Leicester City have looked right at home amongst Europe’s elite in their debut season of the UEFA Champions League. Claudio Ranieri’s men have all but secured qualification from Group G and are guaranteed to top the group, but will nonetheless look to end their first ever Champions League group stage campaign unbeaten as they travel to second-placed Porto on Wednesday.
The Portuguese side are in a strong position to reach the Round of 16 but aren’t home and dry yet. They lie two points ahead of FC Copenhagen in third place going into Match-Day Six against Leicester, but have an inferior head-to-head record against the Danes. A win for Porto would be enough to progress under any circumstances, but if the Portuguese do slip up against the Foxes, they must hope that Copenhagen do not win their game away at Club Brugge, a side that the Danish champions have already dispatched 4-0 at Parken this season.
Leicester’s Champions League campaign has been something of an anomaly this season, and the only competition in which they’ve truly replicated last season’s title-winning form. They have four wins and one draw from their five Group G matches (W2 against Club Brugge, W1 and D1 against Copenhagen and W1 against Wednesday’s opponents Porto) having only conceded one goal, and are guaranteed to progress as group winners.
Their domestic form however has been less encouraging. The Foxes are winless in their last five in the league (D2, L3) and have only taken 13 points from their opening 14 league games, the worst start to a season made by a defending champion in Premier League history. They can take heart from their excellent form in Europe however, and with the Champions League already looking to be Ranieri and Leicester’s priority, they are likely to give a better account of themselves here as they look to carry some momentum into the Round of 16.
Porto’s Champions League form has been somewhat more rocky. They have already succumbed to defeat against tournament debutantes Leicester at the King Power, and have only picked up wins in Group G against minnows Club Brugge. Two draws against third-placed Copenhagen hasn’t helped their cause, but their one defeat so far leaves them two ahead of the Danes on eight points going into their game against the Foxes. All in all, not a bad run of form.
Domestically, they aren’t in bad shape but have found wins a little hard to come by of late. They currently sit third in the Primeira Liga Nos, and Saturday’s 1-0 victory over local rivals SC Braga was their first win in four, following draws against Vitoria Setúbal, title rivals Benfica, and Belenenses.
Miguel Layún has proved his fitness since returning from injury having featured in Saturday’s win over Braga for the hosts, and he is expected to continue at left-back in place of Alex Telles. Rui Pedro, the 18-year-old who scored a debut winner against the same opponents is expected to start on the bench, whilst Felipe and André Silva are both expected to feature despite being a booking away from suspension. Porto need victory to guarantee qualification and are expected to go all out for it. 20-year-old Diogo Jota is expected to partner Silva in attack, with danger men Óliver Torres, Jesús Corona and Otávio in behind them.
Iker Casillas and Maxi Pereira will be the seasoned veterans and familiar faces in the Porto side, having graced top-level European and international football for many years.
With Leicester already through as group winners, it is likely that Claudio Ranieri will tinker with the side that will face the Portuguese on Wednesday. Robert Huth and Islam Slimani are both one booking away from suspension, and it is likely that they will be rested to avoid any risk of them missing the first-leg of the Round of 16. Luis Hernandez is therefore expected to step into central defence, with Danny Simpson keeping his place at right-back.
Despite serving a three-match Premier League ban, Danny Drinkwater is available for selection in Europe and should return to the Leicester team for the trip to the Estadio do Dragao. Nampalys Mendy is now fit, having been an unused substitute in the Foxes’ defeat by Sunderland on Saturday, and may be the defensive midfield player to partner Drinkwater in what would be his first appearance since August.
Kasper Schmeichel is nearing a return but this game should be a little too soon for the Dane, so Ron-Robert Zieler should continue in goal. Riyad Mahrez is expected to feature out wide with Ahmed Musa on the opposite flank, with Jamie Vardy and in-form Shinji Okazaki the preferred partnership up front.
FC Porto predicted starting XI Leicester City predicted starting XI
Porto boss Nuno Espirito Santo has no fresh injury concerns ahead of Leicester’s visit to Estadio do Dragao, with centre-midfielder Rúben Neves the only doubt.
Kasper Schmeichel is expected to sit this one out as he finalises his recovery from a broken hand, whereas defender Ben Chilwell is a confirmed absentee.
Hosts Porto must beat the Foxes to be certain of qualification for the knockout stages. Even a draw will not be enough, as they will risk being leapfrogged by Group G rivals FC Copenhagen, who have a superior head-to-head record and face a trip to bottom club, Club Brugge. The ‘Dragons’ are struggling for goals at the moment however, Rui Pedro’s stoppage-time winner against Braga over the weekend was only their third goal in six outings in all competitions, and their only win in their previous four domestic matches.
Leicester’s safe passage into the last 16 as group winners will mean little interest in the outcome of the match, and with their league form a priority after a disastrous start to their Premier League title defence, their focus for now must be turning around their domestic form to avoid being pulled into the relegation mire. Changes therefore are expected to be made by Ranieri which may transpire in favour of Nuno Espirito Santo’s side.
Porto also hold a strong home record against English opposition, having lost just three in 16 at the Estadio do Dragao against Premier League clubs. Espirito Santo will hope that run can continue here for the hosts to guarantee a knockout berth. With all that in mind, Porto should just edge it. Our call is FC Porto 2- 1 Leicester City.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Alex Hannam.