Mahrez rediscovers his spark whilst Ranieri cracks Kanté caper
Riyad Mahrez’s dip in form going into the season may well have had some bearing on Leicester’s indifferent start to the season, though any doubters over whether Mahrez was a spectacular one-season wonder were silenced by his display in Belgium. The Algerian has been a livewire for the Foxes and gotten slightly better with each game this season despite the team’s disappointing run of form, but he was very much back with a bang on Wednesday night.
He scored an exquisite free-kick for his country during the international break and duly did the same for his club on their Champions League bow in Brugge. It was imperative that the club retained its big players after the heroics of 2015/16, and two of the most vital in Mahrez and Jamie Vardy lit up the stage in Belgium and much of the victory is owed to them, Vardy winning both the free-kick and the penalty from which Mahrez scored.
The one star man from last year that Leicester couldn’t cling onto was of course N’Golo Kanté, who got his big money move to Chelsea. Ranieri’s ready-made replacement in the same mould as Kanté in former Nice man Nampalys Mendy has had rotten luck with injury so far this season, and so the work rate, breaking up of play and eye for a pass of the hard-working French international has been very much missed in the middle of the park for the Foxes during their stuttering start to the domestic season.
In Brugge however, Ranieri looked to have cracked the conundrum with the way he set up centre-midfield partners Danny Drinkwater and Daniel Amartey. Without the one man to cover all the ground, the Italian manager had the two midfielders almost double up on the player in possession to narrow the space for passes in behind the midfield and close down the space. The clever positioning of the two central men ensured that it didn’t leave too much space elsewhere for runners whilst the Foxes could close down the hosts and win possession back easily. Whether it will work against better quality players in Europe and indeed the Premier League remains to be seen, but it is positive signs for Ranieri who made his previous experience in the competition count in his tactics. His influence will of course have been vital in calming any early Leicester nerves, and they looked hardly rattled by the occasion.
Despite Leicester’s siege mentality of “go for it with nothing to lose”, the very aura of the competition and the tournament could have easily affected the Foxes and Ranieri did well to prevent that. That influence will no doubt prove vital in the games to come, where facing the opposition will of course be a more daunting prospect.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Ian Johnson.