Champions League Preview by Simon Mack
Leicester City’s European odyssey evolves into quite an adventure.
For City fans the normality of a working week routine was a little different on Thursday. The usuaul commute home or wait for the end of the day to get home to the family was not quite the same, for Leicester City FC were about to enter into the most prestigious Football competition on the planet for the very first time. Thursday 25th August 2016 at exactly 5pm in beautiful Monaco, it was time for the draw to take place for the Group stages of the UEFA Champions League.
The Champions League has long since been the benchmark of World, not just European Football.
The stage that every budding star dreams of playing on, alongside the World’s greatest talents, and for the first time in their 132 year history the boys in Blue would be in the draw.
And not just in the draw, in the group stage draw in Pot 1 with the very biggest of Europe’s grand elder statesmen. And what illustrious company City were keeping, as the balls were drawn would it be Bayern or Barca? Might it be Real Madrid or Leicester City!?
For the Foxes faithful this really was another pinch yourself and blink twice and gaze is awe moment, as the day’s toil ended that little bit early to catch the news of just where and who we’d be matching up against in the greatest of all club competitions.
Bars, pubs, cafes, staffrooms and online chats were bustling with dream and nightmare scenarios, but as ex Milan Midfielder Clarence Seedorf twirled the famous little plastic orbs and made his choice to reveal City’s name, just who would be matching up against the Premier League Champions? And would it be shorts or heavy winter coats for the Foxes faithful as they boarded the plane to see their heroes take on the continent’s elite?
With the predictions, banter and endless possibilities put aside just what did transpire for England’s surprise fairy-tale league champions on a barmy Monte Carlo Summer’s eve?
We take a look at City’s opponents in their first ever foray into the Champions League, and give you some insider tips and local knowledge.
First up Club Brugge of Belgium.
Pro League winners for the 15/16 season, the Belgian champs won 24 of their 30 league matches in their journey to the title scoring 64 goals, and finished 4 points clear of nearest rivals Gent.
The Blue-Black’s are no strangers to the Group stages either featuring 4 times previously, and City fans will be delighted with the short hop over to one of Europe’s most beautiful, historical cities to see their charges take on a side that go straight into the group stages on the back of 2 wins and 2 defeats in the league to date.
FCB skipper Timmy Simons will be looking to marshal the midfield against the bright lights of the midlands, and his huge experience both for Brugge and in his 96 caps for the Belgium national side will help him cover that back line as Mahrez, Vardy and co attempt to unlock the door to the knock out stages. Attacking Midfielder and Iraeli international Lior Refealov is the driving force within the side, and will be a threat to the City back line to look out for.
Brugge’s Jan Breydel Stadium is an older arena with a capacity of just under 30,000. It’s beyond the historic centre in a quiet residential area to the west of the city, and outside of the historic walls. Links from town to the stadium can be made on a 15 minute ride by bus. A ride back might be a little trickier to secure, but if the city have 3 precious away points firmly in the bag no one will mind a fresh stroll back to the beautiful canals and squares to celebrate.
Club Brugge Stats:
Stadium: Jan Breydel . Built 1975 Capacity 29,472
Nickname: The Blue-Black
Key Players: Timmy Simons (mid), Lior Refaelov (fwd)
14 time league champions,
4 Previous UEFA Champions League group appearances
14/15 Season UEFA Europa League quarter finalists
Leicester’s second opponents are Portugal’s Primeira league 3rd place finishers FC Porto.
The ‘Blue and White’s’ came through a 2 legged play off with Italian side Roma to reach the group stages, and with 2 previous victories in Europe’s top competition already under their belt, along with a plethora of group stage appearances (including multiple QFs and a SF to boot) they truly are old hands at travelling the continents flight paths in the hunt for the latter stages. With the fixture dates decided City fans will be heading to Portugal’s second city in December so not quite time for the shorts and City shirt, nonetheless Porto is considered to be a hidden gem off the more beaten tourist track, and fans will surely enjoy a stroll along the river Douro taking a breather to enjoy some of the continents best wines.
The Estadio Do Dragao was completed just prior to Portugal’s hosting of the European Championships in 2004, and with a capacity of 52,000 will see the travelling Blue army taking in the match in good numbers. Situated just to the east of the city the stadium is well connected to the city centre with its own metro station connected to several of the city’s main trunk lines.
Foxes fans might have missed the chance to see Jose Mourinho sprinting along the touch line one arm aloft in victory, however the Portuguese outfit currently sit top of the league, and with Mexican international Hector Herrera as Captain in the middle of the park, former Real Madrid and Spain stalwart Iker Casillas between the posts and Cameroonian Vincent Aboubakar providing the fire power, what’s often touted as the most profitable club in European Football (for its prolific enhance them and sell them on ethos) will be a tough nut to crack for the boys in Blue.
FC Porto Stats:
Stadium: Estadio Do Dragao. Built 2004. Capacity 52,000
Nickname: Dragons / Blue & Whites
Key Players: Hector Herrera (mid), Iker Casillas (gk), Vincent Aboubakar (fwd)
27 time league champions
UEFA Champions League winners 03/04, European Cup winners 86/87
UEFA/Europa League winners 02/03 10/11
City’s 3rd and final group opponents are FC Copenhagen of Denmark.
Superliga champions of the 2015/16 campaign ‘The Boys of the City’ will be warmly received to the King Power Stadium by Foxes Danish stopper Kasper Schmeichel. Former Wimbledon and Norway international midfielder Stale Solbakken is in his second spell as coach of the club, and saw off APOEL of Cyprus in the qualifying stages to see his side picked out to face the English Champions.
Copenhagen have featured in the group stages of the Champions League twice before, failing to progress any further on each occasion, but with up and coming star Thomas Delaney in the middle of the park (a 2 time player of the season) and Paraguayan international Striker Federico Santander providing the fire power they should keep City honest in their quest for group points.
The city of Copenhagen is just an hour and a bit headed northeast by plane, and Foxes fans will be delighted to find themselves in a beautiful city full of pleasant walks, cafes, the famous pastries and even the chance to see the little mermaid of Hans Christian Andersen fame.
The Parken Stadium will provide the travelling faithful with comfortable viewing, set in the Indre Osterbro district of the city, a short ride north of the centre of town, the stadium is also used for Denmark’s national team games, and is very well equipped with a retractable roof if required.
FC Copenhagen Stats:
Stadium: Telia Parken. Built 1992 Capacity 38.065
Nickname: The Boys of the City / The Lions
Key Players: Thomas Delaney (mid), Federico Santander (fwd)
11 time league champions,
2 Previous UEFA Champions League group appearances
Qualified for the group stages beating APOEL of Cyprus in a 2 legged play off
The waiting is over, City Fans have learned the fate of the club, and Seedorf and his fellow European stars seem to have chosen kindly.
On the 14th September at exactly 19:45 gmt at the Jan Breydel Stadium in Brugge Leicester City will participate in the UEFA Champions League for the very first time. City Manager Claudio Renieri has been quick to set the tone for the coming campaign as the excitement builds “it won’t be easy against great champions like Porto, like everyone, I’m curious to see how my players perform.” He said “Once again I say we are underdogs. For this reason we must fight for everything. I want to see my players fight against the best in Europe.”
And you could cut the anticipation with a knife around the city right now, there is just nothing quite like a European Football night, and Ranieri was quick to acknowledge the important role the fans will play ““Last season was wonderful but I want more. Now we are in the Champions League and we have another wonderful opportunity to show our quality. We know we have three tough away games but when we arrive at our stadium that is when I know we can show something special with our supporters behind us.”
Whatever the outcome of those 6 most wonderful fixtures, the Autumn / Winter of 2016 will be an era in the history of Leicester City FC that will be talked about forever more. There is a massive fondness for The Foxes all over Europe, they broke the mould, they shattered the glass ceiling of the ‘big boys’ elite, and there will be many more than just the City Faithful scattered far and wide all over the World willing The Foxes on to greater things than this one City fan even dares to dream.