Leicester City looking to confound the doubters again, as they prepare for debut Champions League campaign.
Leicester City will be hoping to confound the doubters again, as they begin their debut Champions League campaign at the Jan Breydel Stadion tonight, home of the Belgian champions Club Brugge.
On the eve of the match, captain Wes Morgan was asked whether Leicester City could win the competition.
“Why not?” Morgan replied, while alongside him, manager Claudio Ranieri, was smiling as if the idea of Leicester winning the competition was absurd.
“Why are you laughing?” he asked the press. “It is good when my players believe in something. We wrote a fantastic fairytale last season. Nobody, even us, believed it could be possible at the beginning. But there are so many big teams in the Champions League. It is impossible.
“I say it is impossible,” he said, “but Leicester have shown the impossible is possible.”
However, told that Leicester were favourites to progress from their group, Ranieri sounded much more circumspect.
“Some people say: ‘Oh, Leicester can win the group.’ Hey, calm! There are Brugge, who have a lot of experience, Porto, who have a lot of experience and Copenhagen, who have a lot of experience. Yes, Leicester won the Premier League, fantastic, but it is behind us.”
Ranieri is hopeful of qualifying for the knockout stages but would settle for third place and the Europa League, should qualification prove beyond them in their first attempt at the competition.
Since 2002, only nine out of 46 teams playing in the Champions league for the first time have qualified for the knockout stages. Moreover, Leicester, currently lying in 16th spot in the Premier League, appear to be suffering an extended hangover from last season’s title triumph.
“We know it is very important, these matches, because there are two positions to go into the knockout, but also the third position is good for us,” the Italian said.
“We need to make experience. It is important for us to go over Christmas and continue to play in Europe. Of course we want to go through to the knockout stages of the Champions League and if it is not possible, we want to go into the Europa League.
“Of course we have to change something [for this game], but we can’t change our style. If we change our style, we don’t give 100 per cent of Leicester football. Then we have to understand the match.
Ranieri is aware that just weeks into the new campaign Leicester are already falling short of last season’s standards, but this, he insists, is only to be expected when those standards were set so impossibly high.
“Maybe the critics will criticise us all the season,” he said. “Because if people think about last season they think wrong. It is a new season – totally different. There are teams who haven’t won the title for 30 years. We won the title, now we have to restart and not think about what happened last season. Restart, to be safe.
“I don’t want to make it an illusion to our fans. We know very well this season is totally different. Last season, everyone gave 120% and everything was perfect. Perfection doesn’t exist. This season, maybe we have to pay something but I am very happy to pay now because we broke a lot of things last season.”