LEICESTER, United Kingdom, Sep 28 – Manager Claudio Ranieri said he had seen reassuring signs of the ‘old’ Leicester City after his team’s 1-0 Champions League victory over Porto at the King Power Stadium.
Leicester’s fairytale Premier League title success was built on a miserly defence, but they have suffered some heavy losses already this season, most recently losing 4-1 at Manchester United.
They produced a far more dogged display against Porto on Tuesday, with Islam Slimani’s 25th-minute header and a spirited rearguard action helping to procure a second successive Group G win.
“I’m happy when I see my players play like tonight, with our spirit,” said Ranieri, whose side were playing their first home game in the Champions League in the club’s 132-year history.
“I recognise this team when it plays together as a team. If we play in this way, I’m not surprised.
“I was surprised when we conceded three goals on a corner on Saturday (at United). Very, very surprised.
“I spoke a lot about corners, to maintain the clean sheet. My players were very, very concentrated; strong, attentive in every situation. It was good for everybody after the bad defeat in Manchester.
“We showed very good character, attitude and personality. Particularly in the last 10 minutes when Porto tried to equalise. We were very calm, very attentive and closed all the spaces.”
Leicester’s win left them two points clear of FC Copenhagen at the Group G summit ahead of the two sides’ meeting at the King Power on October 18.
But, ever cautious, Ranieri said it was far too early to start thinking about the last 16.
“I’m waiting. I’m San Tommaso (Saint Thomas): if I touch, I believe,” said the Italian.
“Now we have to continue to stay calm. Copenhagen won 4-0 (against Club Brugge), are very well organised, drew 1-1 in Porto.
“It is very important for us now to clean our minds and go back in the Premier League.”
– ‘No margin for error’ –
Slimani’s goal means the former Sporting Lisbon striker has now scored seven goals in his seven career appearances against Porto.
He got his head to an in-swinging cross from Algeria team-mate Riyad Mahrez, who had been picked out by a sweeping crossfield pass from Marc Albrighton.
Porto’s defeat extended their run of games without victory in England to 17 and, more damagingly, left them five points below Leicester and three points below Copenhagen in third place.
The two-time European champions visit Club Brugge in their next game and manager Nuno Espirito Santo said his side cannot afford another misstep if they are to avoid a second consecutive group-stage exit.
“Copenhagen won (against Club Brugge), so we have no margin for error,” said the former Porto goalkeeper.
“We have to win the next match in Bruges. Nothing can be achieved without a win.”
After failing to test Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel in the first half, Porto improved in the second and came close to snatching a point when substitute Jesus Corona hit the post with a late volley.
“The second half was totally different. We came out strong,” said Nuno.
“This is the way we want to play. We want to control the game, with possession high up the pitch.
“Our possession was good, (but) not enough to produce a goal, so we have to be much more efficient.
“But it makes me optimistic that in the future, this 20 minutes can be during 90 minutes. This is the challenge for us.”
Ranieri balked at the news that he has been included among the candidates to succeed Sam Allardyce as England manager by British bookmakers.
Leicester were given odds of 5,000-1 to win last season’s Premier League title, prompting the Italian to respond: “The bookmakers? You know I have not a good relationship with the bookmakers!”