Leicester City won the Premier League last season, so this year they’re in the Champions League. Let me repeat that: Leicester City, a team that three seasons ago was happily dashing about in England’s second tier, somehow plucked up more points than Manchester United and Arsenal and Liverpool and Chelsea and everyone else in the country to win the biggest league in the world last season, and are now competing in the Champions League alongside clubs like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. All of this will never be anything other than insane.
As was always likely to happen, last year’s Cinderella team has already seen some of the magic wear off. The Foxes currently sit in 16th place in the EPL, with just four points from their first four matches. Leicester have struggled adapting to their new circumstances, often looking caught between trying to play in the deep-defending, rapid-countering, possession-ignoring style that won them the title last year and a more ball-dominant, methodically attacking setup that typifies the play of most big and good teams. They probably have the talent and players necessary to successfully play either way, but as of now they’ve yet to fully commit to one or the other.
With another EPL dream season most likely already out of play, where Leicester’s fairy tale can still continue is in the Champions League. Leicester were extremely fortunate in the draw, getting selected in a group alongside Porto, Club Brugge, and Copenhagen. While the allure and incongruity of seeing a relative no-name British team traveling to some of Europe’s premier stadiums in the middle of the week to compete in the world’s most prestigious tournament was itself an awesome follow-up to last year’s storybook season, Leicester actually have a great shot of making it out of their group—quite possibly even atop it—and into the knockout rounds, where anything could happen. This will never be anything other than insane.
The Foxes’ UCL opener yesterday came against Club Brugge, and was exactly what Leicester needed. Brugge played right into Leicester’s hands, attacking them like so many other naive English sides did last season. Leicester allowed Brugge possession—62 percent to 38 percent in favor of the Belgians—in non-threatening areas, broke quickly when they took the ball away from Brugge, and, behind the attacking talents of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, overpowered Brugge’s overmatched defense. The final score was 3-0 to the Foxes, the prettiest moment coming from this Mahrez free kick goal—the first of the two he scored on the night:
The win put Leicester at the top of the standings, with the group’s other match finishing in a draw. More performances like that against eminently beatable opponents and Leicester very well might win their group, and with a little luck, could face a similarly beatable foe in the Round of 16. No matter what happens, though, that Leicester City are in the Champions League with a good shot of making some serious noise will never be anything other than insane.