LCFC 1 v 0 FC Copenhagen
Report by Stuart Dawkins
City were worthy winners of their third successive Champions League game, playing with a purpose and intensity that has often been lacking during the domestic season so far.
Ranieri made a couple of changes to the team compared with the Porto match – Simpson replacing Hernandez and King replacing Amartey. Both of the new arrivals had good games.
The Copenhagen fans made an admirably noisy contribution to the event. However, the fact that they let off around a dozen red flares before kick-off does raise significant questions about the stadium’s security procedures. It is not just the players who are having to get used to the challenges of this new competition.
The match kicked off in dreadful conditions: pouring with rain, cold and with a gusty wind. This contributed to neither side played very constructively for much of the first twenty minutes, apart from a bright Copenhagen attack right in the first couple of minutes. One upside of the strong wind was that the smoke from the flares was dispersed quickly – dispelling memories of the smoke-affected start to the fateful Athletica Madrid match at Filbert Street the last time the club played in Europe. (Thankfully, today’s referee – who has a World Cup final under his belt - had a far better game than the ref in that match too!)
Both teams were playing in a 4-4-2 formation, with Copenhagen having the majority of possession and using their full-backs to provide width. As the half progressed, City began to take the upper hand. They were particularly effective on the left wing, and it was noticeable how often Vardy picked the ball up in wider areas, as Slimani was doing his level best both to be the archetypal ‘big centre forward’ AND to chase down Copenhagen players on the ball, Okazaki-style.
Despite good pressure, neither side produced much in the way of clear-cut chances – with a couple of Vardy long-range efforts being City’s only real goal attempts.
In the 40th minute that changed. A classic Vardy chase resulted in a free kick to City on the left. Whilst the kick came to nothing, Copenhagen never really cleared the situation and Vardy got the ball, again in a left wing position. His cross was high and looping – cutting out the Copenhagen keeper Olsen who had dealt with crosses well so far – Slimani headed the ball back across the 6-yard box and Mahrez deftly volleyed the ball into the net with the outside of his left boot.
With a minute to half time, City’s recent frailty at corners nearly cost them yet again – with Cornelius getting a free header that passed about as close to the left-hand post as was possible without actually hitting it. That scare over, City went in to half time one-nil up, the well-worked goal giving them a lead that was just about deserved.
They completely dominated the first twenty minutes of the second half. Mahrez began to shine, and Slimani came close to getting onto the end of a couple of chances. Copenhagen made their first substitution, bringing on fresh legs on the right wing, which had the effect of perking their game up a bit – but not before City thought they had gone two-nil up. Slimani was judged – harshly – to have been offside before making a powerful header which the keeper saved well, only for the big Algerian to follow-up and bundle the ball into the net.
A combination of the substitution and the dis-allowed goal seemed to change the balance of play, and Copenhagen became more threatening. The final quarter of the match had the dynamic of so many of last season’s 1-0 home wins: with the opposition putting constant pressure on City’s box, but creating few actual goal scares. Interestingly, Ranieri chose to make like-for-like substitutions at this stage – rather than bringing on more defensive players: Okazaki replaced Vardy and Ulloa replaced Slimani, with Amartey only coming on for Mahrez well in to stoppage time.
The stand-out moment was in the 90th minute, when Schmeichel made an outstanding save by parrying a goal-bound shot from close range – and by doing so securing City’s third clean sheet in the tournament and a 100% winning record.
Ranieri’s pre-and post-match comments about the impact on a team of playing in this tournament for the first time were interesting. In many ways the style of this performance was the kind seen many times in the Premier League-winning season. It was certainly far better than the first-half performance at Chelsea. This must reflect both the necessary ‘rotation’ which Ranieri had referred to and also the players’ own mental attitude to the games. Against Copenhagen, City played with an intensity that has largely been lacking in domestic games. They were more effective at finding the front players, they defended more solidly and, it has to be said, also got a little more luck at times.
The team have now equalled all sorts of records by winning their first-ever three Champions League games, and I suspect that – providing they put up a reasonable showing in the Premier League across the season as a whole – most fans will be very content if their focus continues to be on the Champions League for now; the fairy tale continues!
LEICESTER: Schmeichel, Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs, Mahrez, Drinkwater, King, Albrighton, Slimani, Vardy. Subs: Zieler, Hernandez, Musa, Amartey, Schlupp, Okazaki, Ulloa.
COPENHAGEN: Olsen, Ankersen, Zanka, Johansson, Augustinsson, Verbic, Kvist, Delaney, Toutouh, Santander, Cornelius. Subs: Andersen, Hogli, Antonsson, Gregus, Kusk, Pavlovic, Falk.
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation