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Club Brugge v Leicester City: Heat on Leicester to make a real go of Champions League after faltering start to season

By Mark Ogden

Published 14/09/2016

Keeping cool: Claudio Ranieri faces the media in Bruges yesterday
Keeping cool: Claudio Ranieri faces the media in Bruges yesterday

Claudio Ranieri wiped his brow in the sweltering press room at the Jan Breydel Stadion, laughed out loud, and then declared it would be 'impossible' for Leicester City to write the sequel to their Premier League triumph by winning the Champions League.

Thirty-eight years to the day since Nottingham Forest embarked on their European Cup odyssey under Brian Clough, winning the trophy back-to-back after their remarkable league championship triumph, Ranieri and Leicester arrived in Bruges facing the same challenge as their Midlands neighbours.

But Ranieri, taking charge of his sixth different club in the Champions League, was having none of it.

Foxes captain Wes Morgan replied 'why not?' to the question of whether Leicester could repeat their Premier League miracle, but the pragmatic Ranieri insisted that the club's supporters should not waste time dreaming of an incredible continental success story.

"It is good when the players believe," Ranieri said. "They wrote a fantastic fairytale last year that nobody believed possible.

"But I think it is impossible (to win the Champions League) because there are so many big teams and we cannot write a second fairytale.

"Leicester showed last year that the impossible is possible, but we want to go into Europe after December, even if it is the Europa (League) for our experience."

But if winning it is impossible, what is possible for a team that won the Premier League by a 10-point margin last season?

"I don't want to make an illusion for our fans," Ranieri said. "Last year, everybody gave 120 per cent and everything was perfect, but perfection does not exist.

"Maybe we are now paying the price for this, but I am happy to pay this price because we did so much last year and now we are here."

The reality for Ranieri and Leicester, however, is that expectations have grown with their success.

Having been placed in Group G alongside Bruges (currently 10th in Belgium's Jupiler League), FC Copenhagen and FC Porto, Leicester's fairytale was given a 'happily ever after' chapter during the group stage draw last month.

The Premier League champions could not have hand-picked a more favourable group, but the downside is the pressure to perform and progress. Leicester really should make it into the knock-out stages.

"I don't know if the group is easy," Ranieri said. "Maybe after we can say 'oh yes'.

"Porto has a lot of experience, Brugge is one of the best teams in Belgium and Copenhagen is used to playing in the Champions League. Only Leicester is not used to this.

"We would like to write some new history for Leicester, but we must be calm and discover, match by match. We have to adapt ourselves, play our football and I know it is different in the Champions League."

Having lost three of five games in all competitions so far this season, including the Community Shield defeat against Manchester United, Leicester face Bruges - who have started the defence of their title with three defeats in six games - with the wheels beginning to wobble, if not yet fall off, following last term's domestic triumph.

Balancing a title defence with a Champions League campaign is not easy, especially for first time entrants.

Saturday's 4-1 defeat at Liverpool was worryingly heavy, even if Ranieri insists that his players will shrug off the criticism.

"Maybe the critics will criticise us all the season," he said.

"It is a new season, totally different. There are teams who haven't won the title for 30 years.

"Now we restart, don't think what happened last season. Restart to be safe."

With Bruges expecting its hottest September day since records began - temperatures of 32 degrees Celsius are predicted - the heat will be on Ranieri and Leicester in every sense.

Belfast Telegraph

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