Leicester's stars a different class in Europe
Leicester's stars align for Europe, now they must replicate form in the league
LEICESTER CITY 1
(Riyad Mahrez 40)
FC COPENHAGEN 0
Leicester City are living out a real-life version of "Roman Holiday".
Growing tiresome of their status as footballing royalty, they now hide behind the guise of being doe-eyed and unassuming during a maiden Champions League campaign.
FC Copenhagen became the latest to be fooled by the act yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The Foxes' defence of their EPL title is almost certain to go down as an incredibly short-lived one but, in Europe at least, Claudio Ranieri's side are bewitching again and staying true to the secrets of success which originally took them to the summit of the EPL last term.
An unimpressive eight points from as many games have been offset by a tally of nine from three games in a row in the Champions League, as one fairy tale continues to be traded for another.
In extending their 100 per cent European record with a 1-0 win yesterday morning over the Danish side, themselves previously unbeaten in 23 games, they simply refuse to reprise the role as star-struck tourists.
Playing the pauper seems to suit the Foxes more than their current status as the princes of English football, and the unforgiving territory of a competition dominated by the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich has proved to be of little deterrent.
BACKS TO THE WALL
Winning with their backs to the wall became a hallmark of their unlikely title triumph last season and now forms the bedrock for the vision of a planned continental assault.
Ranieri's players continue to appear reborn by the operatic strands of the Champions League anthem. It not only galvanises them, but also has the ability to turn back the clock.
Everything appeared as it was barely five months ago - Riyad Mahrez chipping in with an almost obligatory goal and Danny Drinkwater's influence maintaining a firm grip on games.
Wes Morgan summoned superhuman strength in soldiering through an early injury to roll back the years and ward off Copenhagen's sporadic threats, while Kasper Schmeichel had to be at his impenetrable best to deny his hometown club and Andreas Cornelius with a heroic 89th-minute save.
But stepping into the spotlight in Europe can only take the masking of Leicester's domestic shortcomings so far.
Losing to Crystal Palace this weekend would compound what is already a worse defeat tally than they endured in the entirety of the previous campaign.
Joining an illustrious fraternity of AC Milan, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Malaga in winning all of their opening three games will count for little when Alan Pardew's side prepare to travel north in two days' time.
Ranieri demanded that his players stood up and be counted in their latest Group G encounter yesterday morning and stand up they did, but translating that to what remains their primary target in securing top-flight survival for another season is proving easier said than done.
Leicester may be quietly confident of making the relatively short journey to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium for the Champions League final next May, but that ambition carries a risk of misadventure - one which could conceivably come at the cost of their EPL status.
The likelihood of them topping one table in December while propping up another is not one which can be underestimated as they continue to be overshadowed by a title-winning hangover.
Fast forward to Saturday evening and the King Power Stadium threatens to again be awash with scenes of high-fives and self-congratulation at the final whistle - just not in royal blue shirts.
Ranieri: Switch on your 'specials'
Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri has told the Foxes to change their mentality to recreate their faultless European form in the Premier League.
Riyad Mahrez's winner sealed a 1-0 victory over FC Copenhagen yesterday morning (Singapore time) to maintain their 100 per cent record in the Champions League and keep them top of Group G.
They are five points clear and will reach the last 16 with victory in Copenhagen on Nov 2, having already beaten Club Brugge and Porto.
Leicester are the only side who have played three games so far to win them all, but have more points in the Champions League, nine, than in the Premier League, eight, and Ranieri wants an improvement against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
"We are the record team. We have to stay calm now and change our mentality in the Premier League because Crystal Palace is another tough, tough, tough match," he said.
"When you come back a little more down, it's normal. But we want to change this mood now, because the Premier League is now important. The Premier League is our priority.
DOMESTIC ISSUES: Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri is very, very angry when he thinks about their EPL form.
"But, of course, also Champions League because now, in one month, three matches, we're in or out. We are in a good position. Our destiny is in our hands. We want to continue this way.
"I'm very proud. For one side, I'm very proud. For the other side, when I think of the Premier League, I'm very, very angry.
"But it's okay, because also in my career this has happened.
"It's just psychological. Because when we play in the Champions League, all the specials are switched on.
"You're very, very smart, focused in every situation. You pay this, you spend a lot of energy, mental energy, in the Champions League."
Mahrez's winner justified Ranieri benching the Algeria international in Saturday's 3-0 defeat by Chelsea as he targets Europe.
He said: "For this reason, I put him on the bench against Chelsea. Now it's right."
Ranieri also praised Kasper Schmeichel after the goalkeeper produced a wonderful one-handed stop in the 89th minute to deny Andreas Cornelius.
"Thank you to Kasper, thank you to all my players. Because in every high ball, Copenhagen are very, very strong. Now I'm already thinking about what happens when we go to Copenhagen," he added.
Defeat was Copenhagen's first since May, but boss Stale Solbakken, who also saw Cornelius head wide in the first half, believes they can gain revenge in two weeks' time.
"I can live with that. Now we can start counting again," said the former Wolves manager. "That doesn't bother me. The only thing I'm disappointed with is the result."
Meanwhile, Uefa has opened disciplinary proceedings against Copenhagen after the Danish club's fans set off fireworks yesterday morning.
European football's governing body has been cracking down on the use of fireworks, flares and smoke bombs by supporters, with Celtic, Liverpool and Manchester City among the clubs recently fined or warned for breaching regulations on pyrotechnics.
A statement posted on Uefa's official website said FC Copenhagen had been charged for "the setting off of fireworks - article 16 (2) of the Uefa disciplinary regulations" on Tuesday night.
Uefa's disciplinary body will hear the case on Nov 17.
- Wire Services.
Perfect in Europe, poor at home
Here are possible reasons behind Leicester's superb European form and their struggles in the Premier League.
1) The element of surprise
As Champions League debutants, the Foxes are relative unknowns to the European elite and can continue their counter-attacking style which brought them last season's title.
2) Mentally refreshed
The new journey of the Champions League naturally leaves players refreshed following their Premier League struggles, with only a handful of the squad having experienced it before.
Christian Fuchs, Danny Simpson, Robert Huth, Ron-Robert Zieler and Ahmed Musa have all have varying degrees of experience and the rest are revelling in the adventure.
3) A tricky league start
Leicester have lost four league games this season - one more than they did in the whole of last term - but have gone to three of the rejuvenated big guns.
A home draw with Arsenal was followed by heavy defeats at Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea in their opening eight fixtures.
It was a tough start they didn't cope with.
4) A handy group
Once the draw was made, there was a real sense the Foxes could qualify for the knockout stage.
Club Brugge were in disarray in the first game, Porto are not the force they once were and Danish champions Copenhagen are still not one of Europe's big hitters.
5) It is just Leicester
Having avoided relegation in 2015, changed managers and then won the league in 2016 against all odds, it has been a roller-coaster ride.
Ranieri admitted he was angry at their domestic form, but reasoned that "it's unbelievable, it's Leicester".
- PA Sport.