Club Brugge vs Leicester City Preview: Foxes travel to Belgium for Champions League opener

Premier League champions Leicester City kickstart their first-ever Champions League campaign away at Club Brugge on Wednesday night as they look to start strongly in Group G.

Club Brugge vs Leicester City Preview: Foxes travel to Belgium for Champions League opener
(Picture: VAVEL)

Leicester City make their much-anticipated UEFA Champions League debut away at Club Brugge at the Jan Breydel Stadium on Wednesday night.

The English champions go head-to-head with the champions of Belgium to kickstart their first ever European campaign and will hope to start well.

The Foxes' stunning achievements under Claudio Ranieri last term, winning the title by 10 points and losing just three games all season, saw them rewarded not just with the Premier League trophy but with a coveted place in Pot One of the Champions League draw.

Ranieri and his players in training at the Jan Breydel Stadium on Tuesday. (Picture: Leicester City via Getty Images)
Ranieri and his players in training at the Jan Breydel Stadium on Tuesday. (Picture: Leicester City via Getty Images)

Placed into Group G, Ranieri's men were paired with Brugge, FC Porto - who won the competition under current Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho back in 2004 - and FC Copenhagen.

With that arguably as kind as the draw could every been, from each of the other three pots, the East Midlands outfit will sense an opportunity to cause a shock on a continental stage.

Having been underestimated for much of last season, when it was believed Leicester's success would come to an abrupt end rather than with the title, the champions will hope to repeat their heroics on their first foray into Europe.

They will also need to bounce back from Sunday's heavy 4-1 league defeat at the hands of Liverpool at Anfield, having slipped to two defeats in just four league games in 2016-17.

Vardy has already scored three goals this season, including one on Saturday. (Picture: Getty Images)
Vardy has already scored three goals this season, including one on Saturday. (Picture: Getty Images)

In terms of their hopes on the continent, Ranieri has already ruled out another "fairytale" amidst suggestions from journalists that they could go all the way, insisting that it would be "impossible" due to the number of "big teams" they are competing with.

Despite admitting that his side "showed the impossible is possible" last season, he has set the bar as reaching the knockout rounds or at least finishing third in order to drop into the Europa League.

However, despite playing down their chances, Leicester have a real opportunity to reach the Last 16 - and starting with at least a draw in Belgium would give them the ideal springboard to doing so. 

They will take hope from the fact Michel Preud'homme's Brugge have won just two of their opening six league games and sit 10th as the Blue-Blacks look to retain the Belgian title.

Given that 9,000 seats of their 29,000 capacity Jan Breydel Stadium remain unsold on the day of the game, Brugge - or at least their fans - will need to be wary of undermining a Leicester side fully capable of another surprise.

Team news:

Leicester's record signing Islam Slimani, signed from Sporting Lisbon for £30 million on deadline day, is fit and available after earning his work permit and could make his debut.

The 28-year-old striker has only trained with his new teammates three times since arriving at the club on Friday and could come in for Japanese international Shinji Okazaki.

Slimani could come in for his first appearance for the Foxes. (Picture: Plumb Pictures/Getty Images)
Slimani could come in for his first appearance for the Foxes. (Picture: Plumb Pictures/Getty Images)

But Okazaki could also keep his place in a No.10 role behind Jamie Vardy, rather than Slimani seemingly coming in alongside the Englishman, with Ranieri insisting he would only make a late decision as to who to start up top.

Full-back Danny Simpson could miss out after coming off in the defeat to Liverpool with a hamstring problem. 

The 29-year-old has travelled with the squad to Belgium but the Leicester boss suggested that he was unwilling to risk the defender and in the fear of losing his services "for one month" as a result.

Spanish defender Luis Hernandez, who replaced Simpson at the weekend, is likely to take his place from the outset.

Brugge have just two absences, with forward Lior Refaelov still unavailable after groin surgery and striker Wesley out with ankle ligament damage. Fellow striker Jose Iquierdo is back from a quad strain.

Recent form:

Club Brugge

Form in Belgian First Division A: LWLDL
Form in all competitions: LWLDL

Leicester City

Form in Premier League: LDWL
Form in all competitions: LLDWL

What the managers have said:

Having suffered their third defeat in their last five at the weekend, Club Brugge manager Preud'homme hopes that his side can regain the "high level" that carried them to the title last year.

He admitted that they are still "searching to find our flow" and must be "sharper and better organised at the back."

While the coach acknowledged Leicester's success as a "great story" in which they showed a team "can go fear" with "the perfect mentality", he insisted that because the visitors are "in theory" the best team then his side must show "good mentality and power" because they have "nothing to lose."

Leicester boss Ranieri addresses the press in his pre-match press conference. (Picture: Getty Images)
Leicester boss Ranieri addresses the press in his pre-match press conference. (Picture: Getty Images)

His opposite, Ranieri, noted that Brugge are "a good team" who are "well organised" and are "one of the best [teams] in Belgium."

The Italian also sought to point out that their opponents are "used to playing in Europe" and are "full of experience" which "means something" for Wednesday's encounter.

He acknowledged the clamour for Leicester to potentially win their group but said that because they are the last team, along with FC Rostov, to "come into this competition" then they must simply "want to show our best and our desire to win."

Ranieri said that their group is full of teams with "a lot of experience" and insisted that while they won the league last season, it is a "new season" and they must be cautious and show "a lot of respect for everybody."

Match facts:

This season is just the fourth time Leicester will be competing in European competition in club's 132-year history. 

Leicester have won just twice in eight European fixtures to date, both against Glenavon in the preliminary round of the 1961–62 European Cup Winners' Cup

This is Leicester's first game in Europe since a 3-1 UEFA Cup first round defeat to Red Star Belgrade in September 2000.

These two sides have never met before, with this Leicester's first ever game against a Belgian team. Brugge's record against English teams reads: W6, D4, L12.

The Belgian titleholders' home record against English clubs is better, with six wins from 10, although their last victory came in a 1-0 first-leg win over Chelsea in the 1994/95 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup quarter-finals.

Brugge were knocked out of last season's Champions League in the play-off round by Manchester United, who won 3-1 in the first-leg in Manchester before a 4-0 win in Bruges.

Club Brugge reached the final of the European Cup in 1978 only to be beaten by Liverpool at Wembley Stadium

This is Brugge's first Champions League group stage campaign since 2005-06.

Ranieri has took four of the five teams (Chelsea, Valencia, Juventus, Roma and Inter Milan) he has managed into the Champions League into the knockout phase, failing only with Valencia in 2004-05. He took Chelsea to the semi-finals the previous season.

Match official

Greek referee Anastasios 'Tasos' Sidiropoulos is the nominated man in the middle for Brugge and Leicester's showdown.

The 37-year-old oversaw a handful of Champions League and Europa League group stages last season and is a regular in the Greek Super League, having been promoted to the First Category of UEFA officials back in June 2013.

He was regularly a fourth official at Euro 2016 over the summer and most recently officiated Panathinaikos' 3-0 win over Levadiakos at the weekend.