Slimani slays Porto again as an inspired Leicester turn up in Europe
LEICESTER, England -- Three points from Leicester City's 1-0 win over Porto in the Champions League.
1. Leicester back to their best for Europe
After their humbling at Old Trafford on Saturday, Leicester City picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and got straight back to winning ways. Their first home game in the Champions League could easily have been an occasion that distracted or daunted. Instead, Leicester looked empowered. This 1-0 win was tense, Kasper Schmeichel's near post may still be vibrating from the force of Jesus Corona's 83rd minute thunderbolt, but Claudio Ranieri's men held on to secure all three points.
There are many reasons for Leicester's troublesome domestic start. The lack of N'Golo Kante, the defence that can no longer physically dominate at set-pieces for fear of punishment. The general infrequency of lightning striking twice. But away from all that, there's also been a noticeable dip in intensity.
In the second half of last season, Leicester defended as if it was always the last minute of a cup final and attacked in much the same way. There was momentum. There was belief. There was the almost audible crackle of something supernatural in the air. In the Premier League this season, that magic has faded. But in Europe, it lingers still.
It didn't seem that way from the start. Leicester, beaten three times in the league already this season, looked uncertain at first. Porto could have scored inside three minutes when young star Andre Silva raced onto a long Otavio pass, got in behind Wes Morgan, beat Kasper Schmeichel to the ball, but couldn't quite finish the job. Former Watford man Miguel Layun caused problems on the right, testing Schmeichel with an early shot and then zipping in a low cross moments later that caused panic, but failed to find a Porto touch.
But after ten minutes, the Foxes settled and, buoyed by a crowd determined to enjoy themselves, began to show the passion that brought Champions League football here in the first place. Riyad Mahrez was a threat coming in from the right, Danny Drinkwater fired in quick, long passes over the top and Jamie Vardy sprinted after them.
Now it was Porto's turn to look uncertain, but unlike Leicester, they couldn't compose themselves. First Felipe, then Andre Silva went into the referee's book. Two minutes later, Islam Slimani opened the scoring with a typically deft header off of a Mahrez cross. He has quickly proved a fine addition.
Porto's players were even angrier just before half time when referee Cuneyt Cakir blew for half time immediately after they'd won a 46th minute corner. Given that Leicester had conceded three goals from corners on Saturday, it's not hard to understand why they were so aggrieved. The Turkish official was surrounded by yellow shirts and had to wait for stewards to escort him down the tunnel.
The second half was a battle of nerves. Mahrez came close to extending the lead just before the hour, his rasping shot palmed around the post by Iker Casillas, but it was Porto who made most of the running, slowly driving the English champions back. Claudio Ranieri shuffled his pack, throwing on Andy King to pack the midfield, but still Porto piled forward. A mix-up between Schmiechel and Robert Huth saw Corona rattle the post with seven minutes to go, but that was as close as they came.
That's six points from two games for Leicester. They may be struggling in the league, but in Europe, it's business as usual.
2. Slimani is great business
At just under £30m, and at the age of 28, you can't quite call Islam Slimani a bargain, but all the early signs are that he's going to prove excellent value for the money. Another goal here, a header naturally, meant that his extraordinary record against Porto continues. As a Sporting Lisbon player, "the Dragon Slayer" rattled in six in six against their perennial title rivals. Now it continues for Leicester.
Slimani offers the aerial superiority that Leicester used to draw from Shinji Okazaki, but with a more ruthless edge. And there is no opportunity so lacking in promise that he won't chase it down. There are dogs in sight of the park who don't run with the enthusiasm of Slimani at the prospect of getting on the end of a cross. He brings an added edge to Leicester's attack and the fans responded to his efforts, roaring with approval even when he wasn't able to reach the ball. A standing ovation greeted his eventual withdrawal with ten minutes to go. As if it really needed any more, Leicester has a new hero.
3. Porto wobbling
While Slimani's fine record against Porto continues, the Portuguese club extended an even longer one of their own by failing to win in England at the 17th time of asking. These are tense times for manager Nuno Espirito Santo who hasn't entirely convinced the supporters of his abilities since taking the helm in the summer.
Defeat to Sporting Lisbon (Slimani scored, obviously), a goalless draw with Tondela and an unconvincing win over Boavista have rather taken the gloss off that barnstorming win over Roma in the qualifying rounds. But this result, allied to the disappointing draw with Copenhagen on Matchday 1, puts Porto's progression to the knock round in jeopardy. With better luck, they might have snatched a point. There is a good team here, Andre Silva is a fine prospect, but it just isn't clicking at the moment.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.