Leicester City cruised past S.C. Braga by a score of 4-0 in Europa League at the King Power. A Kelechi Iheancho first-half brace and second half goals by Dennis Praet and James Maddison overwhelmed a sluggish Braga side and put the Foxes in charge of Group G.
Coming off Monday’s big win at Leeds, manager Brendan Rodgers kept the same shape but made four changes to the starting XI. Kasper Schmeichel, as always, got the nod in goal behind a back three of James Justin, Wesley Fofana, and Christian Fuchs. Wingbacks Marc Albrighton flanked a central midfield pair of Youri Tielemans and Hamza Choudhury. James Maddison and Cengiz Ünder lined up as attacking midfielders behind striker Kelechi Iheanacho.
If you can’t hear the umlauts, you’re not saying it properly.
It was a quiet start to a the match on a foggy East Midlands evening. The opening quarter hour was marked primarily by two chances that weren’t, in the end, really chances. A ball over the top found Iheanacho just outside the left edge of the Braga penalty box. Matheus, the visiting keeper, challenged for the ball and got it all wrong, bundling over the former Manchester City man. He would have surely seen yellow and given a free kick in a dangerous location had the flag not gone up for offside.
At the other end, the Foxes were caught out when the ball was cleared from a corner and Paulinho behind the entire defense not unlike the ball that resulted in İstanbul Başakşehir’s second goal against Manchester United. The City defense proved significantly more mobile than the Red Devils’ Frigidaire squad and were able to get back and stop the attack before anything dangerous developed.
Braga were doing well to absorb pressure and invite Leicester forward, but they were caught out when they made their first serious foray into the Foxes half. Leicester won a throw in their own half. Fuchs took it quickly and found Iheanacho well down the pitch. The Nigeria man pulled it back for Madders and continued his run. Maddison’s return ball still left Iheanacho a lot to do, but do it he did. His close range shot was parried by the keeper into the bits where Iheanacho’s legs meet. From there, the ball caromed forward over the keeper and just in front of the goal, giving the striker the simplest of tap-ins to give the Foxes the lead.
Os Guerreiros do Minh adopted a more aggressive posture after going down a goal. The next 20 minutes saw the visitors keep plenty of possession in the Leicester half with only occasional moments of danger for the Foxes’ defense. Other than an early header, Braga hadn’t managed a shot on target. City weren’t doing a great deal more to threaten when, out of nothing, Choudhury won the ball in midfield. Iheanacho then beat three defenders and found Maddison in the area. His low drive was on target, but Matheus did very well to turn it around the post and go into the half down by only a goal.
The sides emerged unchanged to start the second half, but Braga changed their tactics. They came out pressing high up the pitch, which is always a dangerous game against Leicester. In this particular instance, “dangerous” was more like “immediately calamitous.” A turnover in the midfield allowed Ünder to find Iheanacho just outside the area. He was given far too much space to turn and pick his shot. Hopefully, he called “bank” on it as it flew off the back of Bruno Viana and past the wrong-footed Matheus.
Not gonna lie: Wish I’d thought to tweet this GIF.
At the other end, Braga should have pulled a goal back almost immediately. Their were hints of offside on the initial pass, but the through ball to Abel Ruiz was sublime. He received the ball in stride six yards from goal but somehow contrived to poke it into the side netting when scoring looked more likely.
It was then the Foxes’ turn to spurn a great chance as Madders found Iheanacho between the defenders just inside the area. Matheus was out quickly and blocked the Nigerian’s tame effort as far as Ünder. The Turkey international picked out his shot from just outside the area, but his pick of “miles over the bar and into row Z” was a questionable one.
The match was starting to take on the complexion of a basketball game, which is a big no-no in Rodgers book. On the hour mark, the manager introduced Dennis Praet and Wes Morgan for Cengiz Ünder and Marc Albrighton respectively.
It only took five minutes for the Foxes to add a third and put the game to bed. A lovely team move saw Tielemans pick out Madders with a beautiful ball into the pocket outside the area. The former Norwich City playmaker turned the ball into Iheanacho’s path. The striker, already on two goals, unselfishly picked out Praet’s run at the far post for an easy tap-in.
This was Tielemans’ last contribution as Rodgers took him and Iheanacho off for Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez. At this point, the Foxes were definitely playing in a shape, but the nature of the shape would be a question for the topologists out there. Regardless, the substitutes quickly put together a lovely move that should have made it four. Thomas won the ball and in the Braga half and the ball fell to Barnes. He fed Madders on the edge of the area, who returned it to the once and future England man. His shot didn’t live up to the build up, but it wouldn’t have counted as the flag was up.
It was all Leicester with a quarter hour to play, as the Foxes’ front men threatened to tear the defense apart every time they came forward. Maddison finally got the goal he’d been chasing the whole match. Big Wes won the ball in midfield and played an inch-perfect through ball to Ayoze. He slipped it to Madders, whose first touch sent the ball off the unfortunate Viana, and back to the England midfielder. He couldn’t miss from 3 yards out and he didn’t.
City continue to look more dangerous, but the foot was a little off the gas for the last fifteen minutes plus stoppage. Braga were beaten and unable to add to their tally of one shot on goal as the Foxes saw out the match in a professional manner and ran out deserved 4-0 winners.
In what was supposed to be a tight matchup of the two biggest clubs in the group, the Foxes made it look easy. In the first half, both sides were cagey and stayed with their game plan, but when Braga tried to come out of their shell to start the second half, it was always going to end in lágrimas for the Iberian side. The makeshift defense was so solid that birthday boy Kasper Schmeichel had as close to a day off as you’re going to get when playing the full ninety.
The victory puts the Foxes in command of Group G with 9 points from 3 matches. Another win would effectively guarantee advancement to the knockout stages, but surely anything less than winning the group would be a disappointment. We return to Premier League action on Sunday hosting Wolverhampton Wanderers. After the international break and a detour to Anfield, we resume Europa League play on Thursday the 26th when we travel to Portugal for the reverse fixture against Braga.