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5 things we learned from Leicester City v Braga

Is Europa League better than Champions League? It’s certainly delivering more goals!

Leicester City v SC Braga: Group G - UEFA Europa League Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

1) Foxes put European progress firmly in their own hands

It’s only November, but this season’s Leicester City feels...more resilient? Determined to banish the end of the restart woes and to take the positives. Ok, we didn’t get Champions League football, but we still got Europa League. Based on our performances and attitude in the three games so far, we’re making the most of it and showing the kind of attacking, free-flowing football we like to play on the European stage. The comfortable win against Braga leaves us just one point on qualifying from our group.

It’s smart to put it in our own hands so early on. Following the return Braga trip, there’s the lengthy trip to Ukraine which depending on results, and if we want, we may choose not to send a full strength side, if we’ve qualified and already secured top spot. Now if that gives you flashbacks of Ben Hamer in goal away to Porto and hearing the pumpy saxophone chorus of ‘This Girl’ five times, I hear you (maybe a niche memory). But this should be different, right? I mean, for one, we now play that song post wins at home games. But hey, at least Porto gave us Harvey Barnes’ first-team debut!

Braga was due to be the Foxes’ toughest game so far, having also won both their games coming into the fixture. It’s unclear whether injuries hampered their style, or if Brendan Rodgers had just done his homework again, but it’s nice to see us make it three in three.

2) England clearly don’t know what they’re missing

It’s either a reflection on the strength of England’s attacking options, or pure madness, that Harvey Barnes didn’t make the cut. It’s a little less surprising with James Maddison given his very recent return to the side, but it’s a little frustrating. Unless Rodgers put in a word, because let’s be honest, from a selfish Leicester point of view it’s a blessing that we don’t have to worry about additional travel and injuries. It must be disappointing for both players though.

Barnes didn’t start against Braga, but rather cruelly was brought on to cause more pain to the Portuguese side when we were already 3-0 up. It seemed a little unnecessary but given how electric and fun he is to watch right now, nobody’s complaining. He injected fresh pace and energy into the game and was unlucky not to get a goal or an assist. Braga won’t thank us for any of the changes we made, all of them made the night even harder.

For Maddison, this was another game that showed him back at his best. His ball through to Kelechi Iheanacho to set up the first goal may not get enough of a mention, but it was wonderful. He more than deserved his goal when he did get it, holding up the ball well and getting a second European goal for the campaign. A first half dead leg looked to be a more severe injury momentarily but it was great he could play through it because he was instrumental again in the second half.

3) Brendan Rodgers can play it down, but it feels like a selection headache is incoming

Now, there might not be many silver linings to having a lot of players out injured, but Rodgers has been lucky in some respects that it’s stopped the question of a selection headache coming up sooner. Or perhaps it’s caused it? Every player that has been drafted in to fill a role has excelled, run themselves into the ground in it and generally made an excellent case for why they deserve to keep their place. Or a place.

With Wilfred Ndidi, Ricardo Pereira, Timothy Castagne and Caglar Soyuncu yet to return, these players all have another game or two to really stake a claim. For example, last night was another excellent display from Hamza Choudhary. Post-Leeds, this and the performance generated a lot of debate around what the best eleven is. The more I’ve thought about this, the more it depends on the opposition, the tactics and what’s needed.

Something that perhaps played to the Foxes’ strengths against Braga. On paper, the team looked like one capable of doing the job, but it didn’t scream a very comfortable 4-0 win. Perhaps that’s even more impressive when, for long periods of the game, we didn’t look to have moved out of first gear either. Braga’s lack of pace certainly helped us, with two players in our back-line who don’t often get ninety minutes twice a week anymore.

4) Kelechi Iheanacho may finally be back to full confidence, although that was not a pass, sorry Kel!

It has to be hard for Kelechi. No matter how well you play, how many goals you score, you’re pretty much never part of the selection issue because you still aren’t Jamie Vardy. Not a criticism, just fact. However, he deserves more plaudits for likely knowing this and getting on with his job anyway.

The same could be said of the striker that replaced him, Ayoze Perez. Yes, as an actual striker! Can we please remember this day if and when there’s a game where we willingly opt to play with no striker again? Perez has found his gametime very limited and with Ünder’s developing relationships, that won’t change soon, but he looked sharp when he came on, holding up the ball well and setting Maddison up for the fourth goal.

It’s apparent to everybody that Iheanacho is a player whose performances entirely depend on their confidence. Given Rodgers’ man management skills, it’s also not a surprise that he is getting the best out of the striker, despite the infrequency of his appearances. It’s also pleasant that the majority of Foxes fans feel on his side again.

5) This is a Leicester City squad with potential in every department, you gotta love them

Ok, so this isn’t anything revolutionary, but this has to be on the most likeable squads we’ve assembled. Even in their daft moments, you can’t be too annoyed with them. It’s pretty refreshing that we can line up eleven players, not have to utilise Jamie Vardy and still feel that goals are almost guaranteed. Almost every player looks capable of either scoring or providing the final ball to assist. Three different scorers again is proof of that depth.

For proof, you need to look no further than our third goal, scored by substitute Dennis Praet (or the Golden God as Official LCFC have christened him and who am I to argue?). All outfield players except Wesley Fofana touched the ball before Praet slotted home from the Iheanacho shot/pass. The build-up play for all of our goals of late tends to involve each third of the team and it’s a joy to watch.

His chances may be limited once Castagne is back, but Luke Thomas was great again against Braga. It didn’t lead to a goal so it’ll be quickly forgotten but he tried, and succeeded in one outrageous flick over the top. We’re lucky that for every position we lose a key player, we seem to have another young, hungry player to take over. We may not have seen either of them but having Leshabela and Fitzhugh being on the bench signals that this isn’t about to stop anytime soon.

If there’s a minor criticism to be had, it’s that we really should have capitalised on the number of corners we had tonight. For a team who threatened to punish us at corners, that never really materialised, but we had plenty. Wesley Fofana looks handy in the air, but we’re not putting many balls into the right places for him.

Bonus Learn: Two of them actually. The first being not an entirely new learn, but how does Madders always end up with grass on his face? The second being it took me until half time to realise this game marked Kasper Schmeichel’s 34th birthday, during his tenth season at the club. A European win and a clean sheet is the most fitting way to mark it for the Captain (no disrespect Captain Wes!).