Leicester make their Champions League debut at Club Brugge on Wednesday after winning last season’s Premier League title by a huge 10 points.
The Foxes have not played in Europe for 16 years and go into one of the most iconic games in their history at the Jan Breydel Stadium in Group G. H
We’ve taken a look at the talking points ahead of Leicester’s big night.
1. Will a poor attendance affect the game?
Only 20,000 are expected at the Jan Breydel Stadium, which holds 29,000, on Wednesday with Club Brugge fans left unimpressed by their opponents in Group G, which also includes Porto and Copenhagen. It is their first Champions League group game in a decade following their title win last season but almost a third of the stadium is due to be empty.
It could play into Leicester’s hands if the home supporters struggle to create an atmosphere to match the electric one at the King Power Stadium. Manager Michel Preud’homme has warned against underestimating and disrespecting Leicester despite fans turning their backs on the game.
2. Will Ranieri be tempted to hand a debut to record signing Islam Slimani?
Striker Slimani, signed for around £29million from Sporting Lisbon last month, is ready after linking up with his new team following international duty with Algeria and Ranieri will be keen to provide a new focal point from his side.
Away from home in the Champions League Ranieri may play safe with Shinji Okazaki likely to make way after being taken off at half-time during Saturday’s 4-1 defeat at Liverpool. The fitness of Danny Simpson is also likely to be a concern, with Luis Hernandez standing by if the former Manchester United right-back fails to make it.
3. Will Leicester be able to handle their big night nerves?
Danny Simpson, Ron-Robert Zieler, Robert Huth, Daniel Amartey, Ahmed Musa, Christian Fuchs and Slimani have Champions League experience and it is a big step for many of the Leicester players, even if they shocked the Premier League last season.
Only Huth and Fuchs are nailed on to start, leaving the team short of European experience but if they can handle they occasion – which they proved so often last season – Leicester can thrive and target qualifying from Group G.
4. Will Ranieri’s Champions League return be another dream for the Italian?
Ranieri has not managed in the Champions League for four years, since taking Inter Milan to the last 16 and losing to Marseille in 2012, and he is finally being tested at the top level again. He has won 21 of his 44 games in the competition, drawing 12 and losing 11 but has never got to the final – the closest being his 2004 semi-final defeat to Monaco with Chelsea.
Managing Leicester in Europe’s elite club tournament takes him and the club into the unknown. The group gives them a superb chance of qualifying, as Leicester chase another impossible dream.
5. How can the teams arrest their declining form?
Both are defending champions and both have stuttered in their title defences this season. Club Brugge have lost three of their six games this term while Leicester have lost twice in their opening four games, including the 4-1 mauling at Liverpool last time out. It took until Boxing Day for the Foxes to lose twice last season.
Leicester must be buoyed by the hosts’ poor form – just like their opponents will be with theirs – and it will be a tense start but as Ranieri tries to keep his team grounded they must not get dragged into a scrappy game and keep it as open as possible.