Leicester routed their nearest challengers to take control of Europa League Group G and make a sweet piece of history. Two goals by Kelechi Iheanacho and one each by Dennis Praet and James Maddison helped the club to their biggest margin of victory in continental competition.
More significantly for the future, Brendan Rodgers’ team have maximum points from three group matches this season and could confirm early qualification for the knockout stages by beating Braga again when they travel to Portugal in three weeks’ time.
Braga were no pushover and gave Leicester a couple of scares here before theyran out emphatic winners. There were plenty of individual performances to admire – especially Maddison and Wesley Fofana – but what struck most was the all-round slickness and efficiency of Leicester, even amid a spate of injuries and with four voluntary changes to the lineup from Monday’s Premier League victory over Leeds.
“[Braga] are a very good side and they gave us some problems in the first half,” Rodgers said. “In the second half we showed our power and technique and our attacking play was very good. We scored four very good goals and maybe could have had one or two more. It was a great win.”
Leicester looked sharp without threatening to infiltrate the savvy visiting defence until the 20th minute, when Iheanacho practically ran the ball into the net after a snappy one-two with Maddison. The Nigerian was allowed to scamper all the way into the six-yard box, whereupon Matheus, the goalkeeper, tried to stop him but succeeded only in sending the ball ricocheting off him and back towards goal, leaving the striker to prod it into an unguarded net.
Matheus did better just before the break when he tipped away a rasping drive by Maddison after lovely service by Iheanacho. But just after the interval the goalkeeper was left perplexed when Iheanacho’s seemingly harmless shot from 25 yards was re-routed into the net via a deflection off Bruno Viana. Iheanacho then turned supplier, sending a bobbly pass across the face of goal for Dennis Praet to convert moments after being introduced from the bench.
Maddison got the goal his performance deserved when he beat two defenders and finished from close range. It was an ideal way for him to react to being omitted from Gareth Southgate’s England squad. “I want to be in the squad,” he said. “It is dream since I was a kid and I have had a taste of it.”