Club Brugge manager Michel Preud’homme believes Leicester City’s contrasting form in the league and in Europe is simply down to the superlative quality of the Premier League.
The Belgian champions face the Foxes at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday night, with Leicester looking to seal their place in the last-16 and Brugge needing victory to have any hope of qualifying for the Europa League by virtue of finishing third in Group G.
Brugge have yet to pick up a single point, conceding 10 goals and scoring a mere one across their four games so far, while Leicester have kept four clean sheets across three wins and one draw – which puts them three points clear at the top of the group.
And 57-year-old Preud’homme, who guided Brugge to their first league title in 11 years last season, insists that the quality on offer in their Champions League group isn’t on parity with that of teams Leicester face week in, week out in the league.
Preud’homme hails ‘high level’ of Premier League
Asked about Leicester’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ form, former Belgium goalkeeper Preud’homme told his media conference that it is “always difficult” for a team after winning the title as he noted his own side’s “difficult start to the season.”
He suggested that teams may have found a particular way of playing to combat the direct style of play that inspired the Foxes to a quite incredible maiden league title last term.
Preud’homme continued: “It’s always difficult for a surprising champion to continue the year. But on the other hand, no. Their form has to do with the level of England.”
He added that while Leicester “have problems in England” they still manage to perform to a “high level” which is good enough in Europe, insisting: “It means that the level of the Premier League is so high that even if they are a little bit less, they are still very good in Europe. Even if they aren’t towards the top of the league.”
So much so, Preud’homme believes Leicester to be the team in their group – even ahead of FC Porto – who have won the competition twice and reached the Champions League round of 16 or further in six of their last 10 campaigns.
He told a combination of Belgian and English journalists: “Along with Copenhagen, I think Leicester are the most efficient team. In our first-half against Copenhagen, we had the best chance and our organisation was good. Then, in one moment, they killed us. They were very efficient. Leicester are a bit like that.”
He said that Porto have “maybe more difficulties” in killing off their opponents, something that “Copenhagen and Leicester don’t” because they are “really killers” in their current Champions League campaigns.
“If they have a chance, it’s a goal,” Preud’homme insisted, citing the “quality on the technical side” as well as their strength “on set-pieces and on long throw-ins.”
He noted that teams who have this quality “have to use it” as he stated that he has even been surprised by the quality of Leicester, adding: “I was expecting, in the beginning when we saw the group stage draw, that Porto with their experience and as two-time European champions, would be the best team in the group. But I don’t think they are now in this moment.”
This is one of our most difficult games of the season, says Brugge boss
On what game plan his team must enforce in order to come away with a result, he implored his side to be focused and concentrated throughout the full 90 minutes.
He said that in order to take part in the Champions League then “you have to be focused” for the full game because “it can happen in the first minute or it can happen in the last.”
“We’ve had good games and a little bit less than good games sometimes, but in each game we’ve had good opportunities,” Preud’homme said. “We just need to be focused.”
He added: “We always try to win the game. Leicester haven’t conceded a goal until now in the Champions League. They defend correct and it’s not so easy.”
He commented on the “problems” that Leicester have suffered domestically, but said that being top of Group G without conceding a single goal “means something” and that it’s “not easy to play here.”
Preud’homme went as far to state that it is “one of the most difficult games” of their season, but insisted his side must give it their utmost to “make our game” and “do everything to take the point somewhere, or three if possible.”
He vowed: “We will try. We will play at 100 per-cent with the players we have, like we do each time.”
Striker Vossen calls upon Brugge to ‘be confident’
Jelle Vossen was also present and said that while Leicester have not shown the kind of form they enjoyed on the way to the title last term, they haven’t lost any of the quality from last season.
The former Middlesbrough and Burnley striker called it “always special” to return to a country where a player has once played, saying that England has “the biggest football history” of any country and that it’s nice to “come here and play a game, especially in the Champions League.”
On Leicester, the 27-year-old said: “They are still the champions of England. They have a very strong squad. They play very direct football. They have a lot of speed, a lot of power, so we have to put something against it. We have to have the guts to play our football. We have to be confident.”
He added that Leicester’s style-of-play is “typically English” but that they “have a mix of qualities” and “didn’t steal the title last season.” He believes, despite their up-and-down form, that they “haven’t lost any of their qualities” and will make it “difficult for us to play against them” – though said: “We have confidence and we’re going to do everything to get a good result.”