Leicester ready to dream again in Europe - Claudio Ranieri
LEICESTER boss Claudio Ranieri insists the Foxes are ready for another impossible dream as they prepare for their Champions League debut.
The Foxes make their bow in the competition when they face Club Brugge at the Jan Breydel Stadium on Wednesday after last season's shock Premier League title victory. They also face Copenhagen and Porto in Group G as Ranieri returns to the competition for the first time since 2012 and, while the Italian admitted a Champions League victory in Cardiff in June is unlikely, he insisted the Foxes must be able to dream.
"We wrote a fantastic fairytale last season, nobody was waiting for us [to win the league] and, also, we didn't believe it could be possible at the start," he said.
"There are so many big teams involved in this competition and, to win the Champions League, we have to write a big fairytale, the second story. Of course, I say it's impossible, but Leicester showed the impossible was possible.
"Why not? I think our fairytale means not only sport, but life. If you believe some good things can happen, it can happen. If you don't believe, it cannot. I think also Brugge can win the Champions League, also [Russian club] Rostov. People can say Leicester can win the group, but we have to be calm. The rest have a lot of experience. It's a new season, we want to write something good and then slowly, slowly."
Leicester trained at the Jan Breydel Stadium on Tuesday but, despite his excitement ahead of their campaign, Ranieri, who last managed in the competition when Inter Milan lost to Marseille in the last-16 four-years-ago, did not want to give supporters false hope.
He said: "For us now, it's important to enjoy the experience, I don't want to make an illusion for our fans. We know very well this season is totally different. Last season, everyone gave 120 per cent and everything was perfect. Maybe this season, we have to pay for something. I am happy to pay now because we broke a lot of things last season."
Captain Wes Morgan was more bullish and insisted, after he lifted the Premier League trophy, he believes anything is possible: "Why not? No-one thought we could win the Premier League. We know it's not going to be easy and we proved last season how good we can be. We need to take that into this competition and we want to see how far we can get," he said.
Brugge are 10th in the Jupiler Pro League league after three defeats from six games, while Leicester have lost two of their opening four matches in the Premier League, but Ranieri insisted the hosts must be respected.
He said: "Club Brugge are a good team, one of the best in Belgium and are used to playing in Europe. We are the last, Leicester and Rostov are the last. Of course, we want to show our best and our desire is to win, but we have to stay calm with a lot of respect for everyone."
Danny Simpson will be assessed after a hamstring injury he suffered in last Saturday's 4-1 defeat to Liverpool, while Jeff Schlupp (muscle strain) and Nampalys Mendy (ankle) are doubts.
Five talking points ahead of Leicester's big night...
WILL POOR ATTENDANCE AFFECT 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.
WILL RANIERI HAND DEBUT 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 for 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 last 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.
WILL LEICESTER HANDLE BIG NIGHT NERVES?
Danny Simpson, Ron-Robert Zieler, Robert Huth, Daniel Amartey, Ahmed Musa, Christian Fuchs and Slimani have Champions League experience, but 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 the occasion - which they proved so often last season - Leicester can thrive and target qualifying from Group G.
WILL RANIERI'S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RETURN BE ANOTHER DREAM?
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.
HOW CAN TEAMS ARREST 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 St Stephen's 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.