Kelechi Iheanacho grabbed two goals and an assist as a dominant Leicester City side maintained their perfect record in the Europa League this season with a 4-0 win against Braga to cement their place at the top of Group G.
The Nigerian striker has struggled to score consistently since joining Leicester from Manchester City in 2017 but he proved an able deputy for Jamie Vardy with a fine performance.
He combined well with James Maddison all game to cause the away side problems, with a brilliant one-two between them leading to the opening goal, which Iheanacho bundled past Matheus in the 20th minute, and the Nigerian netted again just after half-time when his deflected strike found its way into the net after receiving the ball from Cengiz Under.
The 24-year-old forward was not finished there, though, latching on to Youri Tielemans’ defence-splitting pass to centre for Dennis Praet, who finished emphatically in the 67th minute, and Maddison rounded off the rout with a smart 78th-minute effort.
Braga struggled to get into the game throughout or create any chances of note despite enjoying most of the possession, with Barcelona loanee Abel Ruiz being unable to provide much of a presence up top. The win sees Leicester move to the top of their Europa League group with three wins out of three, while Braga fall to second on six points. Leicester will now turn their attention to their Premier League fixture against Wolves on Sunday afternoon.
TALKING POINT - ARE LEICESTER GENUINE CONTENDERS FOR THE PREMIER LEAGUE AND EUROPA LEAGUE TITLES?
It has been an unpredictable Premier League season so far and although Leicester find themselves only one point behind league leaders Liverpool, back-to-back defeats to West Ham and Aston Villa in the first half of October would have concerned fans. Since then they have won five games on the trot in all competitions, scoring 14 goals and only conceding two. Braga have been mightily impressive in both domestic and continental football this season yet Leicester dispatched them with ease, which is testament to this team's quality and strength in depth. It could even be argued that the East Midlands outfit have a better squad now than they did when they won the league in the 2015-16 season under Claudio Ranieri. For example, as pointed out by one Leicester fan on Twitter, Fofana, Barnes, Choudhury, Thomas, Justin, Tielemans, Maddison, Ndidi and Under are all aged 23 or younger.
The fact that Leicester are excelling with Soyuncu, Amartey, Evans, Ndidi, Pereira and Castagne all being injured highlights Brendan Rodgers' managerial ability and also their strength in depth. Justin has had to play at right-back, left-back and centre-back so far this season, with him and fellow full-back Fuchs joining Fofana in central defence tonight and against Leeds at the weekend, yet they both have slotted in there seamlessly.
While Leicester's midfielders each tend to chip in with a few goals, one thing they have been lacking in recent seasons has been a dependable back-up striker to Vardy. Iheanacho has struggled to find consistency since joining in 2017 but if he can sustain his form Leicester are realistic contenders for the Premier League and Europa League titles. They may have run out of steam last season, but perhaps they have learnt their lesson.
Dennis Praet of Leicester City celebrates with his team mates after scoring to make it 3-0 during the UEFA Europa League Group G stage match between Leicester City and SC Braga at Leicester City Stadium on November 5, 2020 in Leicester, United Kingdom.
Image credit: Getty Images
MAN OF THE MATCH
Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City) - Going into tonight's game, the 24-year-old forward had 21 goals and 14 assists from 95 games for Leicester. Even though most of those appearances came as a substitute, the Nigerian has often looked out of his depth or overly static. Leicester have stayed faithful to him through his struggles and perhaps this season could be a turning point. He linked up so well with Maddison during the game, providing a presence up top while also making dynamic runs to stretch the defence, playing in team-mates and showing the skill to dribble past defenders too. At times he took a tunnel-vision approach to the frustration of his team-mates, but that is to be expected from a striker who has been starved of opportunities. Aside from his two goals, he bagged an assist and both his passing accuracy and take-on success was 100%.
Leicester City: Schmeichel 7, Fofana 9, Justin 8, Fuchs 7, Albrighton 7, Thomas 7, Tielemans 8, Choudhury 8, Under 7, Maddison 9, Iheanacho 9...Subs: Morgan 6, Praet 8, Barnes 6, Perez 7
Braga: Matheus 5, Raul 4, Carmo 4, Viana 4, Esgaio 5, Novais 5, Horta 5, Al-Musrati 5, Galeno 6, Ruiz 4, Paulinho 5...Subs: Medeiros 4, Guillherme 5, Gaitan 5, Moura 5, Castro 5
20' - GOOOAAAALLLL!!! A great throw-in finds the run of Iheanacho, who does a nice little one-two with Maddison to help the ball into the box. The 'keeper comes rushing out and gets his hands to it but the Nigerian striker benefits from some good fortune as the ball bobbles past the 'keeper towards the goal and he smashes it home to give Leicester a 1-0 lead.
26' - SAVED! Great corner from Novais finds Viana, who rises above Justin to head it goalwards and it is comfortably saved by Schmeichel.
32' - CLOSE!! Maddison is involved in everything Leicester does going forward! Iheanacho lays it off to him and he finds space to take a powerful shot from perhaps 25 to 30 yards out. It dips a lot but not quite enough to find its way into the goal.
45+1' - WHAT A SAVE FROM MATHEUS!! Iheanacho weaves his way in between a few defenders before playing a through ball to Maddison, who sends Viana the wrong way to give himself a clear view of the goal. He aims for the bottom-left corner of the goal with his shot but a magnificent diving save denies him a goal and it goes out for a corner.
45+2' - BLOCKED! The corner comes in and Choudhury is in plenty of space around the far post. He brings it down and shoots but it's well blocked by a defender.
47' - GOOOOAAAALLL!! It's a second for Iheanacho! He gets the ball from Under, turns and shoots from about 20 yards out. It takes a big deflection off Viana before going past Matheus but it still counts as his goal and his third of the Europa League group stages.
52' - CLOSE!! Braga show their keenness to get back into the game as Galeno slips it through to Ruiz in the box, who stretches for the ball and pokes it slightly wide.
67' - GOOOOAAAAALLL!!! Praet turns super-sub and likely kills off the game! Tielemans lets Iheanacho loose with a defence-splitting ball into the box and he plays an early pass across goal into the path of Praet, who fires home emphatically.
78' - GOOOAAAALLLL!!! Maddison's brilliant performance tonight is finally rewarded with a goal as Leicester make it four. He slots the ball home after a bit of luck with a deflection.
81' - OFF THE POST!! Maddison takes the corner and Perez flicks it goalwards, with a deflection off Moura helping it onto the post and out for another corner. This game has had so many deflections. Braga haven't played well at all but they must surely still be cursing their luck.