LEICESTER, England — Leicester’s decision to prioritize the Champions League over the Premier League is being vindicated.
Riyad Mahrez made it three wins out of three for Leicester in Group G on Tuesday, clinching a 1-0 victory over FC Copenhagen that left his team requiring only one win from its final three games to make the knockout phase.
Halfway through the group stage, Leicester holds a five-point lead over Copenhagen and FC Porto. Danish league leader Copenhagen had been unbeaten in 21 matches in all competitions before being sunk by Mahrez’s first-half goal.
“The most important thing was to be solid because Copenhagen is difficult to play against — all the players are strong and physical,” Mahrez said. “But we did it.”
Mahrez had been restored to the starting lineup after being rested on Saturday at Chelsea, only coming off the bench in the second half of the 3-0 loss in London.
While Leicester is thriving in European football’s elite competition, Claudio Ranieri’s team is floundering in its English title defense.
Leicester has more points from three European games (nine) than from eight Premier League games (eight) this season, with the central England team only two points above the relegation zone at home.
“When you play in the Champions League your mind is more concentrated, you are very, very focused on the match,” Ranieri said. “Of course you lose something when you play in the (Premier) League. But I hope soon we can change this mood … our goal is now to change our concentration in the Premier League.”
Leicester’s domestic struggles have been epitomized by the goal drought being endured by Jamie Vardy, who was the team’s top scorer last season during the astonishing run to a first Premier League title.
Although Vardy failed to score for an eighth successive game on Tuesday, the striker was the architect of the only goal against the Danish visitors at the King Power Stadium. Five minutes before halftime, Vardy’s cross was headed by Islam Slimani to fellow Algerian Mahrez, who flicked the ball into the net from close range.
Leicester had a goal ruled out in the second half when Slimani was adjudged to be offside when he met Marc Albrighton’s cross.
In the closing minutes, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel’s superb reflexes secured the three points for Leicester by keeping out Andreas Cornelius’ shot with a one-handed save.
Repeating the victory in the reverse fixture in two weeks in Copenhagen will guarantee a top-two finish for Leicester in Group G and secure passage to the round of 16.
In the other Group G game, FC Porto beat Club Brugge 2-1 to condemn the bottom-place Belgian side to a third successive loss.