Leicester could teach a thing or two to Arsenal, Tottenham and others when it comes to performing in Europe

It has long been said that English clubs under-perform in Europe due to a lack of experience, but Craig Shakespeare's men have disproved that

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Even in 2017, from the bottom end of the Premier League and with Claudio Ranieri sent packing, Leicester City continue to upturn what we understand about modern football.

For years we have been told that the reason English teams under-perform in the Champions League is a lack of European experience, that they have not yet been able to study and learn the continental method of play, slower and more considered, and that is what has cost them progress to the serious end of the competition.

But how much European experience do Leicester City have? As a club, this is their fourth ever season in Europe. Among the players, it belongs mainly to new signings like Ahmed Musa. Claudio Ranieri, of course, has a bit but it was Craig Shakespeare, not exactly well-travelled, who was in charge on Tuesday night.

And yet Leicester City woke up on Wednesday morning in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The last time Arsenal got that far, back in 2010, they had Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Andrei Arshavin playing for them.

So what does that tell us? That cracking Europe is about more than just accumulating experience until you have enough to compete as equals.

In fact Leicester prove the opposite: they have not been weighed down and worn down by years of under-performance in Europe, as Arsenal have. They have been free to go and play their own game, rather than playing anyone else’s, and it has carried them into Europe’s last eight.


While Leicester have lost the element of surprise in the Premier League this season, and felt the full force of gravity, they have managed to retain it in Europe. Opponents are not used to facing that traditional brand of canny, physical, direct 4-4-2 football, in the era where all centre-back split and all full-backs bomb on. What Leicester did to Porto in the group stage and to Sevilla over two legs is not very different to what they did on their way to making history last year.

If there is one good precedent for Leicester it is Atletico Madrid, who have their own robust defensive style under Diego Simeone. They too have drastically over-performed, reaching the final only to be agonisingly beaten by Real Madrid in both 2014 and 2016. Of course Atletico have had better individuals – Diego Costa in 2014, Antoine Griezmann in 2016 – but the principles are similar.

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Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid have had success in the Champions League with a defensive-minded 4-4-2 (Getty)

What this shows is that there is no right way to play in Europe, and that being different is a help, not a hindrance. Leicester are never going to out-pass or out-class the best teams in Europe but they can find their own way to win.

Maybe this is where Arsenal have been going wrong for the last six years. Their game in the Emirates-era has been such a possession-based Barcelona-lite approach that it has lost all the physical edge they had back in the Highbury days. But how can they expect to beat Barcelona and Bayern Munich who play a similar way but with better players?

Tottenham have their own distinct brand of football but it comes from a manager who grew up as a coach in Spain. Their high pressing positional play is a joy to watch in the Premier League when it swamps opponents but Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen both made them look stupid this season. That is why there is a sense in the camp at Spurs that, for now at least, they are better suited to domestic than European football.

Ultimately, to take the big European sides on at their own game you have to be as well-equipped as they are. Manchester City can play their natural attractive expansive game in the Champions League. But they have the best manager in the world and a team full of £50million players.

Everyone else – including Arsenal – has to find another way. That is what Leicester have done, making their inexperience irrelevant.

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