Leicester City Manager, Bredan Rodgers, has confessed that he really missed the absence of Nigeria wonder-kid, Wilfred Ndidi, after their defeat against Southampton on Sunday.
Leicester slumped to their fifth defeat of the season against Southampton, putting in an underwhelming performance against a side that they had hammered 9-0 back in October.
The Foxes’ performance was worrying and starkly exposed Brendan Rodgers’ reliance on the brilliant Wilfred Ndidi. Although Jamie Vardy has stolen most of the headlines, the real epicenter of Leicester’s success this season has been the ever-reliable Ndidi.
Operating as a defensive midfielder in Brendan Rodgers’ devastating 4-1-4-1 formation, the 23-year-old has frequently acted as Leicester’s ‘get of jail free card’ for their expansive tactical style. His rangy, almost octopus-like legs, his telepathic reading of the game and his marathon runner levels of stamina, equipping with the attributes to sweep the entire width of the pitch in front of the Foxes defence.
The Nigerian’s influence really cannot be overstated. His role is indispensable to the team, helping each one of his teammates perform more effectively. Ndidi’s stoic and energetic defensive performances have allowed full-backs Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira to bomb forward, while also offering James Maddison and Youri Tielemans significant creative freedom in midfield.
Thus, when the news broke that Leicester’s talisman would be out until February there was more than a few City fans who were worried. The Foxes’ performance against Aston Villa in midweek did little to arrest these fears.
In response to Ndidi’s absence, Rodgers re-jigged the side – fielding a 3-5-2 formation which included a central midfield three of Dennis Praet, Youri Tielemans and Maddison. Both Belgians in this trio had underwhelming games with Tielemans in particular looking completely off the pace – suggesting that the huge amount of games he has been involved in this season are beginning to take their toll on his performances.
He was eventually dragged off for Marc Albrighton but it would be Praet’s replacement that changed the game: the often forgotten Hamza Choudhury. Industrious, technical-sound and aggressive, the England Under 21 international helped Leicester take control of the midfield, sparking some muted calls for the player to receive a senior Three Lions call up.
Despite playing just 45 minutes, Hamza Choudhury won more tackles vs. Aston Villa (3/3) than any other Leicester City midfielder.
Rodgers would admit after the game that he had made a mistake in not trusted the Foxes youth academy graduate to fulfill Ndidi’s role in the 4-1-4-1, an error that he responded to by starting him in Leicester’s 2-1 defeat to Southampton this afternoon.
Choudhury was a passenger for the majority of the game, dropping far too deep and inviting pressure from the visitors. There were period were he retreated as far as Leicester’s defensive line with Jonny Evans having the urge to the youngster to push up on more than one occasion.
Leicester also surrendered possession constantly in one of their least dominant displays of the campaign. Choudhury was partly to blame. The 22-year-old was not proactive enough in creating passing options for his teammates as Ndidi does so effectively and was guilty of overplaying – particularly in the second half. Choudhury’s usual combativeness was also curiously absent from his performance with both Praet and Pereira leading him in possession gained by some distance.
The Saints’ performance revealed an issue that Leicester fans have been fearing for a long time. How does this thin squad keep up their Champions League challenge alive in the face of injuries to their star names?
Yes, Choudhury is only 22 and yes, he will improve as he gets more game time over the next several weeks, but he is clearly nowhere near disciplined or talented enough to play Ndidi’s highly specialised role in the 4-1-4-1 system.
Rodgers may need to go back to the drawing board tactically because a few more performances like this and Leicester’s comfortable lead over fifth place is going to disappear at an alarming rate.