The Nigerian keeps reminding observers of his unrivalled quality and he’ll look to thrive as the Foxes attempt to cross another hurdle at Aston Villa
We’re all beginning to run out of superlatives to extol Wilfred Ndidi, whose impressiveness in midfield for Leicester City comes as no surprise these days.
Another excellent showing in the Foxes’ win over beleaguered Liverpool was just another reminder of the anchorman’s ability and importance to Brendan Rodgers side. The East Midlands outfit beat the Reds 3-1, but the final score didn’t tell the full story as Jurgen Klopp’s side dominated the hosts at the King Power Stadium for the majority of proceedings.
The eventual expected goals of 2.8-1.8 per Fbref tells a false representation of proceedings for about 74 minutes in which the defending Premier League champions outplayed Rodgers’ troops. However, the Northern Irishman’s tactical switch to a 4-4-2 diamond and an error-strewn Liverpool collapse helped to turn the game around in the last 15 minutes.
Through it all, Ndidi by and large held his own even when his teammates struggled to deal with the visitors’ coherent pressing in the opening half and equally thrived after his manager’s game-changing alteration.
He even played in Harvey Barnes to make it 3-1 for a rare assist, his first of the season and sixth since joining the club in January 2017. The former Genk player was involved in a season-high three shot-creating actions vs the Reds, pretty much an anomaly for the 24-year-old, whose principal strengths are in his team’s defensive third and the middle of the park.
The Nigerian led the way for blocks on both sides, was a sole interception from ranking highest for that metric and won more tackles than every Leicester player.
Only Caglar Soyuncu (14) recovered possession more times than Ndidi (13), while Jonny Evans completed more headed clearances than the West African, who won five aerial defensive duels against the Reds, three higher than debutant Ozan Kabak.
Another imposing showing prompted effusive Rodgers praise for one of England’s best defending midfielders and arguably on the continent.
“All the stats show you what a difference he makes for us,” Rodgers said, as per the Leicester Mercury. “At the highest level, you need players who can recover the ball, especially when you have talented players ahead and he is one of the best in the Premier League at that. He was colossal today.”
Ndidi’s exponential growth since moving to English football has seen him improve several facets of his game to become a more complete player. That development has been aided by playing under Rodgers, who generally favours a possession-based style, despite the drop in their average this term (52.8 percent) from 57.6 last term.
“[Ndidi] is one of the top players in world football. His quality in his football is improving all the time. He is irreplaceable for us. He’s fantastic for a young player,” Rodgers said after the Liverpool game. “What is pleasing as a coach, is that he wants to learn. He will improve and get better. I’m so happy he plays in my team.”
After last season’s disappointment saw the Foxes fail to seal Champions League qualification after a collapse in the second half of the campaign, there’s been a keenness to go one step further by ending in the top four this time around.
Their place in Europe’s most prestigious tournament seemed sewn-up after a strong run at the start of the campaign but injuries and an astonishing loss of form led to a slide that eventually ended in a fifth-place finish.
Rodgers’ side are two points worse off this season after 24 games, however, the 14-point chasm they had over fifth-place Manchester United at this stage last term is significantly lower than the advantage over West Ham United in this strange season.
The peculiarity of this campaign is evident by how the Hammers occupy fifth place this time around, four points behind Ndidi and his teammates, while last year’s champions sit outside all the continental spots in sixth.
Leicester travel to an Aston Villa side on Sunday afternoon, looking to diminish the hopes of Dean Smith’s side of playing European football next season. While the West Midlands side have two games in hand, both matches see them play Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, two sides equally jostling for spots on the continent as well.
As for Ndidi, there’s a hope delay doesn’t mean denial, rather simply preparing the Nigeria star and the Foxes for the promise of Champions League football. Someone of the West African’s talent ought to be showcased on the greatest European nights and, after last year’s failure at the death, Rodgers will hope his players see things out this time as they look to secure a place among the continent’s finest for only the second time in the club’s history.
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