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Did Iheanacho winner overshadow Ndidi impact?

10:46 AM EST 12/3/19
Leicester City's Wilfried Ndidi against Tottenham Hotspur 2019-20
The Leicester City striker stole the headlines on Sunday following a win over Everton in which his compatriot also excelled

By James O'Conners

It’s understandable that Kelechi Iheanacho stole the headlines on Sunday after coming off the bench to contribute an assist and score the winner as Leicester City beat Everton 2-1 at home.

His impact was remarkable considering that the Nigeria international hadn’t played a single minute of Premier League action before being introduced against the Toffees, with the hosts trailing 1-0.

However, while Iheanacho deserves all of the credit and the plaudits that came his way, his performance overshadowed the contribution of compatriot Wilfred Ndidi, who also played a major role in the Foxes come-from-behind triumph.

With Everton in a dire league position and facing a high-flying Leicester side who were their peers in the league table last season, Marco Silva switched to more defensive structure for Sunday’s match.

Instead of his usual 4-2-3-1 formation, the coach opted for a 5-4-1 shape when defending and a 3-4-2-1 setup when on the attack. Alex Iwobi played as the right-sided inside forward, meaning he had the not-insignificant duty of tracking Ben Chilwell’s forward runs.

For Leicester, it was the usual 4-3-3, with Ndidi as the deepest of the three central midfielders; he was there to provide a solid base for James Maddison and Youri Tielemans, allowing the pair to get into scoring positions, find space between the lines or beyond the opposition in the half spaces.

While the Super Eagles star excels in this role, does it truly get the best out of his natural qualities?

In the first 15 minutes, Ndidi received the ball 23 times, more than any other player on the pitch, but as Everton sat in a compact shape and allowed the Nigeria midfielder to have the ball, his game rarely showed the penetration required to break down such resolute opponents.

There were flashes of ambition in his passing; a diagonal towards Harvey Barnes in the 11th minute, an overcooked slide rule pass for Ayoze Perez in the 17th and a expertly drilled switch of play to Chilwell on the half-hour mark.

The second half saw Ndidi take the game by the scruff of the neck.

It’s always been blatantly clear that 22-year-old business and management student is suppressing some of his natural game to give Brendan Rodgers what he wants from a base midfielder.

With Leicester trailing, he came out of his shell.

There was a 54th-minute interception and back-heeled pass from which Ricardo Pereira tested Jordan Pickford.

After his countryman, Iheanacho came on, there were further moments to drive his side on.

Once Leicester changed their formation, Ndidi also had far more licence to break forward with three central defenders behind him.

Four minutes after Iheanacho came on, the midfielder played a double one-two with him and set up the left-footed striker to shoot. It lacked power, but it showed the change in Leicester, and Ndidi’s intent.

Two minutes later, he won a header, picked up the loose ball, slipped Kelechi in down the right and when his cross-cum-shot was skewed across goal and Vardy tapped in.

By now, Ndidi was playing forward passes into Vardy’s feet or releasing him in the channels.

One ball set the former England striker away and he, in turn, found Iheanacho in the box but the latter was crowded out.

As for Ndidi, his tepid first half was replaced by a dynamic, determined second period.

By full time, he had completed 69% of his 26 forward passes, albeit with just 28% of his total passes going towards the Everton goal. He created four shooting chances for teammates, won all four of his tackles and made two interceptions.

He was arguably the real man of the match, but may only show these true qualities when Rodgers gives him a greater licence to express himself.