Wilfred Ndidi Is The Driving Force Behind Leicester’s Surge Up The Table
The midfielder has made more tackles and more interceptions than any player in Europe’s top leagues this season
Leicester City have more points now than they did at this stage of the 2015-16 season, when they went on to win the title. They are unlikely to repeat that 5,000-1 success, but they are giving Liverpool the closest run for their money. After a run of five straight victories in which they have conceded just one goal, Leicester are second in the table a point above defending champions Manchester City.
Brendan Rodgers is doing a fantastic job. Since he joined the club in February, only Liverpool (65) and City (58) have picked up more points than Leicester (46). Winning their second title in five years – and the second in their history – may prove a stretch, but qualifying for the Champions League is a realistic target.
Rodgers deserves all the praise that has come his way, as do attacking duo Jamie Vardy and James Maddison. Vardy is the top scorer in the league with 12 goals and Maddison’s fine form earned him his first England cap earlier this month. At the back, Caglar Soyuncu and Jonny Evans have formed a solid partnership, with the departure of Harry Maguire barely noticeable. Leicester have conceded just eight goals in their 13 games so far, the fewest in the league. They have not conceded a goal in their last four matches.
Vardy, Maddison and Soyuncu have made the most headlines but the unheralded star of the show is the tough tackling Wilfred Ndidi. Leicester signed the midfielder from Genk for £15m in January 2017 in the hope he would replace N’Golo Kanté as the ballwinner in the middle of the park. The Nigeria international enjoyed a decent start to life in Leicester, but he has really taken his game to the next level this season under Rodgers. He protects the defence and allows the attacking players to thrive. All in all, the 22-year-old has become the perfect foundation for Leicester to excel in Rodgers’ favoured 4-1-4-1 formation.
Rodgers has an abundance of attacking players, with Ayoze Pérez, Youri Tielemans and Harvey Barnes all establishing themselves in the team this year and complementing Maddison and Vardy. Pérez has formed an excellent partnership with Ricardo Pereira down the right flank, with Barnes developing a similar understanding with Ben Chilwell down the left. The full-backs are among the best in the league at providing attacking outlets from deep.
All these attacking players are able to hurt opponents because Ndidi is behind them, drifting across the midfield, winning the ball back and recycling possession. He has made more tackles (61) and more interceptions (37) than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues this season. The sight of Ndidi pursuing an opponent is not one that Leicester supporters will tire of any time soon.
Ndidi’s passing statistics are not particularly spectacular. He has not set up any goals and his total passes (577) and pass success rate (84.2%) are the sixth best in the squad. He is not in the team to create chances. Ndidi’s role is simple, but that should not diminish his importance to the side. Crowbarring so many attacking players in a Premier League team would be unthinkable were it not for his impact as the midfield anchor.
Ndidi has a measured approach to keeping opponents at bay. Granted, he has committed 19 fouls this season (only 17 players in the league have made more) but he has only been booked once in his 12 appearances, which suggests there is an intelligence to his game. For such a young player, he shows tremendous maturity.
Leicester gave Ndidi a new six-year contract last summer, which looks like an increasingly wise move. If the club are to return to the Champions League, they need him in the centre of the pitch, tracking down opponents and starting attacks. He is not the most glamorous name on the teamsheet, but he may be the most important.
By Ben McAleer for WhoScored