After acquiring Wilfred Ndidi’s services for a little over £18million in the January transfer window of 2017, comparisons were quickly made by fans, pundits and papers alike between Leicester’s new midfielder and his predecessor, N’Golo Kante.
But the jury is still out on the heir to the now-Chelsea midfielder’s mantle.
Are Leicester going to get relegated this season? Ndidi they are
— luke lawson (@ItsBigDave1) February 12, 2017
Ndidi is so ahead in abilty compared to these other Leicester players like it's hard to watch him play in such a poor side
— Lennon Donnalley (@JuggernutXI) February 12, 2017
With two goals and a single assist in 28 appearances for Leicester, Ndidi’s offensive contributions are few in number. However, the midfielder boasts a powerful right foot and is perfectly capable of scoring from distance; made apparent by his goal for Genk against Brugge which was nominated for the Puskas award shortlist:
Having averaged 1.8 shots per game last season for Leicester, it comes as little surprise that Ndidi was able to grab a couple of goals over his half-campaign. However, now currently averaging just under one shot a match, his decline makes it unlikely he will turn up the goalscoring thermostat for Leicester any time soon.
Easily Ndidi’s greatest strength, his defensive play is on par with some of the best players in the league. Making four tackles and 1.8 interceptions per game, the dogged midfielder suits Leicester’s system perfectly by launching their counter-attack upon retrieving the ball in midfield. During The Foxes title-winning season, these counter attacks accounted for 27% of their goals. Though, the same tactic is yet to bear fruit this year as Leicester are still in search for their first goal via this means.
Most tackles won in the Premier League in 2017:
N’Golo Kante (60)
Joel Ward (52)
Wilfried Ndidi (52)
Nacho Monreal (51)
Denied. ⛔️ pic.twitter.com/IeuMAyimMi
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 21, 2017
Committing 1.6 fouls per game, Ndidi is far from the most cynical of players in the league. More often than not, his misdemeanours can be chalked down as a ‘tactical’ measure to halt the game should Leicester find themselves on the back foot. Though referees mustn’t find the Leicester man’s play too cynical, having only disciplined the Nigerian with yellow cards on two occasions so far during his time at the club.
Lauded by fans as Ndidi’s worst aspect of play, his successful pass rate lingers at a poor 67%; taking an 8% hit from his first season at the club. For a midfielder, regardless of role, good passing is essential.
Completing roughly two of three attempted passes from a deep-lying position, his errors practically invite the opposition onto Leicester’s back-line. And with less than one key pass leading to a goal every ten games, Ndidi is hardly playing risky or penetrative balls to his teammates; instead committing errors with what should be otherwise simple passes.
When Craig Shakespeare took over from Claudio Ranieri, Leicester’s form took a steep incline with Ndidi operating as the rugged backbone of the team. This season he continues to occupy the same role, though his statistics have taken a dip across the board; the proactive, positive player that the club initially purchased is struggling to emerge when he is needed the most.
Currently partnering Andy King or Matty James as a part of a holding midfield two, Ndidi’s presence usually allows for Leicester’s wingers to bomb forward and supply the side’s two strikers. When operating with his high defensive work rate and coverage across the pitch, Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez are allowed to concentrate their efforts on attacking rather than retreating to support their full-backs should they lose possession.
When Ndidi is on his game, Leicester function well. Off of it however, the system fails.
Fans are justified in their criticisms as Ndidi cuts an exasperating figure. Though, they can take solace in the fact that he is just 20 years of age and can only grow to become more consistent.
Whether he stays on at Leicester and continues to grow or develops elsewhere – Ndidi has all the required assets to become a top player. But a stumble in form means not only does he suffer, so too does the team.
Kante’s time at Leicester is quickly becoming a thing of the past. But will Ndidi make enough of an impact to help forge the Foxes’ future?