Leicester struggled without N’Golo Kante in the first half of last season. As he was going from strength to strength with Chelsea, the Foxes missed his tire-less energy, his mild mannered tenacity and the general impetus he had given the team en-route to Premier League glory.
But more than a year on from Kante’s exit, Leicester have a new midfield dynamo, one who looks to have all the attributes of his predecessor and more – Wilfred Ndidi.
A £17m arrival from Genk midway through 2016/17, Ndidi was certainly no low profile acquisition, but he made an immediate difference for Leicester in Kante’s absence and appears to also be getting better and better now that he’s into his first full season in English football.
Statistically, Ndidi’s contribution is easy to see. Five games into the campaign, the young Nigerian leads the entire Premier League in tackles. He has 20 to his name, one ahead of Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy (19) and two ahead of Kante (18) over at Chelsea
The next most from a Leicester player is seven (Matty James, Wes Morgan & Danny Simpson).
Ndidi’s 198 passes this season put him second at Leicester behind only Harry Maguire (202), while his 284 touches of the ball is second in the Foxes’ squad only to dribbler and creative lynchpin Riyad Mahrez, who has 314 touches to his name.
It shows just how much Ndidi is at the centre of everything for Leicester, just as Kante was. He’s equally as tire-less, too, full of endless running that he owes it to the hard daily training regime with which he began his career with back home in Nigeria.
Ndidi himself is keen to shut down such comparisons with Kante, though, telling the Guardian in April of this year: “I can only see myself as myself.
“Whether people say I play like Kante, or that he’s better than me, I don’t listen to them. All I want to do is play and keep improving, and it is working well at the moment.”
One could argue that Leicester’s lowly league position (15th) after five games is enough evidence to suggest that Ndidi is no ‘new Kante’. But it would be ignorant to suggest that the diminutive Frenchman was the sole reason Leicester were champions in 2015/16 and numerous other factors have changed since that fairytale campaign.
What’s more, Ndidi is much younger and is set to improve and improve. He has the right attitude and mentality, and is keen to learn. At just 20 years of age, time is also on his side.
“He always comes to team meetings 15 or 20 minutes early. He sits there on his own as if he is ready. He is a very endearing personality,” manager Craig Shakespeare told a press conference earlier this month when speaking about Ndidi.
“He is quite quiet but he is slowly coming out of his shell as well. I think sometimes we forget how young he is. He is 20 years old and you forget that.
“When he came in we said give him time to adapt, but he was pushed straight in and took to it very well. I see him improving all the time and getting better and better.”
Having played 84 minutes as Leicester knocked Liverpool out of the Carabao Cup in midweek, Ndidi will be back on the pitch against the Reds at the King Power on Saturday evening.
Statistical data sourced from the Premier League’s official website
Article written by Jamie Spencer of 90min. And this article was first published on 90.com