Iheanacho’s Luton Town display may open fresh door at Leicester City
Kelechi Iheanacho was seen as the next big thing in football when his goals led Nigeria to a fourth FIFA U-17 World Cup triumph. His profile was enhanced tremendously when he joined Manchester City after the U-17 tournament in the Middle East.
Playing mostly as a substitute, Iheanacho created a record as the best striker in the world per minute owing to his prolific displays for the Cityzens. And so, when he joined Leicester City in a bid to gain more regular playing time, pundits saw in his expected combination with Jamie Vardy a deadly combo. But things have not worked out for Iheanacho.
After many games without goals, he started seeing less game time in the club. Even when analysts thought Brendan Rodgers’ arrival was the fillip he needed to return to full flight, the reverse has been the case.
Iheanacho did not make the matchday squad in Leicester City’s last three league matches, prompting many to question his future at the 2016 champions. But things may be beginning to change for the lad, who was adjudged one of the most valuable youth players in world football in 2013.
On Tuesday, Iheanacho made a rare appearance in Leicester City’s colours when he played for just 20 minutes in the 4-0 demolition of Luton Town in the Carabao Cup. Yes, 20 minutes, but it was a time well utilized.
Brendan Rodgers prefers new signing, Ayoze Perez as Vardy’s strike partner, but since the former Newcastle United frontman joined Leicester City, he has not been as prolific as he was with the Geordies.
James Maddison, who plays behind the strikers, has been more effective than the Spaniard, but he also been short on goals return. On Tuesday, Rodgers gave Demarai Gray and Marc Albrighton starting berths. Perez was given the opportunity to lead the line on his own.
Analysing the game, Jordan Blackwell wrote in the Leicester Mercury: “While the individual performances will have delighted Rodgers, the cohesion and fluidity of the display will probably be the biggest positive he takes. It proved that the ideas he is implementing in training are being taken on board by all of the players, and not just those that feature regularly.
“Maddison’s sore ankle means he is a doubt for this weekend’s Premier League match with Newcastle.
“For the first time this season, there was no Jamie Vardy in the City line-up. The talisman played 90 minutes in every match up to Luton, but was given a rest at Kenilworth Road. In his place, Ayoze Perez-led the line for 70 minutes, while Iheanacho played the final 20.
“Perez took half-an-hour to grow into the game but provided a decent focal point for the forward-thinking midfielders behind him. He flicked Albrighton’s corner into Gray’s path to set up the opener and could have had a goal himself, a chip ruled out for offside just before half-time.
“But while his interplay was decent, he was perhaps lacking as a goal threat.
Iheanacho played totally differently. The Nigerian, making his first appearance of the season, pressed the game really well and, perhaps benefitting from Luton’s tiredness, broke in behind on three occasions.
“The first time, he stumbled, but helped set up Tielemans’ goal. Secondly, he saw an effort saved. Then he finally grabbed the goal that ended his 366-day drought, lobbing Luton’s James Shea.
“On those showings, Iheanacho is more suited to deputising for Vardy should the number nine ever be unavailable.”
On the strength of Tuesday’s performance, optimists could rightly say that the waiting period could be over soon for Iheanacho. It is up to him to seize the opportunity.