Wilfred Ndidi’s role in Leicester’s success has been so important
Harvey Barnes had a run at the Norwich defence but was dispossessed. Wilfred Ndidi won the ball back with a firm tackle. Then it was James Maddison’s turn to drive at the opposition but he lost it too. Ndidi was there to recover possession once more.
Not everything went Leicester’s way in their 1-1 draw at home to Norwich on Saturday, a result that ended a sequence of nine consecutive victories for Brendan Rodgers’ side. But a point is no reason to panic. Not when Ndidi was providing yet another reminder that Leicester boasts one of the best midfielders in the Premier League within their ranks.
Jamie Vardy’s goals have been impossible to ignore. Maddison has so often been the provider. Caglar Soyuncu has been the surprise. But it’s Ndidi, the man at the heart of this Leicester team, who can find himself overlooked too easily by those on the outside looking in.
Team-mates and supporters see it very differently.
“I think he’s the best in the Premier League at tackling and winning the ball back, bar none,” said Maddison recently.
“I know N’Golo Kante is a brilliant player and there are players like that. But actually winning the ball back and taking the ball off the opposition, I don’t think there is anyone better than Wilfred.
“Sometimes you get a player like that and what he does doesn’t get on the back page of the papers, doesn’t get talked about on Match of the Day. Us as team-mates and players who play against him realise what a top player he is.
“He’s fantastic at what he does and he lets players like me and Youri Tielemans do our thing higher up the pitch because we know we’ve got that solidity behind us.”
Against Norwich, Ndidi made the most tackles and the most interceptions. He recovered possession of the ball more times than anyone else on the pitch and he rarely lost it.
That should not be a surprise. This season, just as he did last season, he tops the Premier League rankings for tackles. Unlike last season, he has also ascended to the top of the list for interceptions too. He is second when it comes to winning possession of the football.
This reflects his role in the side and it shows how good he is at it. But it also reveals just how important that is for Leicester. Ndidi’s presence is central to what Rodgers is trying to do.
Leicester has become a formidable pressing team, allowing fewer opposition passes per defensive action than any other side. Much of that is down to Ndidi, whether it’s pressing himself when the time is right – 19 of his tackles have come in the opposition half – or giving those ahead of him the confidence to push on in the knowledge that he is behind them.
As Maddison suggests, having Ndidi in that anchor role helps others to feel emboldened. He is there to back them up, ready to sustain the attack if and when possession is surrendered.
Rodgers understands his importance.
“He is an incredible player,” he said recently.
“The offensive players get the credit but he does the dirty work. He has this brain for the game, where he can smell danger and always finds himself there.
“When you play a pressing game you need someone like Wilf. He can cover the ground so fast, he can press up to the ball, he can cover in. Tactically he is improving and playing better. He is playing in a specific position we haven’t played before where he can run and he has got a clear role to sit and protect and be that link player.
“His game is simple. He just needs to serve the players in front of him and be an option to play off the center-halves and full-backs and provide continuity in the game.
“He is always smiling too.”
That last bit is not entirely true. Ndidi could barely lift his head in his post-match interview with Sky Sports after making a rare mistake in the build-up to Chelsea’s opener at Stamford Bridge. It spoke volumes for his character that he went on to score the equaliser that earned Leicester a point. It says just as much about his standards that he could not forgive himself.
Ndidi is a thoughtful man who has enrolled in a business management course at De Montfort University and has plans to launch a football school in his native Nigeria. On and off the field, there is a maturity that belies his age – he is still only 22 years old.
Expect him to continue to improve. But the truth is that Wilfred Ndidi is already one of the best players in his position in the Premier League. Leicester could not do it without him.
• Culled from skysports.com.
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