Leicester target Wilfred Ndidi profiled: What the Genk midfielder would bring
By Martin Laurence, WhoScored.com
Last Updated: 03/12/16 6:25pm
Leicester have reportedly agreed a fee with Belgian outfit Genk for 19-year-old middle man Wilfred Ndidi, whose performances in the Europa League in particular have alerted the attention of the Premier League champions.
After 13 matches last season Leicester, who would go on to achieve one of the greatest sporting feats in recent memory, were top of the Premier League with 28 points.
While it was always unlikely that they would be unable to maintain the same standards this time around, particularly given the need to juggle Champions League commitments, few would have predicted quite how much they would struggle. Two points above the relegation zone with the worst away record in the top-flight ahead of a trip to Sunderland this weekend, it's little wonder the Foxes are looking to add to their ranks in January.
The first port of call is understandably the need to bolster the options in midfield. N'Golo Kante's departure has left the side with a gaping hole in the middle of the park that neither Daniel Amartey or Andy King have been able to fill. With Danny Drinkwater now suspended and summer signing Nampalys Mendy only now recovering from an injury that has kept him out for much of the season, Leicester have been exposed in central areas.
Even once all four are fit and available, none possess quite the same energy and bite in midfield that Kante offered the club last season. Replacing it seemed likely to be an impossible task, but Leicester think that they have found their man…
Nigerian Wilfred Ndidi, already capped a handful of times at international level, is the sort of midfielder that the team has missed in protecting the defence, and given the Super Eagles failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations in January the youngster's immediate availability would not be an issue.
Given Kante produced both the most tackles (4.7) and interceptions (4.1) per game in the Premier League last season, it's little wonder Leicester have missed his ability to break up play so frequently. No side averaged higher figures for either last season, but the Foxes have fallen to 15th in terms of tackles (16.5 per game) and 12th for interceptions (14.5) this time around.
Their liking for a player that has achieved quite remarkable figures in both regards in the Europa League should come as little shock then. Ndidi has averaged a whopping 6.8 tackles per game across five appearances - which is well ahead of his closest rival on 5 - along with 4.4 interceptions per match. Despite such high numbers the teenager isn't one to just dive into tackles though, and like Kante he looks to stay on his feet whenever possible, harrying opponents into mistakes.
An aspect of the former Leicester middle man's game that was often overlooked last season was his contribution to their attacking moves, and the Nigerian can also weigh in in that regard. He's scored twice in the Europa League this season, netting in both matches against strong opposition in the form of Athletic Club, and bombs forward well to help provide options in the final third. Indeed, his average of 1.6 shots per game in the tournament is the second highest for Group F leaders Genk.
While the youngster perhaps doesn't offer the same composure in possession as Kante, with a modest 78.1% pass accuracy despite attempting the most passes per game (57.6) for his side, there is even an aspect where he would be more effective than his potential predecessor. Standing at 6ft 2in the 19-year old has a considerable height advantage on the former Foxes fan favourite and has utilised his frame to full effect, winning more aerial duels than any other midfielder in the Europa League.
With all that in mind, Ndidi's WhoScored.com rating of 8.11 is enough to rank third in UEFA's secondary tournament and earn the recognition of some of Europe's top teams. Leicester have been quick to jump to the front of the queue and if they do get a deal over the line, Ranieri may just have found the right man to shield his back four.