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Thomas Wardle writes a detailed scout report about Wilfred Ndidi, Leicester’s new defensive midfielder.
Premier League followers last year were stunned by a Leicester City team who were one of the favourites to get relegated at the start of last season. Supporters, players and pundits were left shocked as £5.6 million signing N’Golo Kante inspired the Foxes to a miraculous Premier League title. Kante was key for Leicester last season and his efforts were rewarded with a £32 million move to Chelsea in the summer. Since then Leicester have thrived in the Champions League, comfortably winning their group. But in the Premier League it has been a different story. Leicester are well and truly in a relegation scrap, and their position doesn’t look like improving any time soon. However, could new signing Wilfred Ndidi fill the gap left by Kante?
It is no mystery that the reason for Leicester’s collapse this season is to do with the gap left by N’Golo Kante. The Foxes tried to replace him in the summer by bringing in midfielder Nampalys Mendy, but his game time has been limited as he’s had to sit out most of the season through injury. With the lack of centre midfielders at Leicester City, it would be no surprise to see Ndidi thrown straight in at the deep end. The Nigerian midfielder could very quickly become a fan favourite for the Foxes, if he can manage to help inspire the team and push them up the Premier League table. But who is Wilfred Ndidi?
He was born on 16th of December 1996 in Nigeria, Africa. Wilfred Ndidi started his career with youth side Nathaniel boys of Lagos, after impressing on trial at the Nigerian side. Ndidi was then brought in by Belgian giants Genk, as they looked to develop the African talent. In the 2014/15 season, he was deployed as a centre back on his league debut which came on the 31st of January 2015. He played a huge role from then on for Genk, as he was later moved forward to the defensive midfield position which is where he helped RC Genk achieve qualification for the Europa League last season.
The Belgian league has a playoff system in which Wilfred Ndidi played a pivotal part in the latter stages of last season. The midfielder scored what would go on to be goal of the season in the Belgian Pro League, after using brilliant skill before sending the ball flying at 111km/h on the volley into the top right corner. He also went on to score a few more goals towards the end of the play offs which helped Genk towards Europa League qualification. He was voted 3rd best youngster in the Pro league last season, which is impressive for a defensive minded player. The 20-year-old also has some International experience, making his debut for the Nigerian National team against Cameroon in October 2015 after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd minute for John Obi Mikel. But he has failed to become a regular in that position so far.
Wilfred Ndidi has been compared to the player who The Foxes are getting him to replace, N’Golo Kante. The two are very similar players defensively, but there are also huge differences between the two. The main difference being that Ndidi stands at 6’2” tall, which is considerably taller than Kante. The Nigerian international has an exceptional engine and work rate, but whether he can live up to the speed of the Premier League is going to prove to be a tough task for the 20-year-old, but there is no doubting he will eventually be capable of it if he is given time to adapt.
The new Leicester midfielder isn’t much of a ball carrier, as his height doesn’t allow him to use his trickery to jinx past the opposition, but he moves the ball splendidly. His range of passing is wonderful. His long range passing ability in particular is exceptional. There were times last season and this season when Ndidi could break the opposition down before playing a key pass to a wide midfielder, being the pivot in the transition from defence to attack. But his ability to switch the play has been vital for Genk. That is why the 20-year-old was tested in the defensive midfielder role after playing as a centre-back. Peter Maes, Genk’s manager at the time, found that he can control the game just in front of the back line.
As proven last season, the defensive midfielder has got a goal or two in him, and when he does hit the ball right then there isn’t much the keeper can do about it. His physical attributes are fantastic for a player of his age. He can intercept or win a tackle at ease, and very rarely gets a foul given against him. His aerial threat from set pieces can also be vital when under pressure and when in the opposition’s box. If Leicester supporters are expecting the same player as Kante to arrive then they’re in for a bit of a shock. Kante often went unnoticed last season as he would glide across the pitch, but with Ndidi’s size he can’t have that approach. Attackers will fear playing against him as he makes sure the opposition knows he’s there. You may see Ndidi put in a few strong tackles within the first 20 minutes of games just to show the opposition what they’re up against.
Having played as a centre back and full-back under Alex McLeish at RC Genk, he is very much safety first, which for Leicester isn’t a bad thing at the moment. However, I believe he does lack a bit of creativity when going forward. This could be a problem for The Foxes if they carry on playing the 4-4-2 system. This is because both midfielders must have a bit of everything, and even though he may have everything else (or more or less everything anyway) he does need to have a sense of adventure driven into him. Playing alongside great attacking players with the quality of Mahrez, Vardy, Slimani, Musa and many more may inspire him but I wouldn’t expect much attacking intent from him to start off with.
Leicester City need to be patient with their new signing. Everyone knows it is difficult moving countries and especially at such a young age. But it tends to be easier for an attacking minded player to fit into a team. This is because they are usually allowed to express themselves whereas the defensive minded players must be more cautious when on the ball.
I believe he will be able to thrive this season for the English champions if they deploy a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1 formation. This would see Ndidi play in a similar defensive midfield role as he played with RC Genk.
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