Can Iheanacho drag Leicester out of danger?
King Kelz remained with the Foxes beyond the transfer window, can he now fire them out of danger?
The pause in Premier League action this weekend perhaps gives Leicester City the chance to pause, reflect and take stock after a disastrous start to the new season.
Brendan Rodgers hasn’t won the sack race, but he’s won nothing at all so far this term, with the Foxes rooted to the bottom of the table after six matches having failed to take single victory in 22-23.
In fact, they have just one point—thanks to a draw with Brentford—and last Sunday’s 5-2 defeat by Brighton & Hove Albion was another humbling setback.
In a contest that proved to be Graham Potter’s last in charge of the Seagulls, they taught the 2016 Prem champions a lesson with a convincing triumph, even though Leicester took a first-minute lead and then equalised—following a Brighton rally—in the 33rd minute.
The Foxes ultimately lost, but this shouldn’t mean doom and gloom for the East Midlanders as they prepare for next weekend’s trip to Tottenham Hotspur.
Could Kelechi Iheanacho—opening goalscorer against Brighton—prove to be the Foxes’ saviour and the man to drag them out of the mire?
For the trip to Brighton, Rodgers opted to cut Leicester’s leading man Jamie Vardy, dropping the veteran to the bench in order to attack the Seagulls with fresh blood in the form of Iheanacho and Patson Daka.
It was a big call.
At 35, Vardy is still considered among the Prem’s leading goal-getters, even though his impact appears to be sliding.
He managed just 20 starts last term as age and injuries took their toll, and while he bagged a respectable 15 goals, he’s failed to net in any of his first six outings—five of which have been from the start—this term.
While he registered assists against Brentford and Chelsea, outings against Arsenal and Southampton have been anonymous, while he was isolated entirely as the East Midlanders were defeated at home by Manchester United.
Nonetheless, it was a major show of faith in Iheanacho and Daka for Rodgers to pull the trigger on the ex-England man.
For this match, Rodgers opted for something closer to a 4-4-2, with James Maddison pushed out to the right flank and Iheanacho and Daka starting in tandem up top.
“We got two strikers up against it and just had more attacking players on the field,” Rodgers explained to Leicester’s official website after the match. “That’s an area that we’ve probably been short on in terms of creation of opportunities.
“Both the boys scored, so that was really good, but I didn’t think we kept the ball well enough,” he added. “In the Premier League, you have to look after the ball and we gave it up too easy.”
It was a decision that bore fruit during the opening seconds of the match, as Daka fed through the Nigeria striker, who finished decisively from close range.
He’s now had a hand in 20 goals in his past 25 starts for the club, scoring 15 and laying on a further five with assists. It’s an enviable record, and clearly demonstrates how Iheanacho can be, particularly when he’s played from the start.
What is clear, however, is that he’s much more successful when paired with another striker.
Iheanacho excels when he can drop into space, have a little bit more time to operate, and capitalise on the opportunities that are created by a forward partner’s pace and movement.
Daka certainly has pace in abundance, and his off-the-ball work is also improving as he grows into life in the Premier League.
The Zambian equalised in the 33rd minute when he brought down a long ball forward by Youri Tielemans, killed Lewis Dunk with a deft touch, and then paused before slamming the ball home to—for a time at least—give Leicester hope that they might take something from this match.
A few more goals like this, and Daka might be ready to take the mantle from Vardy, in the process forging an effective striking partnership with Iheanacho.
The Super Eagle largely remains popular in these parts, even if his career hasn’t quite taken off as people expected when he left ManchesterCity.
He’s arguably never truly had the faith—at least as a starter—from a succession of managers, and hasn’t done enough, consistently, to unseat Vardy, let alone prove he could be his long-term replacement.
However, Iheanacho’s strong record when starting matches, coupled with his early goalscoring display against Brighton ought to convince Rodgers to start the striker this weekend and give him the chance of enjoying an established run in the side.
Still only three points from safety, albeit with a tricky fixture coming up, Leicester have ample time and opportunity to drag themselves way clear of the dangerzone.
However, it’s evident that a change of approach is needed to ensure the Foxes have vibrancy and innovation in the final third.
Having made the most of his last opportunity, could Iheanacho be the man to drag Leicester from trouble and save the Foxes’ season?
Can Nigeria star save Leicester City?