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Why Wilfred Ndidi holds the key to Champions League football for Leicester City

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Roar Rookie
4th March, 2020
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The date is Saturday, 11 January. Leicester City sit aloft in second place, one point above Premier League holders Manchester City.

This was off the back of two wins against West Ham and Newcastle, while also enjoying an eight-game winning streak between October and December.

The media heralded the likes of Jamie Vardy, who was well clear at the top of the golden boot charts and was touted for an England comeback, and James Maddinson, who was regarded by many as a mercurial talent and linked to a big money move to Old Trafford.

Fast forward back to present day, and they sit in third place, seven points behind a faltering Man City side and being brought back into a top-four race. Since that date, they have only won one in their last seven in the league, picking up only five points, and currently sit in 17th on the Premier League form table over the last six fixtures.

So what has happened to the foxes in the last month?

One crucial player to the team who has played very little football over the past month is Wilfred Ndidi. The Nigerian international had surgery on his knee in early January, after he injured his meniscus in training, and hasn’t played a full 90 minutes in the Premier League since Leicester’s 3-0 win over Newcastle.

Leicester City's Wilfred Ndidi

(Photo by Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images)

He has since returned to full fitness and looks set to start Leicester’s next Premier League game. But it is easy to see how much of an effect Ndidi’s injury had to the Foxes’ form.

Statistically, Ndidi’s presence on this Leicester side can’t be overstated. He currently averages four tackles per 90, second best in the league (only bettered by teammate Ricardo Pereira’s 4.3), and 2.6 interceptions per 90, best in the Leicester squad and third best in the league.

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He is not only an exceptional defensive player, but an acute passer as well. Of Leicester players with over 1000 minutes in the league, he has the third highest pass accuracy at 84 per cent, only behind centre back duo Çağlar Söyüncü and Jonny Evans, as well as chipping in with 0.5 key passes per 90, more than winger Demarai Gray and attacking midfielder Dennis Praet.

Though his stats prove his world-class ability at the base of midfield, the form of Leicester as a team shows how integral he is to the side. Excluding a game in September against Sheffield United, Ndidi had played every minute of Leicester’s Premier League season up until his knee injury.

In games in which Ndidi has played less than 45 minutes, the Foxes have won one, drawn two and lost four, with a win percentage of just 14 per cent. Compare that with the games in which he’s played more than a half, Leicester have 14 wins, three draws and four losses, with a staggering win percentage of 67 per cent, which is the same as Manchester City’s this season and more than the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga.

Another key area of Leicester’s bad form without the Nigerian midfielder is his back-up Hamza Choudhury. Choudhury isn’t a bad player but is nowhere near the level of Ndidi. Choudhury averages just 1.4 interceptions per 90, 1.2 behind Ndidi, and 1.1 tackles per 90, a whopping 2.9 behind Ndidi.

If Leicester are to hold on to their spot in third and play Champions League football for only the second time in their history next season, Ndidi will be key to the Foxes in the coming match days.

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Their final three fixtures are against Sheffield United, Spurs and Manchester United, who are all chasing European football, and it will be imperative that Ndidi features in those games.