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How Wilfred Ndidi cost Brendan Rodgers his job at Leicester City

For Brendan Rodgers at Leicester City, the writing had been on the wall for much of the 2022-23 season. A run of five defeats in six games, however, marked the official end to his four-year stint as manager of the Foxes. A key reason behind is dismissal was the loss of form of certain players in the squad, which caused the team to underperform.

After selling N’Golo Kante to Chelsea in 2016, Leicester City went to Belgium in 2017 and returned with a replacement for the Frenchman in 20-year-old Wilfred Ndidi. The Nigerian youngster took to life in the Premier League like a fish to water, impressing all and sundry with his ability to screen the defence, reading of the game and excellent tackling ability.

Ndidi was being mentioned in the same breath as Fernandinho and N’Golo Kante as one of the best ball-winners in the country from his debut season in the league, receiving rave reviews. He was a key player for the Foxes and has played under three different permanent managers at the club, with Rodgers being the third of them.

Rodgers’ management of Wilfred Ndidi has been pointed out as one of the reasons for his failure at the club in recent months. Their recent loss of form has coincided with the Super Eagles midfielder struggling to perform consistently. The Foxes have gone from dominating games Ndidi plays in to struggling when the midfielder is on the pitch. Losing their most consistent player was always going to be a problem, as is evidenced by their being in 19th place in the league.

Wilfred Ndidi became an undisputed starter for the Foxes in his first full season and played 33 of 38 Premier League matches in 2017-18, racking up 2,899 minutes on the pitch. The combative midfielder missed three games through injury and was suspended for two other games. The following season, he played in all 38 matches for the side, totaling 3,298 minutes and averaging 86 minutes per game.

In Rodgers’ first full season at the club, Ndidi played 2674 minutes across 32 Premier League matches, only missing five games with a knee injury. The following season, the midfielder was plagued by muscle injuries and played only 26 times in the league, racking up 2,179 minutes. He, however, featured in all of his side’s matches in their famous FA Cup run, completing four 90s in six matches.

The 2021-22 season was punctuated by the AFCON, which Nigeria played in. As a result, Ndidi was away from Leicester City for some weeks, and only played 19 matches in the Premier League. His season ended in March 2022 when he picked up a knee injury that caused him to miss the final 12 games of the season.

In each of his first five full seasons at the King Power Stadium, Ndidi averaged 88, 86, 84, 83 and 85 minutes per game. This season, the midfielder is averaging 63 minutes per game despite being largely fit and available. He has been shunted in at centre-back on a number of occasions, and has performed well below his usual standards. Ndidi’s minutes are not the only important metric that have seen a sharp decline in recent seasons.

In Rodgers’ first season in charge of the Foxes, Ndidi was a disruptive presence in the middle of the park, averaging 6.5 tackles/interceptions and 8.1 duels per game. This season, the midfielder averages a measly 3.6 tackles/interceptions and 3.8 duels per game, indicative of a sharp decline.

Similarly, The Athletic analysed the Nigerian midfielder’s decline and observed that he had a 97 rating for defending quantity and a 62 rating for defending quality in 2021-22. This season, the midfielder has seen the ratings decline to an alarming 47 and 16, respectively. A combination of injuries and loss of form have seen the midfielder lose most of his best qualities. This season, the midfielder has won only 51.5% of his aerial duels, his lowest percentage since arriving in the Premier League.

Even with Senegal midfielder Nampalys Mendy in the squad, Brendan Rodgers did not manage Ndidi well enough, with the midfielder playing on despite showing signs of fatigue and making some uncharacteristic errors. He played 89.3% of the Premier League minutes when he was available and uninjured under Rodgers.

For the new Leicester City manager, one of the most important tasks will be to find a way to get Wilfred Ndidi back to his best because he alone is capable of covering up obvious flaws in managerial setups, as he did for Rodgers. If the midfielder can kick on in the late stage of the season, the Foxes have a very good chance of avoiding the drop. Along with underperforming players like Jamie Vardy, Patson Daka, Harvey Barnes and Youri Tielemans, Ndidi’s loss of form was very costly for Rodgers, and may cost the Foxes their Premier League status.


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