Kelechi Iheanacho has been degraded to a mere tourist at Leicester City. The Hindu Festival of Light perhaps appeals more than the King Power. Yet to feature in the Premier League, the Nigerian has less than 20 minutes of football under his belt this season. He deserves more.
Flashback to the summer of 2016 and Iheanacho was Manchester City’s poster boy. Comparisons were made with Marcos Rashford – another emerging prospect from cross-city rival, Manchester United. The Nigerian boasts superior numbers.
In just over 1,200 minutes in two seasons, Iheanacho racked up 21 strikes. He was creating too, with a 0.25 xA/90 and 1.7 Key Passes/90, the kid seemed to have it all. Not many strikers posted these sorts of underlying numbers in Europe’s top five leagues. Virtually no one who did was doing it at such a young age.
Gabriel Jesus’ arrival in January 2017 rendered the Nigerian somewhat irrelevant. Pep Guardiola didn’t think twice before accepting the £25m outlay from Leicester. Being the preceding Premier League champions, the starlet was expected to continue his development there. He hasn’t, however.
Since the move, he garnered less than 1651 minutes in the league. These days, the idea that the Nigerian and Rashford were once similarly acclaimed seems absurd. One evolved to an elite poacher, the other an overrated flop.
Iheanacho notched eight goals in his maiden campaign. Despite featuring more last term, his contribution dwindled. The 22-year-old could only conjure two fruits in 35 games across all competitions. No wonder he’s been scarcely seen around the first team this season with Jamie Vardy, Ayoze Perez and James Maddison ahead.
Iheanacho, though, made a case for game time with a superb cameo appearance against Luton Town in the EFL Cup. Perez led the line for 70 minutes but it took him almost half-an-hour to grow into the game. While his interplay was decent, the Spaniard lacked a goal threat.
Enter Iheanacho. He pressed the game hard and, perhaps benefited from Luton’s tiredness, penetrating thrice. The Nigerian stumbled but helped set up Youri Tielemans’ goal. He had an effort saved but grabbed a goal that ended his 366-day drought, lobbing Luton’s James Shea.
Iheanacho showed sharpness, fluidity and precise in about 19 minutes on the pitch. He chased every ball, never slowing down or taking a break. His hunger and burning desire to impress could be crucial for the Foxes.
Vardy is thriving in Rodgers’ counterattacking style. Driven by a counter that resembles a compressed coil, Leicester is generally disciplined and selfless in their condensed defensive shape, but when released in possession they are strong, quick and ruthless. But at 32, the Englishman can’t be relied too often on to deliver the goods.
Iheanacho should be his backup.
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