Player Zone – Rodgers lights Wilfred Ndidi’s fire

Since Brendan Rodgers took over the reins at Leicester City in late February the Foxes have grown back their bushy tail and added some bite to a season that was becoming toothless under Claude Puel. Five wins from seven is an extremely encouraging return but more so it’s the transformative nature of their performances that bodes so well with the Northern Irishman’s trademark mixture of attacking urgency and trust in individuals to take calculated risks very much to the fore.

It is little surprise therefore to learn recently that three of the Premier League’s five most in-form players currently could be found at the King Power Stadium and of that trio Jamie Vardy’s return to prominence has been widely welcomed. He appears to be reborn or perhaps more accurately unshackled.

A revived James Maddison too has received much acclaim for his influential displays but it’s the third player on the list that really stands out and demands our attention. Wilfred Ndidi has for a good long while now been one of the league’s underrated gems, quietly putting in many quality showings since his move from Genk at the start of 2017. At the moment though, he’s on fire.

The chief reason for this is a conversion to the role of a solitary enforcer in a remodelled midfield but before we credit Rodgers too much with the Nigerian’s dramatic improvement a few details should be factored in. Firstly, Ndidi – who was bought primarily to be N’Golo Kante’s replacement which is a thankless task in anyone’s book – has never been a box-to-box midfielder in the traditional sense. Indeed, some of his best football was played in his first six months at the club when stationed alongside Danny Drinkwater as one half of a solid, disciplined partnership.

Secondly, Ndidi is a phenomenal tackler blessed with anticipation of danger and a sense of timing like few others possess. It is then hardly rocket science to position him protecting the back four.

There is however another aspect to consider and here Rodgers does warrant praise. For how good Ndidi is when tacking he is poor once possession is won with a passing range that can best be described as erratic. This is the reason why he excelled alongside Drinkwater. This is the reason why – on paper at least – Ndidi is not best suited to mopping up single-handedly.

Rodgers though has been astute; drumming into the midfielder the benefit of playing it simple, five, ten yards only, to team-mates who can they create at will. “He has to win the ball and give it, simple as that,” is how the former Celtic boss succinctly put it.

And so far the strategy is working and working well with good results inevitably following. Ndidi – the best tackler in the top flight – does his job then lays it to Maddison or Youri Tielemans to take it from there. It’s easy this football lark when you think about it.