In only his second start of the season, the Nigeria international striker contributed directly to three goals, and looks to have struck up an understanding with new signing Tete
Usually, when a signing does not work out, there are two key factors cited. It is either down to a lack of application or adaptation on the part of the player, or it is an inability, on the part of the club, to tap into the player’s strengths. Sometimes, it is a combination of both.
In the case of Kelechi Iheanacho, however, neither applies.
While it would hardly be reasonable to declare the Nigeria international’s move to Leicester City a disappointment (he is, after all, more than halfway to a testimonial—flops don't get to stick around that long), it is true that he has not played anywhere near enough for the Foxes.
He has an impressive enough record for the club in cup competitions, but in the Premier League, Iheanacho has only played 30.3 per cent of available minutes since joining the club in 2017. And, of his 59 starts in five-and-a-half years, over a quarter came in the second half of the 2020/21 season – the spring of Seniorman. Had this January window seen him depart for a new challenge, few tears would have been shed.
The reason for this state of affairs has little to do with Iheanacho’s adaptation – by all accounts, he is well-liked within the club, and when he has featured from the start, he has amassed 27 goals and 21 assists for Leicester. This latter also suggests that Foxes’ boss Brendan Rodgers understands how to elicit impactful performances from the forward.
The problem, in this case, is not that Leicester cannot play to Iheanacho’s strengths. It is that, for the majority of his time at the King Power, Rodgers has not wanted to. The reason for this has been previously addressed but, in addition to that, the form of Jamie Vardy has, up until this season, made it a difficult call.
On Saturday, Iheanacho was handed only his second start of the 2022/23 campaign so far, and responded with a Man of the Match display in a come-from-behind 4-2 win over Aston Villa.
The circumstances were favourable: Vardy, having defied the ageing curve for so long, has finally seen his production go the same way as his explosiveness, while Patson Daka has not had the impact Leicester hoped when they signed him from Red Bull Salzburg. However, the single biggest factor was probably the introduction of new signing Tete into the team on the right.
Iheanacho’s lack of natural athleticism, allied to his inclination to come toward the play, mean that fielding him as a lone centre-forward demands opposite movement to take advantage of the space created. As he comes to the ball, it is necessary to have people running "away" from it. Beyond his own individual ability, Tete, who arrived from Shakhtar Donetsk by way of Olympique Lyon, has finally provided Leicester with the correct profile to exploit the movement of Iheanacho.
At his best, the Brazilian is brilliant at getting into goal scoring positions by first starting wide, then working the blindside of the defender before darting into the space behind.
This dynamic was aptly displayed for Leicester’s third goal: the Foxes won the ball in the Aston Villa half, found Iheanacho between the lines, and the 26-year-old slid a perfect pass through the gap into Tete’s run. The debutant rounded Emiliano Martinez and scored.
Arguably since the departure of Riyad Mahrez (a year on from Iheanacho joining the club), that role on the right has proven problematic for Leicester. The likes of Rachid Ghezzal, Ayoze Perez, Dennis Praet and Ademola Lookman, to name a few, have struggled to fill it; at times, it has looked like there was a lack of clarity as to what the role was even supposed to be.
Not only has the arrival of Tete seemingly resolved that uncertainty (ring the small sample size klaxon!), but it may have the effect of finally making a sustained run of starts for Iheanacho at centre-forward tactically viable for Leicester and for Rodgers. More will need to be seen in the coming matches but, already, the signs are promising.
- The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Pulse Sports
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