The centre of the park, a huge strength last year has been an issue for Leicester City all season. Despite the strong form of Danny Drinkwater, when available, the gaping hole left beside him has caused all kinds of problems.
Anyone trying to figure out the fall of the Foxes from last season, and in particular the drop in from of their hulking centre backs, should look no further than the centre of midfield. Leicester have gone from impossible to break though to soft. Runs and passes come through the middle with ease, and leave the back line with the one thing they’re least equipped to deal with: pacy players running at them with the ball.
This issue has really come to the fore in Drinkwater’s suspension absence. The England international came back against Porto, but picked up a knock and missed the loss to Bournemouth. Now comes the news that he isn’t even back in training yet, so the team will need someone to replace him and someone to play alongside.
CR said Schmeichel is expected to return but Drinkwater hasn't trained with the first team yet so unlikely. #LCFC— Rob Tanner (@RobTannerMerc) December 15, 2016
There have been flashes of ability. Daniel Amartey’s first start of the season looked like he was the perfect fit, but since then he’s regressed to the work in progress we expected. Andy King has shown genuine Champions League quality at times, but mixed it with League One ineptitude like only he could.
King and Amartey, especially together, are not the solution, I’m sure of that. But what other options are there?
For a short while, he was Leicester’s record transfer, so this isn’t a particularly left field option. The problem is, he just hasn’t been able to get on the pitch. He did finally make another appearance against Porto, but he looked completely off the pace. If he was back to full fitness yet, surely he’d get a look in at the moment.
James’ injury concerns have made Mendy’s look fairly trivial and he too is not fully match fit. Nonetheless, I’m desperate to see what he can do in this side. He and Drinkwater were a star pairing in the promotion season, and let’s not forget that it was James, rather than Drinky or King, that dominated the team sheet alongside Cambiasso when he was last available.
The academy player is a very long shot, I’ll admit. Still, since he made the Porto trip he must be the staff’s favourite of the younger players and surely giving him a go can't be worse than more Amartey?
We’ll have to wait until January for this option, pending a possible £15m transfer. The signs look good though, with the Mercury reporting that the club are only awaiting international clearance before announcing the deal.
Two 8-figure deals in the same position feels like a lot for a team of this size already, but we did see two leave in the summer. If they see it as as much of a weakness as we do, a third isn’t impossible.
At first glance, this seems like the simplest answer. Amartey and King can’t do it alone, so play Mendy as well until Drinky is back and then see from there. But the question is who do you drop. There’s already a selection dilemma with Vardy, Slimani and Okazaki and you’d probably have to leave two of three out.
Hey, this isn’t my option, but it’s not my decision either. Claudio has shown a lot of faith in the incumbent pair based on very little already, so why would one more game change that?
Of course, the answer depends a lot on fitness. It could be Drinkwater and Mendy by next week, but we saw that against Porto and it wasn’t a rousing success.
So who would you be picking? Amartey-King-Mendy? Drinkwater-James? Barnes-Ndidi-Kapustka?