This weekend, Leicester City recorded their second consecutive 0-0 draw, this time away from home against Chelsea. Rather than skim over all 14 Foxes with a rating, I thought it might be more interesting to look more closely at one stand out performance.
Away from home, against one of the Big Six (and N’golo Kanté), it was always going to be a tough day for the Foxes, even before Ben Chilwell’s red card. Nonetheless, they were able to dominate long stretches, and then hold out for a draw thanks a dominating performance in midfield. Wilfred Ndidi was a huge part of that, but for me the most noteworthy performance was from Matty James.
Matt Elliott gives the Man of the Match award to Matty James. pic.twitter.com/ntONiaQJ4W— BBC Leicester Sport (@BBCRLSport) January 13, 2018
While James didn't put up the impressive numbers of his partner in terms of touches or tackles, his influence is often one that’s difficult to track with stats.
Instead, the simplest way to explain his play is often with the phrase “neat and tidy”. This might seem like damning with faint praise, but the truth is that he rarely puts a foot wrong.
This game was no different and, according to the match statistics at whoscored.com James didn't give the ball away at all, registering 0 dispossessions or unsuccessful touches. In fact, of all midfielders in the league this year, James has one of the lowest rates of either stat.
In contrast to his obvious technical ability, many fans often seem to point to a lack of athleticism and movement as his main failing, mostly I think because he doesn't look like much of a runner.
His touch map from today though showed that he was able to influence almost all areas of the pitch. This became particularly important when the Foxes went a man down, as he continued to cover every blade of grass to hold on for the draw.
Two absolutely vital interceptions from James inside the area as Chelsea look to get in behind the Foxes' defence and make their man advantage pay.— Leicester City (@LCFC) January 13, 2018
Come on, City! #CheLei
Of course, his other problem has been the constant injuries and he didn't exactly alleviate that concern, hobbling off in the 89th minute.
Fortunately, Puel seemed to indicate post match that he’d taken a slight knock, but was otherwise fine.
James’ quiet competence, which can keep a team running, is often overshadowed by bigger, more obvious performances by the likes of Mahrez and Ndidi and, in truth, if I was selecting a man of the match, I might have gone for either of them instead.
I do strongly suspect, however, that I’ll get plenty of chances in the coming weeks to rave about both of them, so instead I thought it would better highlight a less heralded player, who reminded us all why we should be glad to have him around, even as the midfield fills up with high priced replacements.