As Claude Puel’s first 11 seemed to come closer to taking shape against Valencia, his substitutes bench was notable, for its inclusions and its absences.
For those veteran players left out, it could be a bad sign for their remaining time at Leicester City. At the same time though, it was a great sign for the youth of the club, and for the faith Puel has in them. The manager brought seven youth team players into the fray, not including the starters like Ben Chilwell, James Maddison, Kelechi Iheanacho (21) and Fousseni Diabaté (22).
Some of those players will be quite well known to fans, like Hamza Choudhury, who made nine first team appearances last season, but others less so. We decided to compile a quick profile to introduce those players.
I’m happy for the performance – they brought the togetherness and freshness. It was a nice thing to see all these young players giving their best tonight. I think it was an opportunity and a fantastic moment for them, for the future. It’s encouraging for them to continue to work.
Darnell Johnson, CB, 19
The sizeable defender, who’s played well and often this preseason, has been called up to play for every England age group from U16 to U20. In 2015, he captained our U18 side to their second ever semi final in the FA Youth Cup, before being named in the Guardian’s 2015 Next Generation talent list. For most of his career he’s been forced out to RB, but apparently prefers a central role. Puel seems to agree and he’s jumping at the chance so far. Until recently, his biggest accolade might have been as Emile Heskey’s godson, but he could be the youngster most likely to break into the squad this year. Provided he signs his pending contract, that is.
Josh Knight, CB, 20
The Leicestershire born defender regularly plays as a CB, but has experience at RB as well. A lifelong Leicester fan, Knight has been with the club since the age of eight, and earned a paid scholarship with the club in 2014. He’s became a regular with the development squad (U23) since 2016/17, his age 18 season and last summer he signed a new two year deal, before making his first team debut in the Carabao Cup win over Sheffield United.
Callum Elder, LB, 23
Elder, who was born is Sydney and joined the Foxes in 2011 is the second oldest player on this list and with possibly the least youth success, having received just one call up for the less than vaunted Australia U20s. Still, he’s made 77 first team appearances throughout England’s lower leagues, including an impressive display for League One champions Wigan last year. Just like Johnson, he’s been given an extended look by Puel this summer, and again like Johnson, it hasn't been at his regular position but on the left wing. Perhaps this is Puel’s answer to the shortage out wide? Either this feels like his last chance to catch on here, and with Musa gone possibly his best chance too.
Hamza Choudhury, CM, 20
The best known player on this, and maybe the highest rated. Born into a Bangladeshi family in Loughborough, Choudhury has been going Foxes games since the age of 7, when he also joined the academy. There, he supposedly drew the attention of top clubs across Europe, while earning a place in the Guardian’s Next Generation list in 2014. The combative midfielder ultimately opted to sign a professional deal with the Foxes and, though 11 months older, played alongside Johnson in the FA Youth Cup semi final run. In 2016 he signed a new four year deal and last year he appeared to break through into the first team squad for good.
George Thomas, AM, 21
Though a fully fledged Wales international, Thomas is Leicester born and bred, at least until he joined the Coventry City academy at eight. He was forced into their lineup through injury at 16, but immediately thrived all across the front line, scoring 9 goals in 53 appearances for the Sky Blues, including one a Wembley, in their Checktrade Trophy final win over Oxford. At the end of his contract, he signed a three year deal with the Foxes last summer, and has pushed for playing time since. He can play through the middle or our wide, though primarily as an attacking midfielder rather than an out and out striker.
Update: Thomas will join League One side Scunthorpe on loan this year.
Layton Ndukwu, ST, 19
Another who can play anywhere across the front line, is Ndukwu, a talented young attacker who represented England at U16 and U17 level, including a 5th place finish in 2015 U17 Euros after bagging a hat trick in qualifying. He looked very confident against Valencia, even trying an audacious chip from long distance. It’s hard to blame him though, as he does have some history there; in 2016 he scored from his own half for the U18s.
Josh Gordon, ST, 23
Eight days older than Elder, Gordon is our oldest youth prospect, thanks to a somewhat circuitous (some might say Vardy-like) route to us, via non league Stafford Rangers. Released by Stoke City at 16, Gordon never gave up the dream, but opted to move to non league, while also keeping up his education. In an unusual but laudable move for a modern footballer, the pacey striker earned a university degree in Sports Development and Coaching before his sparkling form in early 2017 won him a trial with the reigning Premier League Champions. His first act was an attempt to out muscle Wes Morgan. Even so, he impressed enough to be signed, and has since been a regular for the Development Squad who finished 3rd in the PL2 this past season.