An exciting Leicester City season was marked by important contributions from the players at the heart of the pitch: the midfielders. From Wilfred Ndidi at the base to James Maddison at the top, arguably no other group served as a better barometer for how the team might play on a given day.
While the group was marred by injury and inconsistent selection, overall it was a successful campaign for them.
The Engine Eternal of the Leicester midfield has been, and continues to be, Wilfred Ndidi. The 23-year-old Nigerian’s impact on the team’s form is perhaps second to none. In fact, one could argue there isn’t another defensive midfielder in the league as important to his team’s success.
Notably, Ndidi missed two long stretches just after the start of the new year. In January, the midfielder missed three matches through injury; in that three-game stretch the team drew with Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup and lost to both Southampton and Burnley in the Premier League. Just a few weeks later, Ndidi was once again was forced out through injury for another three matches; this time the Foxes drew against Chelsea and Wolves and lost to Manchester City.
Ndidi also finished second in the Premier League in tackles with 128, just one less than Aaron Wan-Bissaka despite playing 428 less minutes. He also finished second in the league in interceptions with 80, four less than first-place Diego Rico, and improved his control in tight spaces.
Wilfred Ndidi, Leicester City 2019-20.— StatsBomb (@StatsBomb) January 30, 2020
N di di di, N dah dah dah. Is all I want to say to you. pic.twitter.com/FqmyuB1Qg8
These numbers only encompass his season up to January 30, but that’s pretty freaking good.
The heir apparent to Ndidi, Hamza Choudhury, had an unremarkable, if somewhat disappointing campaign. The 22-year-old had seemed to be next in the Club’s line of prodigious defensive midfield talents, but when he was called on to step in for Ndidi this season he couldn’t quite produce at a similar level, as evidenced by the results in the stretches Ndidi missed through injury. Still, Choudhury did appear in 20 Premier League matches and eight cup matches, and scored one unexpected rocket of a goal.
Nampalys Mendy, meanwhile…existed? Perhaps the most notable commentary one can give on the Frenchman’s season is that the highlight of his Leicester tenure remains this 2016 tweet:
Eights and Tens
While some of these players play slightly different roles, Brendan Rodgers’ system groups them all together.
The headliner of the group is 23-year-old creative force James Maddison. While the Coventry man’s goal and assist numbers took a slight dip from last season, his impact remained sky high thanks to consistent creation and a much-improved defensive presence. He actually saw an extremely slight uptick in non-penalty expected goals + expected assists per 90 (npxG+xA) minutes this season, going from 0.41 in 2018-19 to 0.42 in 2019-20. Meanwhile, he jumped from 1.3 tackles per game last season to 1.9 this season.
The story was a bit different for Youri Tielemans, as the 23-year-old Belgian wasn’t able to match the production from his first half-season with the club. In just 1,092 minutes last season Tielemans racked up three goals and four assists; in 2,834 minutes this season, he totaled three goals and six assists. It wasn’t just bad luck, either, as he dipped in npxG+xA, going from 0.36 last season to 0.28 this season. Post restart, however, he seemed to come back in improved physical shape, shaking off some of the sluggishness that had plagued him. This revealed itself in improved defensive effort as he averaged 2.5 tackles per match in the season’s final six matches, an improvement on his overall season average of 1.4.
His Belgian midfield partner, however, enjoyed a promising start to his Leicester career. Dennis Praet was not quite the creator either of the aforementioned players have proven to be, but he adds a well-rounded presence to the midfield. The 26-year-old was deployed in slightly deeper roles, but still offered creative, occasionally incisive passing ability, solid defensive effort, and sharpness as a ball carrier. This balance made him a useful player for ball progression from deeper areas. Rodgers seemed to value Praet’s contributions as well, occasionally changing to a diamond midfield in the early stages of the season to accommodate the former Sampdoria man, and later giving him a spell as first choice ahead of Tielemans. In total, Praet made 35 appearances this season, 19 coming as a starter.
Finally, Matty James apparently played six minutes this season? Poor guy.