Leicester City are not as good without Wilfred Ndidi. The statistics tell that story. City have lost just one of the 11 Premier League games he has played this season, and lost five of the 10 he hasn’t.
Every time he misses a game and City lose, it enhances his reputation. And it has now happened so often there is an argument to say he is the club’s most important player, or at least a close second to Jamie Vardy.
The key to improving the situation is establishing why the difference is so great. Because it’s not that Papy Mendy is a bad player. Nobody would choose him ahead of Ndidi, but he has proved a more-than-adequate stand-in this term, producing some excellent performances amid some so-so ones.
The answer may be that Ndidi is good at what Brendan Rodgers describes as ‘basketball’, end-to-end football where there is an element of unpredictability.
Rodgers is not a fan of ‘basketball’. He prefers his side to command the game and dictate its tempo and direction.
Mendy is an anti ‘basketball’ player. He has composure on the ball, retaining possession under heavy pressure and playing it simple, keeping it away from the opposition. It’s the control that Rodgers desires.
Meanwhile, Leeds, with their relentless pressing and swift forward moves, excel when a game becomes ‘basketball’.
On Sunday, City were not quite accurate enough in their passing to dictate the game, and so Leeds were able to force the game to become frantic, so that they could thrive.
Rodgers changed formation at the break, switching to a back three, which helped them wrestle back some control, but not enough.
That’s where Ndidi is key. When a game becomes chaotic, he is the safety net. All three of Leeds’ goals came on the transition, shortly after they gained possession. It’s an area where City have been weak this season, and was the downfall of their defeats to West Ham and Fulham too, two other fixtures where Ndidi was missing.
The Nigerian also thrives in the chaos. He reads the game superbly and so it gives him more opportunities to snuff out attacks with interceptions and tackles as the game goes back and forth. Leeds’ quick attacks routinely bypassed City’s midfield, but Ndidi would not have let that happen. He would have been in the way.
When Ndidi plays, City can afford to let slip of their grip on a game and still keep out the opposition. They can’t do that when he is missing.