Football Features

“Ndidi is simply indispensable” – Winners & losers as Leicester put Aston Villa to the sword

By Ben Green

Published: 22:18, 9 March 2020

Leicester City have ended a run of four Premier League games without a win after thrashing Aston Villa 4-0 at the King Power.

The Foxes dominated proceedings throughout the match, but it took a calamitous decision from Pepe Reina just before the interval to see the hosts break the deadlock, with the Spaniard charging off his line, before Harvey Barnes dribbled past him and opened the scoring.

From there the floodgates were open, with substitute Jamie Vardy getting in on the action to score two, before that man Barnes once against took centre stage and completed the rout, taking Leicester to within four points of second-place Manchester City.

It was a gripping evening in the East Midlands as Villa stay languishing in the drop zone, but who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Wilfred Ndidi

Leicester City are a different proposition altogether with the inclusion of anchorman Ndidi in the starting XI. The recovery expert oozes confidence and class in the middle of the park and allows his more attack-minded teammates to flourish further up the pitch as he sweeps up, procures the ball and shields the backline.

It will come as no surprise that Leicester’s blip in 2020 has coincided with the Nigerian’s persistent knee injury. In fact, prior to Ndidi’s first absence in early January, the Foxes had only lost to Liverpool and both Manchester clubs. Without him, they have since lost consecutive games to Southampton and Burnley, gone three games without a goal prior to tonight, and suffered defeat to basement club Norwich.

Tonight, however, was more like the Leicester City we have become accustomed to: playing with a verve and panache, dominating all areas of the pitch, while also looking defensively resilient. The inclusion of Ndidi simply allows Rodgers’ more creative cogs greater license to express themselves without fear of losing the ball. Because if they do, Ndidi is there to snuffle out the danger and instigate a fresh attacking move.  

Ndidi is simply the glue, the fulcrum of this side, and he once again demonstrated just how influential and important he is to Rodgers’ high-pressing, fluid system.

Loser: Pepe Reina

In a season where luck hasn’t exactly been on Aston Villa’s side the last thing Dean Smith needed was for his goalkeeper, Reina, to tempt fate. But, that’s exactly what happened at the King Power after a rush of blood saw his veteran stopper come storming out of his goal like bull targeting red, and the result? Barnes comfortably rounded the stranded gloveman and slotted into the back of an empty net to open the scoring.

The aberration from Reina means Villa have now conceded more goals from errors (10) than any other club in the Premier League this season. There was almost an air of inevitability about the blunder, with this also being the 24th shot they’ve allowed on their net from individual errors, which also tops that particular metric for clubs this campaign.

When Tom Heaton sustained a season-ending injury at the start of the year, the crisis klaxons were naturally ringing at Villa Park, but that feeling of angst was somewhat remedied by the acquisition of an experienced, former Premier League goalkeeper in Reina. However at 37, the Spaniard’s best days are certainly behind him, and he’s done little to so far inject confidence into a fragile and beleaguered backline.

Smith now has a decision of stick or twist on his hands, with Orjan Nyland — who has proven competent and reliable between the sticks when given the opportunity — waiting in the wings for a chance.

Winner: Jamie Vardy

Prior to tonight Jamie Vardy had gone 10 hours and 41 minutes without a league goal. The English No. 9 ended that drought against Villa in emphatic fashion, bagging a second-half brace to get Leicester’s season back up on track and move two goals clear of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the Golden Boot race.

With the Foxes desperate to capitalise on their sheer dominance in this game, Rodgers turned to his trusty source of goals after the restart to take the game beyond Villa’s reach, with Iheanacho struggling to locate the back of the net. 

The move proved inspired from Rodgers as Vardy found his footing immediately and brought a completely new dimension to Leicester. The Foxes were scintillating prior to his introduction, but they were simply ruthless, cutthroat and merciless after he entered the fray.

His pace worried an already-troubled backline, as he consistently showed Engels and Mings a clean pair of heels, dragging the struggling duo out of position and creating gaps in dangerous areas. That Leicester netted three goals in only half an hour with Vardy on the pitch is no surprise really.

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Loser: Kelechi Iheanacho

When your direct competitor in the squad is the current leading goalscorer in the Premier League you have to take every chance that comes your way. Unfortunately for Iheanacho he squandered a whole host of glorious chances to get his name on the scoresheet and provide Brendan Rodgers food for thought.

It certainly didn’t help that Vardy netted just minutes after entering the pitch, albeit from the spot, to add further pressure on the Nigerian. Both forwards have endured respective rough patches in 2020, with Iheanacho goalless in eight league matches, while Vardy has now ended his barren run of seven league games without a goal.

But, really the game should have been out of sight before Rodgers turned to his leading marksman. Iheanacho just couldn’t find his golden touch in a match where chances were coming thick and fast for the hosts. The former Man City striker certainly proved threatening when running behind the Villa defence and creating space for himself, but his end product simply eluded him.

Winner: Harvey Barnes

With Euro 2020 fast approaching Harvey Barnes has been making a pretty solid case for himself and may have just caught the attention of Gareth Southgate this evening, with the 22-year-old netting his first Premier League brace while also finding the back of the net for the fifth time in his last seven top-flight matches.

The former England U21 international has shone during this testing period for the Foxes and tonight he was the difference maker up-top, the catalyst for Rodgers and a resurgent Leicester in the final third. His speed of thought proved too hot to handle for Frederic Guilbert, while his acceleration was blistering at times.

Barnes took both his goals expertly and has just added another invaluable tool to his burgeoning repertoire since the start of the decade. He has proven a threatening, direct winger this term, but goals have often evaded him; now, he is starting to show a clinical streak in front of goal, and Leicester are reaping the rewards.

Loser: Dean Smith

This was not a good night for Smith. An horrendous night if anything. The Villans were dealt the worst possible hand last week as all their relegation rivals picked up key results, while their own aspirations of winning silverware got away from them.

The travelling fans would have been hopeful that a spirited second-half display against Pep Guardiola’s City would have given their side a renewed belief heading into this contest. But, Leicester were having none of it, nor did they show any mercy as the hosts battered and bloodied a struggling club.

In truth, Villa were never really in this match at all. This performance was almost diametrically at odds with their previous showing at the King Power in the League Cup semi-final. Then Smith’s side showed bite and grit to seal a 1-1 draw in the first leg. But, here was a side so devoid of confidence, showing little intent up-top and very little understanding at the back.