It wasn’t an easy weekend for Africa’s top stars in the Premier League, with the likes of Edouard Mendy and Mohamed Salah coming under further scrutiny amid their testing starts to the season.
But African strikers Kelechi Iheanacho and Patson Daka may offer green shoots of optimism for Leicacester City, who have just one point from six games after they were comprehensively beaten 5-2 by Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday, Leicester were notable in their lack of outlay as Premier League clubs smashed the $2.2 billion mark for spending in the transfer window, with the high-profile departure of Wesley Fofana and Kasper Schmeichel not offset by ambitious recruits, leaving manager Brendan Rodgers to lament after defeat by Manchester United on deadline day that “we have not had the help in the market this team needed.”
If new signings Wout Faes and Alex Smithies aren’t going to drag Leicester from the mire, then Iheanacho and Daka just might.
Sunday was disastrous for Leicester, who slumped to their fifth consecutive defeat and shipped five goals in the process; the East Midlanders have not conceded 16 goals in their opening six games of a campaign since 1983.
But the performances of Iheanacho and Daka — selected ahead of the benched Jamie Vardy — might just have proved Leicester with a blueprint for improvement.
Any murmurings of discontent about Vardy being dropped were silenced when Iheanacho tapped home after being played in by Daka inside one minute to mark his first league start of the season.
The Foxes were behind inside a quarter of an hour as Brighton responded, but Daka demonstrated just after the half-hour mark why he had some of Europe’s biggest clubs eyeing him during his time at FC Salzburg.
The Zambia striker collected a high ball from Youri Tielemans — who remained at Leicester when reported deadline-day interest came to nothing — took control with a magnificent touch, advanced past the sprawling Lewis Dunk, set himself, and curled home beyond Robert Sanchez on his first start of the season.
Daka’s back-flipping celebration was arguably Leicester’s highlight of the season so far, but he was crestfallen after the match despite the goal.
“It was a very disappointing afternoon,” Daka said on LCFC.com.
“We started really well and we thought it was going to be a different result today, but unfortunately we’ve got another loss. We have to keep on working hard. We need to have more self-belief. We can do better together as a team, but we switched off a bit, we lacked concentration after we scored. We didn’t take care of the ball. We lost the ball in the middle of the park and, before we realised, it was already 1-1. We need more self-belief in taking care of the ball because we have the quality in the team.”
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Daka and Iheanacho working together — with Vardy potentially having an impact off the bench — may be a viable way forward for the Foxes.
Vardy had started all five of Leicester’s previous Premier League games this season — failing to net a single goal — but at 35, he can hardly be expected to feature as often.
Playing behind Daka, who uses his pace and sharp movements to stretch opposition defences, allows Iheanacho space and time in which to operate, and the pair’s interplay ought to be a source of optimism for Foxes fans.
Daka’s pull out to the left flank during the early exchanges — leading to Iheanacho’s goal — and the Nigerian’s tendency to move out to the right side to accommodate a central striker can also go some way to help address Leicester’s lack of width in the final third, a problem they attempted to solve by moving for Jeremie Boga on deadline day.
Iheanacho has not always appeared to have the trust of Rogers, but the Nigerian has had a hand in 20 goals in his past 25 starts for the club — 15 goals and five assists — which is surely enough of a contribution for him to justify more gametime (from the off), particularly as Leicester seek fresh ideas.
Elsewhere, the arrival of Faes will hopefully end Rodgers’ bizarre insistence on using Wilfred Ndidi at centre-back rather than at the base of the midfield.
The ex-Liverpool and Celtic manager may have reached the end of the road with Jannik Vestergaard and Caglar Soyuncu but his decision to remove Ndidi from his preferred No. 6 role dramatically reduces Leicester’s ability to control a game and protect their back four.
If this switch can improve Leicester’s defensive malaise, and if Daka and Iheanacho can find a measure of consistency, then the Foxes have a chance to play their way up the table.
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Also in the Premier League, two of the final three players nominated for the African Footballer of the Year award are enduring extended slumps.
Salah was largely anonymous as Liverpool were held 0-0 by Everton, and the criticism received by his new teammate Darwin Nunez after the match doesn’t entirely overshadow the Egyptian’s lack of contribution.
Salah struck only one short on target during the contest, was effectively stymied by Everton’s defenders, and beat his man only once — a third of what he managed against Newcastle United.
The Egyptian headed into the match hoping to equal Michael Owen’s record of scoring four league goals away at the home of Liverpool’s nearest rivals, but this is a Liverpool side in transition — Sadio Mane’s absence casts a long shadow — and Salah’s individual performances will increasingly come under the spotlight as the Reds continue to drop points.
Idrissa Gueye made his second Everton debut, from the bench, while Alex Iwobi played 90 minutes for the Toffees.
Chelsea’s Mendy is also enduring a testing start to the campaign, but he was let off the hook by a disastrous VAR call that ruled out West Ham United’s late equaliser from Maxwel Cornet after some weak goalkeeping from the Senegal stopper.
Mendy has conceded nine goals in his past five matches, with only two clean sheets in his past 12 in the league, and those numbers would have been worse had the officials not believed that Mendy had been fouled — and injured — by Jarrod Bowen.
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Hammers manager David Moyes was unhappy with the decision, and Mendy’s antics, accusing the goalkeeper of deceit.
“It’s a scandalous decision, absolutely rotten from one of the supposedly elite referees,” Moyes fumed after the match.
“It doesn’t say much about whoever sent him over from VAR as well — it is an unbelievable decision against us.
“I actually think the goalkeeper dives, he is faking an injury because he cannot get to the next one; he did the same on the first goal as well. The referee somehow gets that so wrong it is incredible.
“The goalkeeper comes to take it and actually fumbles it out of his hands. He acted as if he’s got a shoulder injury.”
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel defended Mendy in the aftermath of the incident, but he must now decide whether to stick with the error-strewn Senegal goalkeeper or give an opportunity to Kepa Arrizabalaga.
“[Mendy] gets punished a lot for not a lot of what he does wrong, but there are no doubts in my mind,” Tuchel said.
“The situation is calm.
“We have two fantastic goalkeepers, two fantastic guys. We are aware of it that he is in that kind of situation, but first we deal inside and then we tell you.”
On as a halftime replacement for Ghanaian compatriot Brian Brobbey, he scored the hosts’ fourth goal when he slotted home from close range after being picked out by a Calvin Bassey cross from the left flank.
Kudus had reportedly pushed for a move away from the Johan Cruyff Arena — amid interest from Everton — during the dying embers of the transfer window, even skipping training on Wednesday in order to engineer a move.
Kudus had been concerned about his lack of playing time at Ajax, and sought a move in order to boost his World Cup prospects for Ghana, but he will now look to build on his goalscoring return to force his way into Alfred Schreuder’s plans.
Senegal’s Nicolas Jackson registered an assist for Villarreal as they thumped Elche in Spain’s LaLiga, while in-form Congo DR striker Jackson Muleka was again among the goals as Besiktas defeated Ankaragucu 3-2 in the Turkish Super Lig.
Muleka seems to have struck up a promising understanding with Eagles new boy Dele Alli, who also found the net.
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