Will Iheanacho vs Osimhen headline Leicester vs Napoli?


The Foxes play the Partenopei on Thursday, but will the battle of the Super Eagles frontmen be the primary talking point?

It hasn’t been the bright start to the season for Leicester City that was imagined following their 2020/21 exploits and Community Shield defeat of Manchester City in the traditional curtain-raiser in August.

A pair of wins and defeats after four games already sees Brendan Rodgers’ team trail the leading pack of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool by four points, while Manchester City — the side they suffered a 1-0 defeat to on Saturday — sit on nine points.

Admittedly, we’re still only four matches into the season and there are scores of fixtures to be played, but the last thing the Foxes will want is playing catch-up. While the current top four comprises Everton now, there’s a feeling the aforementioned clubs (who finished in the Champions League spots last season) are the favourites to end in those positions in 2021/22.

Leicester’s ambition is to return to Europe’s elite competition, and they can’t afford a chasm of points opening up.

Two positive facets of the East Midlands club in pre-season haven’t had things go their way in the opening month of the new campaign.

Kelechi Iheanacho Leicester City Community Shield

Kelechi Iheanacho, Rodgers’ main man since the turn of the year and the match-winner in the Community Shield, has had to make do with appearances off the bench so far and is currently averaging 17 minutes per game in the league.

Patson Daka, the scorer of 51 league goals in his final two years in Austria, is still to start a game either. The former Red Bull Salzburg marksman hasn’t added to the 26 minutes he got off the bench in that harrowing 4-1 hammering by West Ham United, leaving the Zambian far from making his mark in England.

The African frontmen’s budding connection had been praised in pre-season, but there hasn’t been a chance since August to watch them both in tandem up front.

Having said that, there are extenuating circumstances.

The returns of Harvey Barnes and James Maddison to full fitness has meant Rodgers has reverted to his preferred 4-2-3-1 system in the opening weeks of the season, with Jamie Vardy leading the line. This has yielded mixed results with the English frontman netting two times already, but the creative pair have understandably struggled to sparkle so far.

Patson Daka of Zambia and Leicester City.

Iheanacho’s extended run in the side in the second half of 20/21 was helped by Barnes and Maddison suffering injuries at the turn of the year, meaning the Leicester boss had to alter his approach.

The unexpected success of the Nigerian prompted some to proclaim ‘Senior man’ Rodgers’ most important attacker, yet the West African can’t even buy a start.

In truth, a deluge of injuries at the back meant the former Liverpool boss couldn’t switch to the 3-4-1-2 system that brought the best out of Iheanacho. Wesley Fofana’s long-term layoff, Johnny Evans’ continued struggles with a foot injury and Jannik Vestergaard’s ill-timed knee injury shortly after joining left the Foxes rather thin in defence.

The dearth of options has invariably affected Daka and, especially Iheanacho, as the Northern Irish manager has been unable to utilise any variation of a back three.

Rodgers explained the tactics and psychology of the Nigerian’s form in April, highlighting why the system suited the in-form striker, so it won’t be surprising if a tactical alteration is imminent as they look to arrest an indifferent start to the season.

Kelechi Iheanacho Brendan Rodgers Leicester

The returns of the aforementioned defenders from injury, as well as Ryan Bertrand’s recovery from coronavirus, has opened the door for the ex-Celtic boss to switch and it’ll be interesting to see whether he plays Daka and Iheanacho against Napoli on Thursday.

Luciano Spalletti’s troops are fresh from a dominant comeback 2-1 win against Juventus on Saturday, which continued their unblemished start to the new Serie A season and extended their winning run against the Old Lady in Naples to three games on the trot.

Kalidou Koulibaly was somewhat fittingly the match-winner, capitalising on Moise Kean’s near-inadvertent own-goal to score the 85th-minute winner.

The Senegal superstar has been one of the Partenopei’s top performers early doors under Spalletti and is expected to start at the King Power Stadium.

Without a doubt, Iheanacho squaring up with K2 for 90 minutes will be one of the smaller sub-plots in the Europa League opener.

Osimhen, Koulibaly

Perhaps a more intriguing storyline is the battle of the Nigerian frontmen, with Victor Osimhen now likely to feature against the Foxes. The tenacious Azzurri frontman was back training with the group on Wednesday having undergone individual training the day before, thus allaying fears of missing out against Rodgers’ men.

Nevertheless, and despite a perceived willingness to get the forward back among the goals again following an incredible pre-season, the logical decision may be to give him a breather on Thursday night.

Osimhen featured heavily in the last international break for Nigeria — playing for 78 and 84 minutes against Liberia and Cape Verde respectively — and looked fatigued in the moments leading up to his withdrawal through injury against Juve.

He may desire a start against his countrymen Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi but keeping him fresh for Napoli’s next domestic game at Udinese looks like the smarter call.

Rodgers reasonably seemed pleased on Wednesday to finally have a larger pool of options after their injury nightmare at the start of the season.

Brendan Rodgers Leicester 2020-21

“Whichever team we play, I’ll always feel confident,” the tactician explained in his pre-match press conference. “Now with players coming back to fitness, we brought in some players to help with depth and hopefully we can see that between now and Christmas.

“It’s such an important period because of the proximity of games. You’re going to need your players.”

The concluding sentence may be music to Iheanacho and Daka’s ears, particularly owing to their underutilisation in the opening weeks of the campaign.

While Rodgers may be tempted to go with his preferred league XI on Thursday due to a guaranteed Round of 16 place for the group winners, starting either or both frontmen against Napoli must be strongly considered.

Whichever decision the Leicester boss makes, though, the African marksmen are due to be beneficiaries of a reduced injury list sooner rather than later.


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