If this last week has taught us anything, it’s the value of a team’s best player.
That may sound obvious, but it’s remarkable how sides at the top of end of the Premier League – who boast several talented (and expensive) individuals – can be so dependent on one component.
We saw evidence of this on Sunday in the Manchester derby when, for all Man City’s neat approach play, they desperately lacked an incisive final ball — in other words, Kevin De Bruyne’s trademark.
Without the Belgian’s fizzing crosses or line-splitting passes, Pep Guardiola’s side were limited to mostly sterile possession that United were able to repel.
Monday night provided a more exaggerated example as Leicester recorded their biggest margin of victory since their 9-0 thrashing of Southampton.
Wilfred Ndidi returned to the starting line-up after an eight-game absence to oversee a 4-0 win against Aston Villa, making more recoveries and interceptions than anyone else on the pitch.
The Nigeria international has been largely absent through injury in recent weeks, with his performances limited to substitute appearances against West Ham and Norwich.
His introduction at Carrow Road came too late for him to impact the game’s structure and Brendan Rodgers’ side, hopeful of Champions League qualification, lost to the Championship-bound Canaries.
Against West Ham, he was introduced midway through the first half and influenced Leicester’s only win since their 3-0 victory at St James’ Park, Ndidi’s last start before Monday night.
Leicester’s downturn in results aligned with Ndidi’s absence.
Without their midfield lynchpin, they lost to Southampton and Burnley, before dropping points to Chelsea, Wolves and Man City.
Opta confirm the 23-year-old’s importance: with him they have won 65.2% of their league games in 2019/20, without him they have won 16.7%.
Despite missing half a dozen games, only two players have made more tackles than Ndidi in the Premier League this season — Ricardo Pereira and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Since he excels in defensive disciplines, you may think it’s the Foxes’ defence suffers in his absence.
However, the greater impact is on their attack.
On average, Leicester concede 0.9 goals per game when Ndidi is involved compared to 1.3 when he isn’t.
More pressingly, they score 2.3 goals per game with Ndidi and just 1 per game without him.
His presence in midfield gives the team greater balance, something Choudhury and Nampalys Mendy struggled to replicate.
Through an incredible volume of recoveries, tackles and interceptions, he gives his side more possession and initiates counterattacks.
Ndidi’s dominance allows Youri Tielemans and James Maddison to play with increased freedom, bringing Harvey Barnes into the game more often and ultimately benefiting Jamie Vardy.
We’ve seen individual brilliance from many Leicester players this season, but everything starts ends with their omnipresent No25.
Many claim Ndidi is one of the most underrated players in the Premier League.
But who exactly is underrating him?
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who follows the Premier League even on a semi-regular basis who doesn’t think he’s excellent.
With his best years still ahead of him, he’s already one of the best players in the league.
Leicester’s efforts this season will undoubtedly have attracted the attention of Europe’s best clubs, whose scouts can’t have failed to notice Ndidi’s influence.
If the Foxes are to build upon Rodgers’ impressive first full campaign at the King Power, retaining their enforcer’s services is paramount.