Kelechi Iheanacho will be playing as a No. 8 at Leicester City, can he succeed in that role?
When Kelechi Iheanacho was promoted to Manchester City first team in August 2015, Nigerian football experts were surprised to see the youngster positioned as a striker.
Manuel Pellegrini held Iheanacho in high regards. “Kelechi is just 17 years old and he’s a very important player for us in the future… I think he is a good talent,” the former Manchester City manager said about the player in the summer of 2014.
He would not play for Manchester City until February 2015, featuring in a couple of game for Manchester City youth teams. Following his promotion, Iheanacho delivered consistently anytime he played up during the 2015/2016 season.
After scoring his first competitive goal for Manchester City in September 2015, Iheanacho went on to have a very impressive debut season at Manchester City, scoring 14 goals.
Iheanacho’s fine sense of positioning and ice cold composure in front of goal redeemed Pellegrini’s decision to turn him into a striker.
Before his exploits as a striker, it was Iheanacho’s performance as an offensive midfielder that attracted Manchester City. The Nigerian was splendid at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup, winning the title with the Golden Eaglets. From midfield, the youngster scored six goals and made seven assists, he was the Player of the Tournament.
At the U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, Iheanacho’s displayed the intuitiveness and calmness of a striker, his assists also showed that he had the vision and selfishness of a midfielder/creator.
Pellegrini preferred Iheanacho the striker and Pep Guardiola stuck with it.
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Iheanacho started brightly under Guardiola grabbing a goal and an assist in the Manchester derby victory in September 2016. With his goal against Hull City on Boxing Day of 2016, Iheanachi had the best goal-to-minute ratio of any player in Premier League history. With a goal every 96 minutes in the Premier League - the best goal ratio for any player with 10 or more goals in the league's history- Iheanacho’s ability as a striker was not in question.
Despite his successes in front of goal, Iheanacho was not Guardiola’s cup of tea, so when Gabriel Jesus happened, Iheanacho had only place to go, out of City.
Iheanacho’s role at Leicester City
Craig Shakespeare took over at Leicester City in February and rejuvenated an uninspiring side to a five-match winning streak which ensured that they avoided relegation just a year after winning the Premier League.
A hugely popular figure at Leicester City, Shakespeare brought in calm and harmony to the team which breathed new life to their season. Shakespeare also returned to the basics, switching back to the 4-4-2 formation which Claudio Ranieri used in the title winning season.
Although there are switches in-between games, the basics of Shakespeare’s tactics still revolve around that system. A system that requires two strikers-a formation that could favour Iheanacho.
This is why Iheanacho’s striker-midfielder dual abilities come into play. Like an old fashion No 8, Iheanacho is expected to take up the role of as a partner of Jamie Vardy.
It was Shinji Okazaki that played in this role in Leicester City’s league winning season and also when Shakespeare returned to the 4-4-2 formation mid-season.
Okazaki is still at Leicester City but his tenacious playing style aside, the Japanese does not provide enough incision neither does he pose much of a goal threat like Iheanacho.
Iheanacho showed a glimpse of what he is capable of as a No 8 on his Leicester City debut.
Just eight minutes after he was introduced in Leicester City’s 2-1 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach in a pre-season friendly, Iheanacho grabbed an assist for a Vardy goal.
The Nigerian received a ball while clear on goal, got into the opposition’s area with a touch and picked out an onrushing Vardy who finished into an empty net.
Shakespeare saw immediately why he splashed £25m on the Nigerian. He signed the 2013 U-17 Iheanacho and that’s what he hopes to get.