Understanding Kelechi Iheanacho's confusing Leicester City situation

Game time has come at a premium for the frontman in recent weeks.

Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City)

As Leicester City chased a winner at Southampton on Wednesday night, Kelechi Iheanacho remained rooted to the bench.

The forward was overlooked in the 61st and 75th minutes when Brendan Rodgers sent on Ayoze Perez and Patson Daka for Ademola Lookman and Harvey Barnes respectively, the latter representing the Foxes’ final substitution against Saints.

While he is unlikely to throw a hissy fit, there had to be some disappointment at being overlooked in the 2-2 draw at St Mary’s Stadium, and it was telling his manager preferred the Spaniard and Zambian with the game in the balance.

Wednesday was not a one-off, however. Against Watford a few days earlier, the Nigerian was also unused in severe conditions at the King Power Stadium, with Rodgers making only two substitutions in the 4-2 success over Claudio Ranieri’s troops.

The fact there were 23 minutes after Ademola Lookman’s 67th-minute strike looked to put the game beyond the Hornets’ reach further adds to the growing concern for “Seniorman” who, rather strikingly, got only six minutes of game time in last week’s Europa League win with Legia Warsaw.

Iheanacho had started all but one match-day in Europe — missing out in the reverse fixture in Poland due to a problem with his documentation — and it was noticeable that Rodgers only handed him a cameo role in a game Leicester needed to win.

November was not kind to the former Manchester City striker and December has not got off to a positive note, either. Since the start of last month, Iheanacho has played only 141 of an available 540 minutes in all competitions, a significant drop off for someone who accumulated just under 390 minutes in six games in October.

The obvious reason for reduced time on the pitch has been the formation tweak of late, with the Northern Irishman reverting to a back four and, notably, utilizing one striker from the off—Jamie Vardy or Daka— with two wide forwards either side.

Iheanacho’s skill set means he is best utilized in tandem with an attacking spearhead, which his manager explained extensively during his impressive spell in the second half of last season.

“When he has played in a diamond structure or a 3-1-4-2, he has always played well and combined with another striker,” Rodgers told Sky Sports in April. “That is probably what he is best suited to. But I have played a lot of the time this season with one central striker and two wide forwards.”

A return to his preferred formation at the start of this season meant Iheanacho was on the outside looking in yet again, restricted to cameo appearances off the bench in the team’s opening league games.

With initial results rather inconsistent, and injuries and illness unabating, the Nigerian was a beneficiary of his manager’s continued chopping and changing in search of consistency in performance and results.

While Rodgers’ alterations have continued — the Foxes have utilized a 3-5-2, 4-3-3, 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 in all competitions since the start of November — abstaining from playing two in tandem up top has reduced Iheanacho’s game time of late.

Months back, the Leicester boss disclosed how his man-management kept the Super Eagle on-side before last term’s astonishing run.

"It is just communication. You have to communicate. That is key,” Rodgers explained. “Take the time in training to speak to them about certain aspects of their game, specific exercises on their finishing. Try to help them gain that confidence. I try to reinforce that, especially with Kelechi.”

With Iheanacho seemingly on the periphery once more, one reckons there have been several conversations between the pair in the last month or thereabouts explaining the ongoing situation with the marginalized frontman.

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Seye Omidiora is a passionate football writer and pundit whose deep appreciation for the beautiful game exceeds the usual. He is currently a columnist for Goal Africa and has previously written for Vital Football UK, IBCity Info and Opera News.

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