Unlucky- This word can be used to describe Kelechi Iheanacho’s time in the Premier League so far, but more importantly, this season.
Iheanacho arrived in the English top-flight in 2014- a year after his heroics at the U17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
Within this period, the Super Eagles star has only played for two clubs- Manchester City, who signed him in 2014, and currently, Leicester City.
Iheanacho was never the leading man or a regular starter at City, and it’s the same situation at the King Power Stadium, hence the word- unlucky.
At City, he had to compete with the team’s array of attacking talents led by Sergio Aguero, while Jamie Vardy is undroppable at Leicester.
It’s important to note, though, that Iheanacho has also been partly responsible for his lack of starts, especially when he first joined the Foxes.
However, having turned it around in the last two years, it’s shocking that Iheanacho has been used more as an impact sub this season.
The Nigerian international finished as the Foxes top scorer in all competitions last season with 19 goals, including 12 in the Premier League.
This year, no Foxes player has scored more than the Super Eagles star, who has 21 goals. But despite his impressive numbers, Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers still won’t hand him a place in the starting lineup.
Iheanacho is yet to start a game in the six Premier League games played so far this season, although he was in the starting lineup for the Europa League game against Napoli and the Carabao Cup clash against Millwall.
But why has it been difficult for him to earn a start in the Premier League?
The only answer to this question has to do with Rodgers tactical set-up. Iheanacho had a fantastic run in the second half of last season, scoring 12 league goals.
In that period, he partnered Jamie Vardy in the Foxes attack in a 3-5-2 formation in most of the games. But Rodgers had to adapt to a 3-5-2 set-up due to injuries to some of his key players, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes.
However, with the two players back from injuries, the Northern Irishman has reverted to his preferred 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 formation, leaving Iheanacho out.
While Iheanacho can also function in this set-up, it appears Rodgers does not trust him enough to do the work of Maddison.
The 24-year-old can function as a supporting striker effectively, but due to his lack of speed and his inability to play the playmaking role effectively, he gets overlooked for the number ten role, which Maddison occupies.
However, here lies the problem. While Maddison may be the better player in the number ten role, he hasn’t impressed this season. In fact, Iheanacho has been the better player despite playing fewer minutes than the England international.
Iheanacho has had more impact as a substitute than Maddison, who has started almost all the league games. The Super Eagles star came on in the 2-2 draw against Burnley to set up Vardy’s equaliser, while Maddison was largely ineffective when he came on for Ademola Lookman.
According to Fbref, Iheanacho has created three goalscoring chances this season compared to Maddison’s one, who has played more minutes.
Also, If there was any game that showed why Iheanacho should start more, it was the game against Napoli in the Europa League.
The Nigerian international started as more or less as a false nine, and he excelled. He was involved in Leicester City’s play, sometimes dropping to the deep to collect the ball and acting as the creative outlet for the Foxes wingers.
Iheanacho capped off the performance with a fine assist for Barnes, although Leicester later blew a two-goal lead to allow Napoli to earn a point.
His performance that night should’ve convinced Rodgers to hand him more starts. It’s even more baffling that he hasn’t been given more opportunities despite Leicester’s winning just two and losing three of their six league games so far.
It’s important to note that Iheanacho played a vital role as a substitute in one of the two wins, while his assist also helped the team avoid defeat last Saturday.
However, despite his impressive performance, it appears Rodgers won’t tweak his style to accommodate the Nigerian.
So with the Irishman not willing to change, should Iheanacho be worried?
Iheanacho’s time at the King Power Stadium has been a rollercoaster ride. The 24-year-old struggled to impress in his first two years but has now turned it around.
But despite that, he was linked with a move away from the club, with Roma reportedly interested this summer.
Patson Daka’s arrival from Salzburg also created speculations around his future, but apparently, the Zambian is not even a direct competitor, and he has struggled to get enough game time himself.
He signed a new contract last season, which keeps him at the club until 2024. While he doesn’t need to rush to make any decision yet, it’s important that he starts playing regularly as he is now approaching his peak.
He is yet to start a game in the Premier League this season, which does not really help his consistency. However, with 32 games left this season, he would definitely get his chance, especially if he keeps coming on to impress.
The good thing for him is that he is playing with confidence, which is evident anytime he comes on, and it’s only a matter of time before Rodgers heeds to fans call.
He deserves to start more games, but he doesn’t need to panic yet.