As Burnley striker Matej Vydra turned the Leicester defense in every direction, a man who would have quietly stopped him watched from the West Stand of the King Power Stadium, patiently signing autographs and posing for selfies.
Say what you like about the wobble of the FA Cup winners’ start to the season, the impact of the absence of Wesley Fofana – one of Europe’s finest young defenders – cannot be overstated.
Signed for £32million in the summer of 2020, Fofana fractured his fibula and damaged ankle ligaments in a pre-season friendly against Villarreal and will not play a significant role in this campaign .
The impact of Wesley Fofana’s absence on Leicester this season cannot be overstated
Had Fofana stayed fit and progressed at the same pace as last season, Leicester would likely have been offered more for him next summer than the £80m Manchester United paid for Harry Maguire two years ago.
Add to that injuries to Jonny Evans, who has a persistent foot problem, and James Justin, who damaged the cruciate ligaments in his knee last February, and it’s easy to see why Leicester have conceded 12 league goals this season. . Only Leeds, Newcastle and Norwich left more.
If Vydra, who has scored just nine goals in 90 Premier League appearances, can cause so many problems for Leicester, what could Cristiano Ronaldo do when Manchester United arrive on Saturday?
Boss Brendan Rodgers has built one of the best teams in Leicester history since taking charge from Claude Puel in February 2019, with the club adrift.
They won the FA Cup for the first time in their 137-year existence last season and finished fifth – trading blows with far wealthier clubs – in the manager’s two full seasons at the helm, also winning the Community shield this year.
James Justin (left) and Jonny Evans (right) are also struggling with their own injuries
Jannik Vestergaard (left), a £15million summer signing from Southampton, has struggled – his lack of pace revealed by counter-attacking teams
The team’s individual talent should ensure they improve on their uneven start, but finding a cohesive defensive structure is Rodgers’ top priority. After Leicester blew a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at Crystal Palace, it was instructive to hear Rodgers say he had little confidence he would hold onto his advantage.
Despite alternating between a back three and a back four, the Foxes haven’t kept a clean sheet in the league since their 1-0 win over Wolves on the opening day of the season – and that was more due to the poor finish of Adama Traoré. than their own solidity at the rear.
Jannik Vestergaard, a £15million summer signing from Southampton, struggled with his lack of pace being revealed by the counter-attacking teams. With Caglar Soyuncu also out of form, the defense makes the rest of the team nervous, leading to possession errors.
To complicate matters, there will also be no Wilfred Ndidi against United. Ndidi, one of the division’s leading midfielders, also missed the game against Palace with a hamstring injury and may not be back until next month.
Leicester’s new £100m training ground is a key selling point in attracting new players
However, at the 185-acre site at Seagrave there is bound to be greater separation between different departments and some feel it will take time to recreate the spirit of their former home.
Rodgers is desperate for Evans to be available soon, although Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough sounded the alarm when he said the 33-year-old “not only has to think about his feet to the rest of his career, but also for after football”. ‘
The next move could be to turn Timothy Castagne into a back-three, with Ricardo Pereira at right-back and, given Ryan Bertrand’s problems after catching Covid-19 on the eve of the season, Luke Thomas at left.
In addition to defensive concerns, there are a number of other issues that should be highlighted which, taken in isolation, would only be of limited importance, but which seem more significant when taken together.
Leicester’s new £100m training ground is spectacular, with facilities many of their rivals can only dream of and a key selling point for attracting new players. Rodgers is right to point out his importance in the Foxes’ quest to get to the top table and stay there.
Still, Sportsmail understands some club staff miss the warmer atmosphere of Belvoir Drive, the smaller base in the heart of the city where players and staff at all levels have been brought together.
At the 185-acre site at Seagrave there is bound to be greater separation between different departments and some feel it will take time to recreate the spirit of their former home.
There was also Kelechi Iheanacho’s embarrassment of being turned away by Polish border guards ahead of the 1-0 defeat at Legia Warsaw last month, because his papers were not in order. Although both parties were careful not to blame the other, it felt like an avoidable mistake.
Wembley match winner Youri Tielemans hasn’t returned to last season’s sublime form and has yet to sign a new contract, with his current one ending at the end of next season.
Once the kingpin of Rodgers’ side, James Maddison (above) is now struggling to fit in
Thank goodness for Jamie Vardy. Still fiery, Vardy flies, with six goals already
Harvey Barnes is yet to score in the league and appears to miss his productive relationship on the left with Thomas, who has generally played second fiddle to Bertrand. Of the new signings, only Ademola Lookman on loan settled in quickly, with Vestergaard, Bertrand, Boubakary Soumare and Patson Daka all battling for form. And then there’s James Maddison.
Once a linchpin of Rodgers’ team, Maddison is now struggling to fit in. The club were willing to entertain offers for the playmaker over the summer, although Arsenal, who were interested, were not ready to match the £60million starting price.
Shortly after recovering from a hip problem, Maddison was dropped from training for the Cup final and is believed to have made his disappointment clear to Rodgers during the build-up, with Rodgers discussing then publicly of the player’s fitness levels soon after. There have been suggestions – denied by Maddison’s camp – that the 24-year-old is still troubled with his hip, which has already burst twice in the past 16 months. A huge talent, Leicester need Maddison to regain his confidence and his taste for the game.
Thank goodness for Jamie Vardy. Hotter than ever, Vardy is flying, with six goals already, and is back in tandem with Iheanacho, who has improved a lot under Rodgers. Both scored at Palace meaning Leicester have scored 29 goals in the 15 games they have started together since March. Although Rodgers prefers to use a single centre-forward, the case of Vardy and Iheanacho together is unanswerable.
If only everything were so simple for Leicester. Shortly after the new training ground opened, the club’s owners detailed ambitious plans for the stadium and its surroundings, which would increase capacity to 40,000 and include seven new buildings.
Although Leicester’s foundations remain strong, repair work is needed and it should start to show on Saturday.