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Why Afcon-bound Nigeria’s Ndidi was tasked with defensive role for Leicester City vs Newcastle

07:20 GMT 14/12/2021
Wilfred Ndidi Leicester
The Northern Irish tactician explains why he handed the 24-year-old Super Eagle the defensive role in the top-flight win against the Magpies

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers has revealed why he opted to slot midfielder Wilfred Ndidi in the central defence during the team's 4-0 Premier League win against Newcastle United at King Power Stadium on Sunday.

The 24-year-old Nigeria international had started the game in his usual defensive midfield role but the Foxes suffered a setback when centre-back Jonny Evans pulled a hamstring in the early stages forcing Rodgers to make changes to his backline.

With defender Wesley Fofana out injured, and Ghana international Daniel Amartey, Jannik Vestergaard, and Filip Benkovic ruled out with illness, Rodgers had two youngsters - Ben Nelson and Lewis Brunt - on the bench for the central defensive role.

However, the Northern Irish tactician instead, overlooked the youngsters by replacing Evan with Boubakary Soumare and deployed Ndidi in the centre-back alongside Caglar Soyuncu.

Rodgers has now explained his decision was arrived at because he needed the Super Eagle’s pace at the back.

“I’m always open to playing young players, but I felt we needed that speed at the back,” Rodgers told the media after the game as quoted by LeicestershireLive.

“With Callum Wilson, he’s so fast, he’s so direct, so we need to have that speed on both sides in order to be able to cope with that.

“Wilf, going back in there, even though he hasn’t played it so much, I know he’s a player who gives everything in that position and he’s dominant in the air. And it gives Bouba the chance to come in.

“Wilf was exceptional when he came in and Bouba did a good job filling in in midfield.”

Despite playing in the central role, Ndidi produced a superb display to help Leicester keep their first clean sheet of the season after goals from Youri Tielemans, who scored a double; Zambia international Patson Daka and James Maddison gave them the resounding victory against the Magpies.

Ndidi, who has managed 12 appearances for Leicester in the top-flight since the season kicked off, is among the African players the Foxes will do without during the Africa Cup of Nations set for Cameroon from January 9 to February 6.

The other players include Ademola Lookman, who was born in England to Nigerian parents and is eligible to play for the Super Eagles, Nigeria striker Kelechi Iheanacho, and defender Amartey of the Black Stars.

While Nigeria are in Group D alongside Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, and Sudan, Ghana are drawn in Group C alongside Comoros, Morocco, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s Gabon.