The Leicester City marksman had a storming second half of the season and will hope to pick up where he left off in the forthcoming campaign
The story of last season
Kelechi Iheanacho had a thoroughly rollercoaster 2020/21 campaign.
Having looked to be on the fringes of Brendan Rodgers’ team, injuries to key attackers — James Maddison and Harvey Barnes — and Jamie Vardy’s decline in front of goal meant the Leicester City boss altered his approach.
Playing a 3-4-1-2 meant Iheanacho and Vardy played in tandem and it elicited a surge in the Nigerian’s goalscoring numbers in the second half of the season.
He netted 12 Premier League goals in 20/21 — all scored in the New Year — and his massive impact in the FA Cup carried the Foxes to their first final since 1969.
Even though he didn’t score in the 1-0 win over Chelsea, enabling the East Midlands club’s first FA Cup success, the Nigeria star’s impact can’t be diminished as he contributed to goals in their pivotal wins over Manchester United and Southampton.
The Owerri-born frontman ended Leicester’s top scorer in all competitions, ending Vardy’s five-year streak, and was rewarded with a contract extension, keeping him at the King Power Stadium until 2024.
Having looked to be on the fringes of the squad in December 2020, Iheanacho has now become a key player under Rodgers and not even the final-day Champions League disappointment should diminish his impact in 2021.
Any transfer talk?
None. Despite the arrival of Patson Daka, the Nigeria superstar isn’t expected to leave the 2016 Premier League champions this summer.
Best/worst case scenarios for 2021-22
While the underlying numbers suggest the West African’s run is unsustainable, Iheanacho has habitually outperformed his expected goals, provided he has the confidence and backing of his manager.
Keeping his place in the side as Leicester hope to be third-time lucky in their chase for a CL spot despite the competition in attack will be pleasing for the 24-year-old.
On the other hand, the return to fitness of Maddison and Barnes, a potential return to form for Vardy and Daka’s arrival mean Iheanacho could easily become peripheral at the club just as quickly.
What are they saying?
Rodgers’ remarks after Leicester’s 3-3 draw with Queens Park Rangers on Saturday were striking.
Against the West London side, the introductions of the Zambian and Nigerian changed the game as the visitors fought back from 2-0 down and 3-2 down to draw, with the pair scoring a goal apiece.
The Northern Irishman was pleased with his African marksmen and pointed to their budding on-pitch relationship.
“As soon as [Daka] is in that goalscoring position, he’s so calm and not even thinking, even though he’s right-footed, he just slots it away with his left foot,” Rodgers explained of Daka to the club’s official website.
“You see that natural goalscoring instinct and then his speed to get to the ball for the penalty, I never thought he was going to get there, but he showed great pace. He won the penalty, so it was a good performance by him.
“I think that’s what he is, he’s a goal scorer. I thought him and Kels combined very, very well. They were looking for each other and some of their play was exceptional. The goal scorers, I think when it hits the back of the net, it gives them confidence and gives them that energy.”
What role will Iheanacho play at the Afcon?
Provided that the Super Eagle maintains his baseline performances, he’s expected to play in tandem with Napoli hitman Victor Osimhen as Gernot Rohr’s team seek to better their third-place finish from 2019.
With Nigeria’s current plethora of options in attack, however, a drop in form may prompt questions over the former Manchester City frontman’s place in the side.
Goal’s prediction for 2021-22
Given Vardy is getting on at 34, there’s an expectation that Rodgers will lean on the West African even more, especially as Daka is likely to be eased into English football.
Having said that, the 24-year-old may not sustain his impressive scoring feats from last season. Nonetheless, having done so quite often in his career, would you want to bet against Leicester’s in-form Nigerian?