Opinion: Why Dennis Praet could be the key to Leicester’s
top four push
Dennis Praet could lead the charge into Europe for Leicester City | Photo: Getty/ Plumb Images

Leicester City are currently enjoying a stellar season in the Premier League under Brendan Rodgers.

The Foxes sit second in the table and look an excellent bet to return to the UEFA Champions League next season. Many of the current incumbent at the King Power Stadium have stolen the headlines, namely Jamie Vardy, James Maddison, Youri Tielemans and Caglar Soyuncu, amongst many others. However, one man who is yet to really draw considerable praise especially from the media is Dennis Praet.

The Belgian midfielder joined the club in the summer from Serie A outfit Sampdoria for a fee in the region of £18m. He has so far only made three starts in the Premier League but has impressed with his brief cameos and could well be the key to the Foxes’ return to Europe.

Comfort on the ball

Praet no doubt brings international class to the Leicester City midfield and has acted as a calming influence whenever he has been introduced to the fray, specifically in tight wins against Sheffield United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. That aspect that will come in supremely handy as the season continues and could be especially true if Rodgers' troops are still challenging in the upper echelons of the Premier League later on in the campaign.

His comfort in possession is also admirable and on those statistics alone, Praet is currently out-performing the majority of his teammates. With the whole Leicester squad possessing an average pass success of 82% this season, Praet sits higher at 85.6%, highlighting how he is able to come into a match and reduce the risk should the Foxes be tested when in the lead.

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Another strength of the former Anderlecht man is his versatility in the centre of the park. Throughout his career, the 25-year-old has played a variety of midfield positions both offensively and slightly more defensive minded. That difference was encapsulated in the differing roles he was asked to play for his former employers – Anderlecht and Sampdoria.

In his home country, he was more of a forward-thinking midfielder, having a direct goal contribution every 0.36 games. Whereas, following his move to Italy, he acted as more of a ball winner. Praet’s goal contributions dropped considerably to one every 0.09 games at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris but he was highly effective in transition, former boss Eusebio Di Francesco even going as far as to say he was 'one of the best midfielders in Italy'.

Whilst his statistics might not quite match up to the attacking outputs of either Maddison or Tielemans, whilst also not having the ability to dominate the centre of the park like Wilfried Ndidi, anyone who can come in and do a solid job in both roles is always an excellent option to have.

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That aforementioned trio is exactly the problem for Praet at the current time though. Maddison has sparkled in the number 10 role for the Foxes and has been supported by fellow young talent Tielemans, who arrived in a club-record deal from AS Monaco in the summer. Meanwhile, Ndidi tops the Premier League tackling statistics once again. Naturally, it would be tough for Praet to break into the starting XI.

That disadvantage for Praet could well be an advantage for the fellow midfielders in the squad however. Knowing that they have the Belgian very much on their coat-tails for a starting berth should in theory see them keep their performance levels high, and even if not, Praet will be ready to slot into position.

His place in the squad is even more precious over the upcoming Christmas period, where the Foxes' packed fixture schedule of a minimum of 13 matches through December and January will see their squad tested to the limit. Whether there are injuries or suspensions, Praet will be the first name to step into whatever absence could occur.

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Experience counts

As the season wears on, expectation is bound to increase and experience could be key to combat that. Luckily, Praet has that in abundance. At just 25, he has 210 league appearances under his belt, as well as 26 in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League proper. His past of challenging in the upper reaches of the table and in European competition could be vital then.

Not only that however but he has plenty of experience playing with a key cog in the Leicester midfield – Tielemans. Teammates and indeed friends at both Anderlecht and for Belgium, their understanding on the field could be a fantastic combination.

Praet has not quite had the opportunities to display those aspects as of yet but he did partner up with the 22-year-old in the 3-1 victory over Burton Albion in the Carabao Cup, playing in a smart cross that Tielemans dispatched into the net.

Should he continue contributing like that, whether that be from the bench or in the starting XI, Praet could well become a vital part of the Leicester City squad and could well be a huge factor in the team as they continue their pursuit of a return to the Champions League.