Demarai Gray showed why he could still has a big part to play at Leicester City this season after his clinical brace for the Under 23s on Monday evening.
The 24-year-old netted either side of half time to earn City’s youngster’s a 2-1 Premier League 2 victory over West Ham United at King Power Stadium, with first-team duo Islam Slimani and Ricardo Pereira also featuring for Steve Beaglehole’s side.
It was the winger’s contribution which stood out on the night, but there’s no doubt he can still have a part to play in Brendan Rodgers’ squad as Leicester look to tackle an action-packed fixture schedule in the coming months.
Minutes hard to come by this season
Gray has found his minutes sparse so far this term, starting just once for the Foxes, and it came in a Carabao Cup tie against Arsenal back in September. He is yet to feature in the Premier League in 2020-21, while he hasn’t played in the Europa League either.
However, it was a similar story for Gray last season too as he started just three league games, coming off the bench 18 times in total. His appearances in cup competitions were more frequent, featuring in all four FA Cup matches and four more in the EFL Cup. Although the former Birmingham City man managed three goals and five assists in total, he will be hoping to hit a higher total if he is given the chance to do so this campaign.
With an impressive contribution for the Under 23s on the wing, this could now be the opportunity for Gray to have a new lease of life despite his lack of minutes. Gray finished calmly for his first following a swift counter-attack and showed his composure to complete his double after smartly beating his man on the right.
Leicester’s lack of goals from wide areas
Coincidentally, Leicester have struggled for goals from wide areas and in midfield this season. Harvey Barnes, Ayoze Perez and Cengiz Under have provided just three goals combined, with the former grabbing all of them but it hasn’t been enough to support leading scorer Jamie Vardy. James Maddison, who was out for a brief spell through injury has three goals, while Youri Tielemans also has three to his name.
As Leicester have applied a deep, low block for the majority of their games, their lack of pace, especially on the right side going forward has been evident. Ricardo’s absence hasn’t helped too, but Dennis Praet has filled in on the right of a three in midfield and his lack of mobility to be dangerous on the break could be rectified by Gray.
The ex-England youth international certainly has the potential to fill that void and contribute with goals and assists, having showed glimpses of magic in previous seasons. Excellent moments at Manchester United in 2016 and Wolves in 2019 in particular from wide positions shows the talent he has at his disposal but has failed to produce that on a consistent basis.
Where does Gray fit in?
Since joining from Birmingham City in January 2016, Gray has made over 150 appearances in a blue shirt but he hasn’t been able to cement a regular place in the team. His 12 Premier League games in 2015-16 earned him a winner’s meal and Foxes fans were quite excited about what he could do, however, it hasn’t worked out for a variety of reasons.
When Leicester play a 3-4-3, the space on the right wing has been an issue, and although Under hasn’t been given much of a chance, Gray has the potential to seize upon that void while the Turkish midfielder gets used to the English game. His versatility to play on either side has its benefits to adapt during tight matches, especially with those coming up against three of the bottom five.
Someone to unlock defences with his quick burst of pace could be vital as Rodgers rotates his team. Obviously his double versus the Hammers wasn’t against an established Premier League first team, but he showed positive signs of what he can produce if he’s given the chance, which he could well do in the near future.