Leicester City had just collapsed against Manchester United on the all-venerated “Championship Sunday” and failed to attain their illusion of qualifying for the 2020-2021 UEFA Champions League. Foxes manager Brendan Rodgers was very considerate of the shortcoming, as the East Midlands club was still confronting an injury crisis regardless of the irregular Premier League season finale.
Due to Leicester’s constant battle with injuries since Rodgers’ arrival at the club, the Northern Irish manager knew that he would have to bring in new vital rotational signings into the club, but they would have to fit a certain criterion. Rodgers opted to pursue hard-working, team-oriented players for a decent price, as the pandemic had tanked Leicester’s transfer window budget. Not only that, the mishap of not reaching Champions League qualification spots meant less money at the end of the season.
With the help of Leicester’s current head of senior recruitment Lee Congerton, Rodgers was able to identify and narrow his search for new additions to the Foxes senior squad in a fashionable manner. Congerton had worked previously with Rodgers at Celtic, which is why the two attain amazing chemistry when in regards to scouting talent around the globe.
Leicester needed to add depth to their squad, and they did so accordingly. The Foxes’ summer transfer window was highlighted by three key signings: Atalanta and Belgium full-back Timothy Castagne, Turkish winger Cengiz Ünder on loan, and French wonderkid Wesley Fofana.
In order to comprehend how these three players have affected the East Midlands club this season, it is essential to grade their performances during the transpiring of this season and distinguish their strong suits.
Leicester started their summer transfer window in early September by confirming the signature of Belgian full-back and facilitator Castagne for around a reported £22million.
Rodgers has been an admirer of Castagne since his management days at Celtic, but Celtic’s finances would have never allowed such deemed transfer to become a reality. Since Rodgers now had the backing of Leicester City president Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha regarding transfers, it was a no-brainer to go in for the Belgian.
Castagne has played 18 games for the Foxes this season, accumulating a grand total of 1,535 minutes on the pitch this season. The Belgian has been key in Rodgers’ defensive scheme of the game, but also in creating chances offensively all the way from the back.
Defensively speaking, Castagne enjoys dispossessing players in the middle of the pitch, as he is currently averaging one tackle in the middle third of the field per game. This is astonishing for the Belgian, as it places him in the top 16 percentile of fullbacks in the Premier League in this category.
The 25-year-old is also characterized for his great ability to block passes from being completed, as he currently averages 2.29 blocked passes per 90, placing him in the top 15 percent among other fullbacks in the league. The average Premier League fullback averages 1.69 blocked passes per game, which Castagne comfortably surpasses at a great rate.
When it comes to affecting the game offensively, Castagne has been superb. In his first season in the Premier League, the Belgian is joint third among all players in the league for goals per shot. The Belgian fullback is currently producing 0.25 goals per shot, which is joint third with Evertonians Dominic Clavert Lewin and Michael Keane, but also Leicester striker Kelechi Iheanacho. Additionally, Castagne is joint fourth for defensive actions leading to a shot attempt this season, with an amazing four actions this season.
The 25-year-old has also shown his productivity when playing through balls to teammates, as he currently bolsters an average completion rate of 0.23 through balls per 90. This places him in the top four percent among all fullbacks in the Premier League in such category, further exemplifying his ability to distribute the ball.
Rodgers knew exactly what Castagne would bring to Leicester, and it has been nothing but brilliance. Although the 25-year-old has missed 17 games due to a recurrent thigh muscle strain, Castagne has justified his price tag with his stunning performances so far.
Castagne is currently Rodgers’ main man on the left-hand side of the defensive scheme due to James Justin’s unfortunate ACL injury, and he will continue to be so if injuries do not hinder his work-rate.
Overall Rating: 8/10
The second signing of Leicester City’s 2020 summer transfer window came as a loan for AS Roma and Turkey winger Cengiz Ünder.
Ünder had found himself in oblivion due to the new management at the hands of Paulo Fonseca at the Giallorossi, meanwhile, injuries hindered his playing time as well. Rodgers saw promise in the right-winger, as he necessitated a skilful winger that could unlock defenders on the right-hand side of the offensive scheme if needed. At a reported loan fee of around £2.70million, it seemed like a formidable deal, as the Turkish winger would also come with an option to buy of £25million.
Although many Foxes fans were illusioned with the thought of Ünder becoming a main staple in Brendan’s blue army, it seems like Rodgers envisages otherwise.
In his six months at the club, Ünder has only played in 17 games, with only one start in the Premier League. The Turkish winger has netted a goal on only one occasion and assisted on three occasions, which is clearly not enough production to guarantee any type of game time.
To assess Ünder’s season so far and his potential as a player, it is best to appraise his accumulated stats in the UEFA Europa League, where he exhibited formidable performances throughout the group stages. During the 2020-2021 Europa league Campaign, the 23-year-old provided the East Midlands club with 21 shot-creating actions, which was a better rate than that of Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey and Nigerian wonderkid Samuel Chukwueze.
Ünder has also been decent at receiving passes from teammates after being targeted for a run. The Turkish winger was targeted on 273 occasions for a pass in the Europa League, with Ünder correctly receiving the ball on 219 occasions. This results in the 23-year-old possessing an 80.2 received pass percentage. Such percentage is very notable for Ünder, as it means that he has a higher percentage in such deemed category than fellow countryman and LOSC Lille revelation Yusuf Yazıcı and S.S.C. Napoli talisman Lorenzo Insigne.
Unfortunately, Ünder has been extremely underwhelming this season, and his skillfulness on the ball has led to selfish play. Throughout his 17 appearances this season, Ünder has had many occasions where he has needed to pass the ball to an open teammate to contribute to an eventual dangerous goal-scoring opportunity, but instead, the 23-year-old decides to do skill moves to get past the defender in front of him. This has led to the Turkish winger losing the ball seconds later, which only hurts his own reputation with Rodgers.
In Leicester’s second leg of their round of 32 draw against Slavia Praha, Ünder kept producing unnecessary stepovers and generating underwhelming shots that led to no goal-scoring opportunities. Since that day, Rodgers has opted not to play the 23-year-old, as his selfishness with intent to impress backfired and was one of the main reasons why Leicester struggled to score against Prague in those 90 mediocre minutes in late February.
It would be surprising to see Ünder take part in another match in a Leicester City shirt after proving to Rodgers that he is not the indicated winger he has been searching for to supply veteran Fox Marc Albrighton. Ünder will most likely go back to Roma after the end of this Premier League season and lament his opportunities to have proven to Rodgers that he could truly fit in the future of the Foxes.
Overall Rating: 5/10
The third and final signing during the summer of 2020 resulted in the capturing of AS Saint-Étienne and France wonderkid Wesley Fofana. At the age of 19 during the summer, Leicester was clearly looking to depthen their centre-back position with a young promising defender who had been performing at a very high level. Congerton told Rodgers that they had to sign Fofana at all costs because he knew he would be a world-class star in the future, and Rodgers assimilated with such a statement.
Fofana ironically played under former Leicester manager Claude Puel at Saint-Étienne, and the French manager was not fond at the prospect of the Foxes seizing his most promising centreback at the club. Puel kept insisting in press conferences throughout early September that Fofana was and would remain a Saint-Étienne player under his watch, but the East Midlands club did not back down. Fofana wanted the move and declined to feature in any further Saint-Étienne endeavours, which forced the French club to agree to a £31.50million transfer fee.
Since his arrival from France, Fofana has undoubtedly become one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League and is essential to Rodgers in every match that he features.
The 20-year-old is currently averaging four tackles and interceptions per 90, which places him in the top ten per cent among centrebacks in the Premier League regarding such statistic. Fofana has also been extremely proficient at producing tackles in the defensive third of the field, producing 29 tackles in the final third this season.
This signifies that Fofana has been producing more tackles in the final third during the transpiring of this season than Tottenham Hotspur centre-back Davinson Sanchez, Manchester City anchorman Rodrigo, and Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw, which is eye-opening regarding the fact that he is only 20 years of age.
When it comes to the offensive side of the game, Fofana loves to carry the ball up the pitch to attempt to create key offensive actions for the Foxes. The 20-year-old has currently covered a total distance of 6132 yards when carrying the ball in between his legs, which results in the Frenchman attaining a higher total distance coverage than Liverpool and Senegal winger Sadio Mané, Manchester City talisman Kevin De Bruyne, and Portuguese Red Devil Bruno Fernandes this season.
Fofana also excels in generating passes when he is under pressure by the opposition. The French centre-back is currently averaging 6.49 passes under pressure per 90, placing him in the top 15 percent among all Premier League centre-backs in such category.
Altogether, Fofana has proven to all Foxes fans around the world that age is just a number when it comes to his skill set on and off the ball, as his maturity and composure when playing the game is extremely advanced compared to many centrebacks at his age.
The only unfortunate casualty to highlight about Fofana this season is that he has missed nine games this season due to a thigh muscle strain and a recurrent knee injury, but hopefully, he will not face further condemnation this season and will continue to provide defensive stability to Brendan's blue army until the end of May.
Overall Rating: 9/10