The Nigeria international entered the fray to win yet another trophy for Leicester against his former club, and prove last season was no fluke
Leicester City are beginning to get a kick out of playing at Wembley.
On Saturday, they added the Community Shield to the FA Cup trophy they secured back in May, upsetting the odds once again in victory over more fancied opponents – this time, Manchester City.
The usual caveat applies, of course. It is a fixture of a mostly ceremonial nature, like an opening act at a concert: you are not what the crowd came for, but perform well enough and you get an ovation regardless.
Manchester City, by this point so used to being the main attraction, duly treated this like a friendly, at least in terms of their selection. Cole Palmer and Samuel Edozie certainly hold some promise, but they will not get any meaningful haul of minutes this season; Benjamin Mendy, Zach Steffen and Nathan Ake will, but they are by no means starters with everyone fit and available.
On the other hand, Leicester set their stall out, naming a squad as strong as they could knock together. The consequence of the leg-break suffered by Wesley Fofana (and the continued unavailability of Johnny Evans) was a change of shape for the Foxes, as the FA Cup holders reverted to a back four. This meant there was no place for Kelechi Iheanacho from the start, and Wilfred Ndidi could start in his favoured midfield role.
So began the cut and thrust, with Brendan Rodgers’ side flying out of the traps and carrying the greater menace in the first half.
Most tellingly, the Foxes actually dominated possession for spells of that opening period, and carved out interesting opportunities for Jamie Vardy, who was twice foiled by Steffen.
The second half saw Manchester City come into the game a little more, and edge proceedings, forcing their opponents deeper and deeper. Winger Riyad Mahrez was at the heart of most of it, and was the Citizens’ best player on a day when they looked curiously flat for long periods.
Who will score the most goals in the Premier League for Leicester City this season?
— Goal Africa (@GoalAfrica) August 7, 2021
The outcome of proceedings however turned upon the introduction of Patson Daka and, tellingly, Kelechi Iheanacho.
The latter, who came on with 11 minutes to play, looked incredibly sharp, forcing an error from Ake before being brought down inside the penalty area. He duly dispatched the resulting spot-kick for the victory, and in doing so proved three important points.
First: that his output in the 2020/21 season was no flash in the pan.
Even though his outrageously impressive per 90 goals record has been discussed extensively, there was a temptation to look on last season’s return – and his influence on this Leicester team – as a bit of a fluke.
After all, he had never before managed that many in a single campaign, and the fact that the goals came in a mid-to-late season glut raised the suspicion that it could have simply been an extended purple patch.
The second concerns the impact a change of system would have on his performance levels.
For all that he seemed to finally find his place within the Leicester side, there was always a sense it was more incidental than anything else.
It required a change to a back three and a strike partnership, such a departure from Rodgers’ preferred system that, at the start of a new season and with the benefit of a transfer window to fill in the gaps, the chariot would almost certainly turn back into a pumpkin.
If Saturday’s match-winning turn showed anything, it is that even in a reduced capacity, the Nigeria international retains the ability to be decisive and affect outcomes favourably for Leicester.
Third, and finally, it was a showing that served to confirm the long-term stability of the club with a Daka-Iheanacho understanding upfront.
The Zambia international served notice already of the ridiculous pace that not only makes him such an intriguing like-for-like replacement for Vardy, but that will drive Premier League defenders to distraction.
While the plan is for him to, in time, take over from Vardy, with every appearance in Leicester blue Daka shows he is even readier than was previously imagined.
Beyond his own direct threat, however, he looks to have developed a useful connection with Iheanacho.
All-African strike partnerships have not been in abundant supply in the Premier League over the years, but we might finally have one in these two; the visual of Iheanacho releasing Daka into space is one we might have to get used to sooner than anticipated.