After Leicester City’s appalling display in their 5-3 loss away to Fulham, many fans were left confused over the omission of Nampalys Mendy. The 30-year-old has been an unsung hero this season when he’s been on the pitch, yet Dean Smith has used him sparingly since he took over from Brendan Rodgers.
The defensive midfielder is yet to start under Smith, instead coming off the bench for half an hour against Manchester City, then only playing the last five minutes in Smith’s lone win against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Since then, Mendy has been stuck on the bench against both Leeds United and Everton, but on Monday he wasn’t even included in the matchday squad. When BBC Radio Leicester questioned Smith after the game on Monday, the manager said Mendy’s absence from the squad was purely a ‘squad decision’, confirming he is fit.
His admission from the squad had many fans scratching their heads given how fragile the Foxes looked against Fulham. The Cottagers were utterly dominant on the pitch, carving up Leicester at their will. The final scoreline really flattered Leicester City.
The problem wasn’t only the backline, but the midfield was fully outplayed and couldn’t lay a hand upon the surging Fulham attack. Starting both Youri Tielemans and Boubakary Soumare, there wasn’t a traditionally defensive midfielder on the pitch until Wilfred Ndidi was subbed on.
All three have struggled this season for different reasons: Soumare is still adjusting to his role in the squad -Rodgers wanted him to be more attacking and it’s unclear if Smith wants the same. Meanwhile, Tielemans’ form has staggered whilst Ndidi’s has fully regressed over the last two seasons.
Therefore, it’s strange that Smith is choosing those players over an AFCON winning CDM who has performed well this season. One could argue it’s because Mendy is in the last few months of his deal, therefore the ex-Aston Villa man wants to see what other plays can do rather than play one who is all but set to leave, but that doesn’t explain Tielemans’ selection.
The answer is Smith simply doesn’t trust Mendy for the type of football he wants his side to play, though he may be forced to give him a chance after his side’s humiliation in West London. Shockingly, the midfielder is the only player to have a positive goal difference whilst on the pitch for LCFC this season. When he plays, his impact is plain to see.
Mendy has frequently struggled to find consistent time on the pitch since his arrival from Nice in 2016. Originally signed and used as an N’Golo Kante replacement for £13m, a serious leg break saw him miss a huge part of his debut season.
Whilst he was recovering, the Foxes signed Wilfred Ndidi to fill the hole left in his absence. Unfortunately for Mendy, the Nigerian was an outstanding addition to the squad and automatically became first choice in the defensive role.
Since then, both injuries and the form of others have limited Mendy to only 116 total games for the Foxes – Ndidi, for comparison, has made 235 – and he looks set to leave at the end of the season upon the expiry of his contract. If he does depart, Leicester City will lose a solid squad player whose career deserves much more.