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Leicester City owe Nigeria a big thank-you after Musa and Ndidi spark FA Cup win at Everton

Sorry Nigeria, no disrespect, but thank goodness you did not qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Leicester City had already lost player of the year Riyad Mahrez and record signing Islam Slimani to international duty with Algeria, while Daniel Amartey, the young midfielder who was just getting into his stride in recent games, was also away with the Ghana squad for the competition.

Then star striker Jamie Vardy and Wales international Andy King were both ruled out of the trip to Everton through illness, leaving Claudio Ranieri down to the bare bones of the squad.

He even called Bartosz Kapustka into the squad, that was how bad the situation was.

What City needed in such a situation was for their new signing Wilfred Ndidi to hit the ground running and show immediately the potential that prompted City to pay Genk £15million for his services, and for one of their summer signings – who have taken their time to make an impact – to come to the fore.

Step forward, then, the Nigerian duo of Ndidi and Ahmed Musa, who produced superb displays to inspire City to a first domestic away win of the season, a victory that was much needed and long overdue.

Ndidi had trained with City only twice after receiving international clearance but Ranieri had no qualms, and very little choice, but to throw the 20-year-old straight into action at Goodison Park against a strong Everton side.

It was like throwing a child straight into the deep end and seeing if they could swim, only for the child to respond immediately by doing the individual medley.

The question that has been asked more than any in recent months has been, how do City replace N’Golo Kante?

The simple truth is they can’t. It is impossible.

Kante is unique. He is a freak of nature. He was the Premier League’s best player of 2016 and is on course for back-to-back winners’ medals.

Amartey, Papy Mendy and Ndidi will all have to endure such comparisons. That is inevitable. But all three are different in their own ways.

Ndidi was asked to sit in front of a back four which also included fellow 20-year-old Ben Chilwell, and he produced an impressive display, using his spidery long legs to snuff out danger, to break up a multitude of Everton attacks. The stats say Ndidi is just shy of 5ft 10in, but he looked taller than that, probably due to his gangly appearance and incredible standing spring, because he won several impressive high balls as well.

He kept it neat and tidy in possession and will need more time to understand you cannot dwell too long on the ball in the Premier League as he was robbed of possession on a couple of occasions. But his display was encouraging to say the least.

The presence of another Nigerian seemed to inspire Musa, too.

The diminutive forward has been a frustration. He showed in pre-season with his goals against Barcelona that his lightning pace can be devastating, but so often when he has played he has declined to use it, choosing so often to pass the ball rather than take his man on and use that devastating pace.

Nothing scares defenders like pace, and Musa has it in abundance, but it almost seemed the £15m man was short of belief.

It was obvious there was still a player in there somewhere if Ranieri could coax it out.

The first half at Goodison Park was a drab affair with both sides failing to create too many chances of note.

Leonardo Ulloa sent a header wide, while the Toffees had a couple of moments of danger, but it looked like a repeat of last Monday’s stupefying goalless draw at Middlesbrough.

It seemed at times like the Everton crowd had gone to sleep, too, so deathly quiet was it inside the stadium.

But a stroke of bad luck for Ranieri’s men proved to be the turning point.

Ulloa limped off with a thigh strain after 35 minutes, which is a huge blow for the Argentinian who had waited so long to start a game and was chosen for back-to-back fixtures.

Musa entered the fray but it was not until the second half that City started to get into their stride, with the striker working the channel in Vardy-esque manner.

Typically, City fell behind when Chilwell, who had an outstanding first half, could not live with substitute Gerard Deulofeu and the Everton winger teed up Romelu Lukaku for the opening goal.

City hit back in devastating fashion just three minutes later when Marc Albrighton played in Demarai Gray down the left and he picked out Musa inside the six-yard box, and the striker bundled the equaliser home.

Five minutes after that, City carved Everton open with ease as Musa played a wonderful one-two with Danny Drinkwater, who teed up his Nigerian team-mate with a delightful pass, and City were ahead.

There were a few moments when Everton threatened to force a replay, but Kasper Schmeichel, the newly-crowned Danish footballer of the year, was in typical form and City held on for a morale-boosting away win.

The FA Cup may not be a big priority for Ranieri and his players. They have bigger fish to fry.

But this win will give them a huge psychological boost because it demonstrates they can win on the road again.

It also showed that, in Ndidi, they have found a young midfielder with huge potential, and in Musa they have a striker who might just start to believe in himself.

Thank you Nigeria, thank you for not being a very good team.

 

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