Wesley Fofana Has Made a Seamless Transition to Life at Leicester City

Grey Whitebloom
Nov 10, 2020, 7:30 PM GMT
Wesley Fofana has rapidly adapted to life in Leicester since joining the club in October
Wesley Fofana has rapidly adapted to life in Leicester since joining the club in October | Alex Pantling/Getty Images
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'Colossal' was the word Brendan Rodgers used to describe Leicester City's latest unearthed gem, Wesley Fofana, after another impressive display.

While it's a term more readily associated with a more senior Wes in the Foxes' defensive ranks, the 19-year-old Fofana, who stands at just half an inch over 6ft, has heartily earned this description and the glowing praise his opening performances in blue have garnered.

Leicester City have kept four clean sheets in Fofana's opening seven games
Leicester City have kept four clean sheets in Fofana's opening seven games | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

In a tightly contested 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday, Fofana was imperious at the back for the hosts, mopping up in defence and helping his side move forward.

Fofana provided a perfect example of both these aspects seven minutes into the second half when Daniel Podence made the unenviable mistake of turning into his path. Having swiftly dispossessed the nimble Portuguese forward, Fofana bounded upfield in a run his beaten dueller would have been proud of, weaving his way from the edge of Leicester's penalty area into Wolves' half before laying off a pass to Jamie Vardy.

Rodgers was effusive in his praise for the teenager post-game, highlighting how the Wolves contest was no one-off fluke: “I think the surprising thing is that if you look at the seven games he’s played and the level of the teams we’ve played, and the consistent run of games, how he’s coped with that," as quoted by the Leicester Mercury, "He’s absolutely colossal for a young guy."

Yet, despite his status as a teenager until the end of the year, Fofana's performances have conveyed a maturity beyond his years, as Rodgers stressed: "You can’t forget he is only 19, even if he is playing like a 29-year-old."

Rodgers (right) has been quick to praise his young, new signing
Rodgers (right) has been quick to praise his young, new signing | James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

As Leicester have shown with the acquisitions of Youri Tielemans, Caglar Soyuncu and a host of other names, the Foxes and their recruitment department have an excellent track record of uncovering these starlets. Fofana was no different, as Rodgers outlined: “We knew he was a top player for someone so young, and when we spoke to people out there and seeing all the clips, you could see he has anticipation as a defender, he has speed, he has aggression, he defends forward, so all the attributes we like here."

While Fofana has brought many of those listed characteristics with him across the English Channel, there appears to have been a slight change in his game.

With the pertinent caveat that his time at Leicester has been only a fraction of the limited minutes he was granted in his single season with Saint-Etienne's first team, Fofana has been much bolder in his passing. The 19-year-old has been averaging double the number of passes into the final third (11 alone against Wolves) and registering a similar spike in terms of the quality, and quantity, of chances created from passing moves he has been involved in since moving from Ligue 1.

One of Fofana's most notable qualities at Saint-Etienne was his aerial dominance, winning an impressive number of airborne duels at an equally elite success rate. So far this season, Fofana hasn't quite displayed this aerial prowess but that could very well be down to a change in Leicester's approach.

Fofana (centre) climbing in an aerial duel against Portuguese side Braga
Fofana (centre) climbing in an aerial duel against Portuguese side Braga | OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

Injuries, and a cooling of the side's finishing hot streak, conspired to ultimately derail Leicester's Champions League qualification bid last season. When Wilfred Ndidi joined Ricardo Pereira on the list of absentees in September, Leicester's misfortune appeared to be repeating itself.

However, in the first league game after the Foxes' defensive midfielder was ruled for three months, Rodgers switched systems to a 3-4-3 against Manchester City, ceding possession and ruthlessly striking on the counter attack.

Since the tactical tweak Leicester, who were one of the Premier League's most front-footed sides last season, have become much more reactive, dropping in all metrics used as a proxy for pressing compared to the previous campaign - and faring much better when doing so. Leicester lost six of the nine games they had less than 50% possession in last season. This term, they have won six out of seven, with Fofana firmly ensconced in five such victories without the ball.

Having played in a four-man defence for his first two outings, Fofana has shown his flexibility by playing on the right and as the anchoring defender in a back three. So adeptly has Fofana slotted into this system, surely Soyuncu will be competing for one of two spaces in defence when he eventually returns from a lengthy layoff himself.

Leicester have been awarded 20% of all penalties given in the Premier League this season (but only one for handball)
Leicester have been awarded 20% of all penalties given in the Premier League this season (but only one for handball) | Pool/Getty Images

While Fofana's fast start must be tempered with the normal caveats of small sample sizes to dampen expectation, Leicester's rise to the top of the table should also be viewed in the light of their unsustainable glut of penalties. The Foxes lead the league having won eight in eight games while conceding none.

Winning and converting penalties doesn't demean Leicester's - or specifically Fofana's - achievements so far, but it is a trend which should tone down lofty aspirations of events four-and-a-half years ago. Though if Fofana continues to turn out displays in keeping with his opening salvo, talk of such heights may not be quelled for long.

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