I can’t remember the last time Leicester City, or any of our players were talked about in the media so much, and certainly not in such a largely positive light. Naturally, most of that press is talking about man of the moment Jamie Vardy and our other star player, Riyad Mahrez. While it’s great for them, what of the rest of the team, the ones who have made a big impact but fallen somewhat under the radar?
Alongside Vardy, there are six other Leicester players who have started every one of the twelve League games so far. There’s certainly a case for each of them to deserve some attention and plaudits, but there’s one that stands out: Danny Drinkwater. Admittedly I haven’t always agreed with the unanimous praise that Drinkwater has received in previous seasons where I found him to be frustrating at times with too many long range shots and wasteful passing. This season so far though, he’s been incredibly solid and reliable.
Now in his fourth season with the Foxes, Drinkwater was signed for an undisclosed fee in 2012 from Manchester United. You could argue that so far for Leicester, every other season has been impressive from him. His first was incredibly inconsistent but his second season, the Championship winning 2013/14 campaign he was great. He even earned a nomination for the Championship Player of the Year award, having already bagged the Player of the Year award at Leicester and been named in the PFA Championship team of the year.
Last season was his first full season in the Premier League and he didn’t get to play every game. Along with Andy King, they found themselves largely coming on as substitutes such was the successful partnership that Esteban Cambiasso and Matty James formed. He didn’t get as much time to shine as previously and didn’t look quite as good as in the previous campaign. As this season has proved, he wasn’t the only player who needed a bit of time to adjust to life in the Premier League. He’s started every one of our twelve games so far and hasn’t really failed to impress yet.
Along with the rest of our midfield he was fortunate enough to train and play alongside Esteban Cambiasso. Many at the club have spoken of how the Argentinian taught them so much. How to replace the midfield maestro was a concern a lot of Leicester fans shared, particularly with Matty James likely out until the end of the year, but so far we needn’t have worried. As Danny Drinkwater, and Andy King when he’s featured, have demonstrated, they’ve truly stepped up. Claudio Ranieri and his tactics deserve some credit, alongside the confidence the midfielder would have gained from our great escape.
This season Drinkwater’s primary partner in centre midfield has been N’Golo Kante who equally deserves credit and praise for his performances. They compliment one another well, neither afraid to go back and help out defensively should the other be helping out at the other end. Against Watford last weekend, both played very well. The man of the match award likely went to Jamie Vardy but really could have gone to most of the team that day, including Drinkwater.
I realised something when scanning the current England squad for the upcoming friendlies this weekend; there’s a case for Danny Drinkwater to receive a call-up to the England team. Admittedly it’s an outside chance, but with the way he’s played this season, why not? I doubt many fans outside of Foxes supporters will understand why without watching more of him. It’s likely because he’s not always the showiest kind of midfielder. In previous seasons he hasn’t been near the top of the assist table like Riyad Mahrez, or even Marc Albrighton, and he doesn’t score as many goals as other central midfielders, but his role is equally important.
So far this season, he’s got a pass succession percentage of 78% and has added more assists to his game than ever before, already level with Marc Albrighton in setting up three goals in our twelve league matches. He has enjoyed more of a free reign in terms of being able to attack, a responsibility that previously, and usually, fell to his partners, whether that was Matty James, Andy King or Esteban Cambiasso. He has been just as quick to track back and defend as he has to kickstart the counter attacks and has contested more headers than I remember him doing previously.
If there was one thing that you could say is missing from Drinkwater’s game, it would be goals. In 140 appearances, he’s notched just 10 goals. That said, you’d be hard pressed to find one of those goals that wasn’t a screamer. So far in his Leicester career, he’s been more spectacular than prolific. Should he start to increase his goal count, he would have every aspect covered.
From an England point of view though, goals may not necessarily be essential. None of the strikers are goal shy and with multi-position players like Raheem Sterling, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain also capable of scoring, Drinkwater’s assists, passes and ball-winning qualities could be more important. For me, I could see him slotting into the Michael Carrick role. Though I cannot imagine him ever voicing it publicly, Drinkwater has to wonder what it would take to get the nod from Roy Hodgson. We know that the England manager has attended several Leicester games and although his primary focus would have been on Jamie Vardy, and allegedly for a time, Marc Albrighton, he would have seen the impact that Drinkwater made for Leicester.
While I can understand the decision to bring Dele Alli into the squad, from what I’ve seen he’s making quite a case for himself to become a starter at Tottenham, I did look at the inclusion of a player like Fabian Delph. Having only just returned to the Manchester City team after an injury that’s seen him play for only 12 minutes this season, his inclusion in the squad was a little surprising. Although Spain and France are both credible opponents and tough tests, the two matches are ultimately friendlies and the perfect chance for Hodgson to test some outside chances and the potential fringe players towards the end of the matches. Delph has played a number of times for England and by now, you’d expect that Hodgson knows his best role and where he’d fit in. You could argue that there are several other midfielders who so far this season have played more and impressed for their clubs and deserved a chance, not just Danny Drinkwater.
Should Drinkwater carry his current form throughout the season, he wouldn’t be the first English central midfielder to do so and still miss out on an England call-up. Mark Noble was near impeccable last season, not only captain for West Ham but popping up with vital goals. He’s started strongly again this season and is familiar with the England set up from his time with the Under 21s, yet he’s been looked over for the last eighteen months and his luck doesn’t appear to be changing.
While an England cap is not out of Danny Drinkwater’s reach, I’m not sure that it will happen with less than a year to go until the Euros. At 25 years of age, he can afford to bide his time and should take confidence from the fact that Jamie Vardy got the nod at the age of 28. The former Manchester United player is the one that many are tipping to be a future captain for the Foxes, and the partnership he’s forging with N’Golo Kante is incredibly solid. Not short of impressive goals, he’s still chasing his first for the season.
Back in July, the midfield was a concern. We now have ample cover across the board and with Drinkwater and Kante already keeping Andy King and Gokhan Inler firmly on the bench, we’ll have to wait and see what happens when Matty James is ready to be selected again. Foxes fans are enjoying things right now and it’s great to see the Drinkwater that we saw in the 2013/14 promotion campaign. I look forward to seeing how the rest of the season will pan out for Drinkwater and how long it will take him to get his first scream of a goal this season.