As Burnley forward Matej Vydra turned the Leicester defence this way and that, a man who would have stopped him with little fuss was watching from the West Stand at King Power Stadium, patiently signing autographs and posing for selfies.
Say what you like about the FA Cup winners’ early-season wobble, the impact of the absence of Wesley Fofana cannot be overstated.
Signed for £32million in summer 2020, Fofana fractured his fibula and damaged ankle ligaments during a pre-season friendly against Villarreal and will not play a significant part in this campaign.
The impact of the absence of Wesley Fofana on Leicester this season cannot be overstated
If Fofana had stayed fit and progressed at the same rate as last season, Leicester would probably have been offered more for him next summer than the £80m Manchester United paid for Harry Maguire two years ago.
Throw in the injuries to Jonny Evans, who has an ongoing foot problem, and James Justin, who damaged cruciate knee ligaments last February, and it is easy to see why Leicester have conceded 12 goals in the league this season. Only Leeds, Newcastle and Norwich have let in more.
If Vydra (nine goals in 90 league games), can cause Leicester trouble, what might Cristiano Ronaldo do when Manchester United arrive on Friday?
Boss Brendan Rodgers has built one of the finest teams in Leicester’s history since taking charge from Claude Puel in February 2019. They won the FA Cup for the first time last season and finished fifth in both the manager’s two full seasons, also winning the Community Shield this year.
James Justin (left) and Jonny Evans (right) are also suffering with their own injuries
Jannik Vestergaard (left), a £15million summer signing from Southampton, has struggled – his lack of pace exposed by counter-attacking teams
Yet sorting the defence is a priority for Rodgers. After Leicester had thrown away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at Crystal Palace, it was instructive to hear Rodgers say he’d had little confidence they would keep their lead.
Alternating between a back three and a back four, the Foxes have not kept a clean sheet in the league since their 1-0 win over Wolves on the opening day of the season.
Jannik Vestergaard, a £15m summer signing from Southampton, has struggled – his lack of pace exposed by counter-attacking teams – and Caglar Soyuncu is out of form. And there will be no Wilfred Ndidi against United because the holding midfielder has a hamstring injury.
Rodgers hopes Evans will be available soon, although Northern Ireland coach Ian Baraclough caused alarm when he said the 33-year-old ‘has not only got to think about his foot for the rest of his career but for after football as well’.
The next move may be to switch Timothy Castagne into a back three, with Ricardo Pereira at right wing-back and, given Ryan Bertrand’s problems after he caught Covid-19 on the eve of the season, Luke Thomas on the left.
Leicester’s new £100m training ground is a key selling point when attracting new players
However, at the 185-acre site at Seagrave, there is necessarily greater separation between the various departments and some feel it will take time to recreate the spirit of their old home
As well as the defensive worries, it is worth highlighting a number of other issues. Leicester’s new £100m training ground is spectacular and a key selling point when attracting new players. Rodgers is right to stress its importance in the Foxes’ quest to reach the top table and stay there.
Yet Sportsmail understands some employees miss the more homely atmosphere of Belvoir Drive, the smaller base in the heart of the city where players and staff at all levels were thrown together. At the 185-acre site at Seagrave, there is necessarily greater separation between the various departments and some feel it will take time to recreate the spirit of their old home.
There was also the embarrassment of Kelechi Iheanacho being turned back by Polish border guards ahead of the 1-0 defeat at Legia Warsaw last month, because his documents were not in order. It felt like an avoidable error.
Wembley match-winner Youri Tielemans has not recaptured the sublime form of last season and has still not signed a new contract, with his current one up at the end of next season. Harvey Barnes has yet to score in the league and seems to miss his productive relationship on the left with Thomas, who has generally played second fiddle to Bertrand. Of the new signings, only on-loan Ademola Lookman has settled quickly, with Vestergaard, Bertrand, Boubakary Soumare and Patson Daka all fighting for form.
And then there is James Maddison.
Once a linchpin of Rodgers’ team, Maddison now struggles to get into it. The club were willing to listen to offers over the summer, though Arsenal, who were interested, were not prepared to match the starting price of £60m.
Once a linchpin of Rodgers’ team, James Maddison (above) now struggles to get into it
Thank goodness for Jamie Vardy. As feisty as ever, Vardy is flying, with six goals already
Soon after recovering from a hip problem, Maddison was left out of the line-up for the Cup final and is thought to have made his disappointment clear to Rodgers during the build-up, with Rodgers then publicly discussing the player’s fitness levels soon afterwards.
There have been suggestions — denied by Maddison’s camp — that the 24-year-old is still troubled by the hip, which has already flared up twice in the last 16 months.
Thank goodness for Jamie Vardy. As feisty as ever, Vardy is flying, with six goals already, and is back in tandem with Iheanacho, who is much improved under Rodgers. Both scored at Palace, meaning Leicester have hit 29 goals in the 15 games the duo have started together since March.
If only everything were so simple for Leicester. Soon after the new training ground opened, the club’s owners detailed ambitious plans for the stadium and its surroundings, which would increase the capacity to 40,000 and feature seven new buildings.
Although Leicester’s foundations remain strong, repair work is needed and it must begin to show on Friday.