Of all the ‘Butterfly Effect’ moments in football, Leicester City’s missing of the summer transfer deadline by 14 seconds in their £22m move for Adrien Silva could prove to be one of the most important of the 2017/18 season.
The 28-year-old midfielder was to be the Foxes’ second-priciest signing of the summer, after Kelechi Iheanacho, and big things were expected of him at the King Power Stadium. However, the fact that his paperwork was filed late means he has now had to miss the first half of the campaign, with FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport both rejecting appeals. Where would Leicester be in the table had he been eligible to play? Their position of eighth place certainly isn’t bad at all, even if it took the arrival of Claude Puel to turn things around, but might the club be even closer to the European spots had Silva been available to them?
Most of these ‘what ifs’ will remain unanswered, but what we do know is that the Portugal international will be eligible from January 1st and that he could play against Huddersfield Town that very day, assuming Puel deems him match-fit enough to feature. Where, though, would Leicester play him?
If they keep up the 4-4-2 system of the past couple of weeks, he’ll be competing with Wilfred Ndidi and Vicente Iborra for central midfield minutes and it would certainly be a risk to break up that partnership, one which has been flourishing recently. The Nigerian and the Spaniard complement each other so well, as the former has won more tackles (36) than any Premier League player not named Idrissa Gueye this year, while the latter can get the play moving forward with his passing from deep (he’s playing an average of 40 successful passes per 90 minutes). Then there’s the news that Matty James is back in training too and will further add to the central midfield competition when he returns.
Silva can also play further up the field – as can Iborra, which could free up a space alongside Ndidi. However, this solution wouldn’t be so simple either. Given that Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton’s spots out wide are probably safe, Demarai Gray might be the one who has to step aside, but he has been playing well and has scored in each of his past two matches. Switching Gray for Silva – or Gray for Iborra for Silva – would also require something of a system swivel, as neither Silva nor Iborra could play as high or as wide as Gray can.
As such, a 4-2-3-1 might be the answer and Puel has already used this formation too, with some success. However, Shinji Okazaki thrives playing as the No.10 or second striker in this formation as his energy can ensure that Jamie Vardy is never left too isolated up top, while the Japan international can also drop back and bolster the midfield.
There are limited options, then, for Puel to squeeze Silva in and the man who has made the controversial move from Sporting CP may have to wait for an injury or a drop-off in form to nail down a spot in the starting XI. The fact that he’ll become eligible just after the hectic Christmas period means he should get a chance to audition early on, even if just to give one of his midfield colleagues a breather. Yet he cannot expect his reputation and price tag to make him an instant starter. While he has been biding his time in transfer market purgatory, others have been impressing on the field.