Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Ahmed Musa must grab Liverpool opportunity as World Cup looms

Ahmed Musa must grab Liverpool opportunity as World Cup looms

Ahmed Musa's move to Leicester City surely isn't working out as the forward had hoped it would when he signed from CSKA Moscow for a club record £12 million fee last summer.

The Foxes were then reigning champions, and the Nigeria international Musa appeared to be a smart move for then-coach Claudio Ranieri as he attempted to cover his options when Jamie Vardy completed his inevitable move to Arsenal.

Ultimately, Vardy stayed, but Ranieri didn't, with the East Midlanders flirting with relegation - against the backdrop of a heroic Champions League campaign - before ultimately achieving safety under Craig Shakespeare.

This summer offered an opportunity for the club to regroup, to bolster their squad, and as the miracle of the 2015-16 season faded into the distance, to begin to establish themselves as a top-half Premier League team.

Musa, with one season of adapting to life in England under his belt, could look to the new campaign with hope of building on his fairly risible return of two goals in 21 EPL outings last term - even if the vast majority of them (14) came from the bench.

However, instead, he appeared primed to drop into the Championship on loan with Hull City, where he would have been reunited with former CSKA boss Leonid Slutsky, only for that move to fall through after Musa opted to remain at the King Power Stadium to "prove himself".

Burnley had also been linked with a transfer swoop for the 24-year-old, and that would surely have improved his prospects of getting Premier League playing time this term.

Any hopes of a reprieve at Leicester appear slim, however, with Musa yet to feature for a single minute in the Premier League this season.

The summer signing of Kelechi Iheanacho has placed an extra obstacle in his pathway to a first-team berth, while Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani, Leonardo Ulloa and Demarai Gray all remain at the club despite being linked with moves away.

He may have featured - and impressed - in preseason, but Musa's chances of re-establishing himself at Leicester look to be negligible at this point in time.

In this context, the Foxes' League Cup campaign can offer some salvation for the wideman, with Shakespeare shuffling his pack for the victory over Sheffield United - a game in which Musa found the net - and could well use his fringe options for Tuesday's showdown with Liverpool.

If Musa is restored to the side and handed an opportunity to impress, it's one which he must grab with both hands, not only for the sake of his immediate future at Leicester, but for his longer-term future with the Nigerian national side.

While it's not a done deal, Gernot Rohr's Super Eagles appear well placed to reach Russia after taking four points from Cameroon during the recent international window. Algeria's implosion means that a win at home against Zambia in their penultimate match would guarantee their spot at the World Cup.

Musa is a veteran of the Nigeria side that won the 2013 Nations Cup and reached the final 16 at the last World Cup in Brazil, but he's been in and out of the side since the AFCON qualifying defeat by Egypt in March 2016 - starting just five matches since then.

Despite his undisputed qualities - notably his searing pace and ability to wiggle through defences - Musa doesn't appear to quite have the complete trust of Rohr.

Despite netting twice in a friendly victory over Togo in early June, he was dropped for the AFCON qualifying defeat by South Africa, and was only handed a brief cameo in the first match against Cameroon before being overlooked for the second bout in Yaounde.

Partly, of course, his fortunes with the national side are linked to his stasis at Leicester, but the attacker is also facing the consequences of improving and extensive competition for his spot at international level.

Victor Moses is the only other attacker remaining from the 2014 World Cup squad, with Michael Babatunde, Peter Odemwingie, Michael Uchebo, Uche Nwofor, Shola Ameobi and Emmanuel Emenike all dropping out of the picture for various reasons, but the Chelsea man's stock is higher than ever after his exploits in England and his star showing against Cameroon.

Barring injury or a dramatic loss of form, Alex Iwobi will start on the other flank to Moses, with Moses Simon - picked ahead of Musa in the Arsenal man's absence against Cameroon - is currently ahead of his Leicester vial in the pecking order after an excellent contribution against the Indomitable Lions.

Elsewhere, Henry Onyekuru could not be ignored if he even comes close to matching his goalscoring tally with Eupen back at Anderlecht, while Anthony Nwakaeme - who played on the left side of a front three for Hapoel Beer Sheva in their Europa League clash last week - has also been introduced to the international fold.

Fringe forwards such as Olarenwaju Kayode, Noah Bazee, Victor Osimhen and Stephen Odey have all also been included in Rohr's recent squads, and represent threats to Musa's berth if their performances at club level outshine his bench role in the East Midlands.

If he can begin to play regularly at Leicester or elsewhere - Musa surely has the quality and the experience to see off many of these rivals, but the Nigeria international should be under no illusion that it's imperative he takes any opportunity that comes his way to prove his worth to both Rohr and Shakespeare.

Leicester's showdown with Liverpool in the EFL Cup on Tuesday is an opening that he cannot afford to miss.

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