Youri Tielemans has become a sensation among Leicester City supporters, and for good reason. The 22-year-old Belgian came to the club as a January loanee and immediately proved his worth. In just 13 games (1,098 minutes) at the club he has tallied three goals and four assists despite playing as a central midfielder.
Tielemans compares quite well to a number of high-profile young midfielders in the Premier League. For example, Dele Alli, another forward-looking midfielder, had a similar season. In 1,835 Premier League minutes Alli totaled five goals and three assists. This is a similar return in the end-product department despite playing significantly more minutes and playing in a slightly more advanced role.
The underlying numbers also paint the picture of a burgeoning star. In his time with the Foxes Tielemans averaged 0.17 xG per 90 minutes, 0.21 xA per 90, and 1.31 key passes per 90. For comparison, Alli averaged 0.29 xG per 90, 0.16 xA per 90, and 1.32 key passes per 90. Keep in mind, Alli typically played further up the pitch than Tielemans, is just about one year older, and has significantly more experience playing in England.
To take it one step further we can measure xGChain per 90 (total xG of every possession the player is involved in per 90 minutes), and xGBuildup per 90 (total xG of every possession the player is involved in without key passes and shots per 90 minutes). While playing for Leicester City Tielemans averaged 0.68 xGChain per 90 and 0.43 xGBuildup per 90, compared to Alli’s averages of 0.63 xGChain per 90 and 0.27 xGBuildup per 90 during the 2018/19 season. It may also be useful to note that Alli plays for a team (Tottenham) that scored 67 goals this season, whereas Leicester City scored 51.
What, though, has made the young Belgian so effective?
It would be difficult to definitively point to one attribute so it may be best to do some visual breakdowns. One of Tielemans’ best games as a member of the Foxes came in late March against Bournemouth when he completed about 90% of his team-leading 78 passes, including three key passes and one assist. By taking clips of his touches from that game we can learn a little bit more about his strengths.
His first involvement in the game showed two of his defining features: his awareness and his weighted passing. He sensed that Kasper Schmeichel was being pressured so he dropped deep into a pocket of space to provide an outlet. From there he turned, took one touch, and played a beautifully threaded pass between three defenders to free James Maddison.
One of his next involvements showed his feel for space as he noted the positioning of Demarai Gray and Ricardo Pereira and occupied the void on the right wing they vacated. He smartly drifted in behind as the defense followed Pereira and tracked down a heavy pass. Despite his momentum carrying him out of bounds he still managed to whip in a well-placed pull-back cross that would likely have ended in a goal if not for a late clearance.
A few minutes later Tielemans put his quick feet on display as he took a slick touch to avoid a pressing defender and played a quick pass to Wilfred Ndidi. The sharpness of his reactions and touch are supplementary attributes of his game.
The subtlety and intelligence of Tielemans’ game are also monumental strengths. Here he patiently floats between Bournemouth’s lines until he receives the ball at the top of the box. From there he shapes his body like he may shoot, only to play a simple key pass to Maddison.
In the 26th minute he once again put what is perhaps his greatest strength on display. He reacted quickly to a loose ball and with his first touch played a perfectly weighted through ball to Pereira. No other City player makes passes of this nature as consistently as the Belgian.
His passing isn’t limited to low threaded balls either, as he is more than capable of deploying a cross-field switch of play. This was evident in the 32nd minute of this game.
Another one of Tielemans’ strengths is his ability to shoot from outside of the box. It is a big reason for why he was able to score eight goals this season between his time in Monaco and Leicester. While he may not have scored in this game, he still showed his prowess as he put a shot just off target from a significant distance.
His best highlight from the match, however, came at about the 81 minute mark. He showed all of his best attributes with a couple of good touches, two quick passes out to the wing, smartly drifting into open space, and finally delivering a sublime early cross into Jamie Vardy for an assist.
Youri Tielemans’ time in Leicester has been marked by great success in a short amount of time. The young midfielder has added an incisive, yet balanced element to City’s midfield that was previously missing. Before his arrival the team struggled to break down low blocks and had to resort to heavy amounts of crossing. Since he arrived, though, the team has found moderate success against teams of all sorts, putting together a record of six wins, two draws, and five losses in that time.
Much of the positivity since his signing has stemmed from the strengths on display in the clips above. He has shown significant intelligence, spatial awareness and smart positioning, deliberate movement, and most of all an impressive range of passing. His ability to thread well-weighted passes on the ground or launch long aerial passes is unparalleled in the Leicester City squad.
Making his signing permanent this summer should be a priority for City. In his short time in Leicester he has proven he is worth the reported club record fee of £40 million. Whether or not the two clubs in question are able to come to an agreement remains to be seen, but surely City will be eager to get a deal done.
* all stats courtesy of understat.com