It’s been a great start to the season for the Foxes’ Belgian trio, only let down by an untimely injury to Timothy Castagne. His two national teammates, Youri Tielemans and Dennis Praet have been outstanding so far, dominating the midfield for us. Already sharing a decent amount of goals and assists between them, the pair have started the majority of the games giving Brendan Rodgers’ side a lot of attacking support.
This campaign’s Tielemans is one at his absolute best (despite some games deeper than we’re used to with him), and it’s been pleasing for Praet to get a solid run in the side. His starts have been split across a few different roles and positions and he’s excelled in pretty much all of them. He looked an astute signing last season for just £18 million but he’s looking even more of a bargain now.
Tielemans of course helped play a role in our landing Praet. Not just compatriots, the two go back a lot further: three years spent together coming through the ranks at Anderlecht. Doing a little bit of research into their days at Anderlecht together, to see what kind of formations they operated in, showed that what Rodgers is currently doing with them both is what they’re used to. It also led me to some images that suggest Youri has Paul Rudd genes in appearing to not age.
This is from 2014 and Youri looks...well, exactly the same. Good genes
While at Anderlecht, the pair were part of an audacious double bid from Dortmund and had also drawn the interest of no less three other big teams in 2015/16 who clearly knew a great duo when they saw one. A partnership on the pitch and a friendship off the field. After respective transfers away from the Belgian side, they spent three years apart at club level before the Foxes made Praet the final summer signing of the 2019/20 season. Though it looks like we’d been tracking him for quite a while.
What Foxes fans hadn’t seen too often before this season was a side containing both Tielemans and Praet. Injuries, and a different approach to tactics and formations has helped with this but both deserve to be starting and compliment one another well. Last season it was so often one replacing the other, or Praet coming in so we could rest Tielemans. When both did play together, we weren’t operating the kinds of formations we’ve seen this year. Often it was a direct pairing in the centre of midfield. It’s not that this didn’t work, it just didn’t seem to directly compliment them. Some of those games also came during tricky periods of our season.
Having started together just 12 times (in all competitions) in 2019/20 it was a source of much frustration, I’m maybe biased here, that we couldn’t find a way to get Praet into the team more often. His tenacity and creative spark felt much needed, plus his ability and willingness to do the box to box work often saw us call on his abilities defensively. We’d seen glimpses of what he could offer at the other end of the pitch, but we struggled to get the midfield balance right to really give him more freedom.
There was a period in 2019/20 where Youri struggled to really hit his creative potential. Praet came in and started some games ahead of him but watching the duo now it feels like Praet could have helped with this. Rodgers finding a system that accommodates both and unlocking the duo’s full potential is a relief. It’s also paying dividends to how attacking minded and dangerous we look. They’ve already started 8 times together this campaign and you’d be hard pressed to argue against this continuing.
Whereas last year the partnership tended to be in a more traditional central midfield duo, this season has seen Praet play in behind the striker, more out on the wing and playing a generally more advanced role. Tielemans is pretty consistent with his place in central midfield, occasionally being asked to play a little deeper this season. Tracking back on the years they played together at Anderlecht, they seemed to favour the same roles that the Foxes are now deploying both players in, and we’re reaping the benefits of this too.
Switching Tielemans to a deeper role and Praet to a more attacking role has proved to be a genius move from Brendan— Andy Cooper (@CoopsLCFC) November 9, 2020
If it’s not one of them driving forward and threading through passes, it’s the other. The duo are pretty level on stats for the season so far, 83% for Tielemans and 84% for Praet in terms of completed passings, both creating an average of 2 chances on goal per game. Both are helped by having the hard-working Mendy with them but do cover one another. While Praet’s had the more attacking role generally, Youri’s had plenty of opportunity too. This double threat, along with the countless others in our squad, is proving a nightmare for defenders.
Praet seems to be relishing the challenge and his role at Leicester, he’s been on interview duty this week and talks of his happiness. Allowed more freedom than we’d seen previously, he looks dangerous every time he gets forward, combined with his great eye for a pass and for his teammates’ movements. These are traits that he shares with Tielemans, their similarities likely why many expected us to play one, not necessarily both.
They both possess great football intelligence, so often in the right place at the right time and have a persistence and determination to win or keep the ball. Both are physically strong, but it’s particularly easy to see how Praet has developed on that front since his days at Anderlecht. With their vision, it’s not a surprise that both opted to undertake a coaching course offered by the Belgian FA earlier this year. Of course their partnership extends to the national team too, Praet having broken into the side again in the last couple of years, and with recent performances making it tough for him to be ignored.
Foxes fans will watch nervously as Belgium play out their international games, praying that no injury or illness befall our midfielders. Having watched their friendly against Switzerland, it was a lively performance from Praet who seemed to cover a multitude of midfield positions. He was unlucky that a superbly whipped cross in from the right wasn’t met by the Belgian strikers. This was akin to a few moves we’ve seen him make in Leicester blue this season.
Tielemans’ half-time substitution saw him bag an assist for Batshuayi and we got a few more glimpses of the exquisite across field passing we associate with. Both players seemed to make it through unscathed, even if Youri did attempt some awkward leg movements at one stage. Watching this Belgium team, it suits the Foxes trio down to the ground, quick, sharp passing and forward play. Perhaps we should get them recruiting some more of their teammates.
While out in Leuven, it was a classy move that the pair took some time out to visit Vicahi’s memorial garden there too. If there was anybody left who didn’t love our Belgian players (and what is wrong with you if that’s the case), this should endear them to you.
A side note from doing a little bit of research was, and I don’t know how big our footprint is in Belgium given our trio now, but it was enough to get Sporza to come to Leicester and wrangle Dennis and Youri to shoot a promo video for #DeWarmsteWeek (an annual Belgian Autumnal event all about looking out for and after one another). For your viewing pleasure and we’ll add another tick to Dennis’ impressive coat collection too: