Despite some pretty bad injury problems in the early part of the season, Leicester City are flying right now. A large part of that is down to how well Brendan Rodgers has figured out a midfield without Wilfred Ndidi.
Nampalys Mendy’s huge step up has helped, and Helen is loving the partnership between Youri Tielemans and Dennis Praet, but I thought I’d look a little more closely at how Youri’s role in particular has evolved.
The biggest change most people have noted is that he seems to be sitting deeper and, while my methods aren’t particularly scientific, that does seem to hold up.
Above are Youri’s touch maps from the home game against Wolves last season (above) and this season (below). Just on first glance you can see he’s not venturing as far forward.
The formation was different of course, but last year he took just 23% of his touches inside his own half (17 of 73), compared to 42% last weekend.
The impact of this on his defensive numbers is fairly straightforward. According to FBref.com, in a more defensive role he’s making more tackles and interceptions, while pressing less often but more successfully.
What’s more interesting is how it’s improved his attacking output.
Again, according to FBref, the Belgian is taking more touches per 90, probably because he’s making himself more available. Passes aimed at Youri have a 95.5% completion rate, considerably higher than the previous two years (88.4, 89.5).
Youri Tielemans is a really special player and his ability to circulate the ball forward and break the opposition lines at will is really impressive. I compared his numbers with other Premier League midfielders this season, with >250 mins. played.— Ninad Barbadikar (@NinadB_06) October 29, 2020
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Possibly because he’s so much more open, his passes made while under pressure from the opposition have dropped considerably this year too (7.88 per 90, compared to 12.1 and 11.6) despite the fact that he’s actually attempting more passes.
The outcomes from that are interesting too. He’s had significantly fewer key passes, but he’s way, way up on what FBref call Goal-Creating Actions, which are, rather than just assists, either of the two passes (or other actions) leading to a goal.
He also has no league assists, so all of those GCAs are the “assist-assist”.
Together, those show that, while sitting deeper, Youri is doing a much better job of finding our further forward creators in space and giving them opportunities to make an assist.
While dropping such a creative player into his own half might seem like a negative tactic, Rodgers has actually found a much more effective way of getting the ball into the likes of James Maddison and, as Helen mentioned yesterday, Dennis Praet.
It will be interesting to see how well that works going forward, particularly as Rodgers has become keen on playing all three together, at the expense of players like Ayoze Perez and even Harvey Barnes.