Youri Tielemans: A Potential Liverpool Target?
For the second time in consecutive seasons, Leicester City missed out on Champions League football on the last day of the season.
The Foxes knew that they needed to beat Spurs — as well as relying on results going their way in the Liverpool and Chelsea games — by a big margin in order to finish inside the top four.
Despite taking the lead through a Jamie Vardy penalty, Brendan Rodgers’ team eventually succumbed to a 4-2 defeat and were condemned to Europa League football.
Leicester were inside the Premier League top for 567 days in the last two seasons — the longest out of any club in the league — but failed to qualify for the premier European club competition on either occasion.
Speculation is now rife that the Kingpower Stadium team will be unable to hold onto their brightest talents, with Youri Tielemans — who is reportedly stalling over signing a new contract — linked with a move away from the Midlands club.
According to reports in Belgium from Het Nieuwsblad, Liverpool — alongside Chelsea and Manchester United — are interested in signing the 24-year-old midfielder.
The Reds’ interest in the Belgium international makes sense, especially in the light of Georginio Wijnaldum’s departure on a free transfer, and also given that his style of play is a good match for the tactical blueprint that Jurgen Klopp employs at Anfield.
Playing predominantly in a midfield two alongside Wilfried Ndidi, Tielemans has the work rate, spatial awareness, and technicality of Wijnaldum, but has also exhibited the ability to get forward and exert his influence on the game in an attacking sense.
Last season, the former Anderlecht youth product scored six Premier League goals as well as chipping in with four assists. He regularly looks to play penetrative and probing passes and — according to stats sourced from FBRef — plays a huge 5.59 progressive passes per 90. Such ambition with the ball sees him 84% percentile in this metric across midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues.
An area where Wijnaldum excelled was his ability to protect the ball with his close dribbling ability helping Liverpool retain possession when under pressure from the opposition. Tielemans is similarly secure with the ball at his feet and he completed 1.06 dribbles per 90 in the league last season, which is a figure better than 69% of his contemporaries in Europe’s biggest leagues.
Off the ball, and it may surprise some people, the former Monaco linchpin is more proactive and busier than the soon-to-be departing Reds’ number 5. Tielemans makes 2.13 tackles per 90 and 1.65 blocks, whereas Wijnaldum makes 1.03 and 0.74 in these respective categories.
At 24, the 37 times capped Belgian international is still malleable and could be moulded, like Wijnaldum — who arrived at Anfield an attacking midfielder/second striker — into a more tactically disciplined player whose positional awareness and selflessness let the players around him express themselves without jeopardizing the team in a defensive sense.
Or, with Thiago Alcantara, Jordan Henderson, and Fabinho all well accustomed to providing balance and defensive ballast in the engine room, Klopp — in the hypothetical scenario that Liverpool sign him — could allow Tielemans to become a goal-scoring threat for deep, in a similar manner to the freedom Adam Lallana was given in the 2016/2017 season.
Despite Leicester playing a 343 formation for the most part of last season, a tactic that required Tielemans to sit in a double pivot midfield alongside Ndidi, the Belgian still managed to get forward often and touch the ball 1.08 times per 90 in the box, which is a window into his goal-hungry nature.
At Liverpool, with a better structure and team-mates, Tielemans could revel as a goal-scoring midfielder, a style of player the Reds lack in their midfield arsenal at present, with only Curtis Jones — discounting the permanently injured Naby Keita — a possible internal solution to this issue.
When selling Harry Maguire to Manchester United for a world record of £80M, the Foxes showed they drive a hard bargain and will demand top dollar for their most talented players. But with his contract expiring in 2022, the midlands could may have their hands tied and their Belgian midfielder — who they signed £32M to sign from Monaco — is arguably their most sellable asset. There are also rumours that he may have a release clause, active if the club fail to qualify for the Champions League.
The Reds have shown in the past — with Virgil van Dijk and Alisson the best examples — that they aren’t shy of paying huge fees for players they consider game changers and who they are confident they can get years of value from. Whether Tielemans fits into this category remains to be seen, but the Belgian certainly offers a lot of skills that the club places stock in.