Talking Tactics

Tielemans can give Villa creativity and flexibility

By Adrian Clarke 22 Jun 2023

Adrian Clarke explains why midfielder has the qualities to strengthen Unai Emery's side

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Player analysis: Youri Tielemans (AVL)

Aston Villa have bolstered their squad with a player who is capable of being one of the most complete central midfielders in the Premier League.

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Tielemans produced outstanding campaigns for Leicester City in 2019/20 and 2020/21, culminating in his unforgettable winning goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup Final.

Since then, the Belgium international has still been an effective top-flight performer, but without hitting the consistent heights we had seen from him before.

If Tielemans can recapture the brilliance he showed early on in his time in English football, he will turn out to be an extremely smart free transfer.

A classy playmaker

It is easy to see why Unai Emery was keen to buy Tielemans.

Emery’s Villa side did superbly to deliver a seventh-place finish last season, but in central midfield they were more industrious and functional than they were creative.

Tielemans has an eye for space, travels well with the ball and wants to dictate possession.

Across 2022/23, Villa perhaps lacked this type of player; somebody who would calmly prompt attacks from deeper areas.

Last season was bitterly disappointing for Leicester and for Tielemans, who was below his best.

Yet when you compare his distribution stats with those of Douglas Luiz, John McGinn and Boubacar Kamara, it is Tielemans who shone brightest on the ball.

Passing stats per 90 in 22/23
Succ. passes into final third Through-balls
Tielemans 12.26 Tielemans 0.46
Douglas Luiz 9.85 McGinn 0.37
McGinn 8.78 Douglas Luiz 0.18
Kamara 6.68 Kamara 0.10
Succ. passes in opp. half Chances created in open play
Tielemans 25.93 Tielemans 1.00
Douglas Luiz 21.03 Douglas Luiz 0.80
McGinn 17.00 McGinn 0.40
Kamara 16.49 Kamara 0.35

Back in 2021, former Foxes head coach Brendan Rodgers spoke to Sky Sports about Tielemans and waxed lyrical over his quality on the ball.

Rodgers said: "He has got a wonderful football brain. I trust him in the game. Tactically, he is so strong. Technically, he can play fast because his vision is so good.

“He is a wonderful playmaker and he really gets the whole team playing."

Watkins can thrive

There is no question that Villa forward Ollie Watkins will enjoy the service Tielemans can provide.

Watkins is one of the league’s best at making channel runs or sprinting beyond the last defender, and Tielemans is terrific at making telling through-balls.

In the narrow 4-2-2-2 formation preferred by Emery, we are likely to see Tielemans as part of a double pivot, but his arrival provides his new head coach with more tactical variety.

Emery can now switch to 4-3-3, using Tielemans as a box-to-box player, or play him as a No 10 in a 4-2-3-1 if he wants him to influence proceedings higher up the pitch.

Threat from long range

Tielemans is also known for his ability to score from distance.

Since joining Leicester in January 2019, only six Premier League players have had more efforts from outside the 18-yard box than him, and he has hit the target with 45 of those shots.

Tielemans outside the box since 31 Jan 2019
  Total PL rank
Shots (inc. blocked) 166 7th
Shots on target 45 =7th
Goals 6 =11th

Tielemans scored two Premier League goals from long range last season, with near-identical strikes against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Everton.

Tielemans' goals v Everton and Wolves

While the 26-year-old is not quick across the ground, he is strong and uses clever game management to good effect when out of possession.

Tielemans wins plenty of tackles and regains the ball on average 7.47 times per 90 minutes.

Villa already boast solid midfielders with defensive strengths, but last season the numbers produced by Tielemans eclipsed those of Emery’s central-midfield regulars.

Tielemans/Villa recoveries/tackles won 22/23
Ball recoveries Tackles won
Tielemans 7.47 Tielemans 1.49
Kamara 6.37 Douglas Luiz 1.29
Douglas Luiz 6.05 Kamara 1.26
McGinn 5.88 McGinn 1.20

Excellent on the ball, tenacious without it and blessed with plenty of Premier League experience, Villa have added a quality player to their side and Tielemans will no doubt strengthen Emery’s starting XI.

See: Analysis of 2023/24 summer signings

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