Replacing Youri Tielemans: 3 new midfielders for Leicester – data analysis
Since joining Leicester City in 2019, Youri Tielemans has been an exciting player. He has been a real throwback to Andrea Pirlo, Xabi Alonso and Michael Carrick. Tielemans breaks the mould of most defensive midfielders. He uses his great vision, passing range and long-distance shooting to full effect. However, Leicester City may lose the Belgian midfielder to one of Europe’s elite clubs this summer. Brendan Rodgers will need to replace Tielemans quickly to help keep his team ticking. But, who would fit the Tielemans role? This data analysis will use data and statistics to determine a replacement for Tielemans at Leicester City.
How are we finding replacements?
First, we will look at how the midfielders produce near the opponent’s box. This means that goals and expected goals (xG) will be important. However, this will not be the most critical category. Next, we will analyse the players’ passing capabilities. We need to examine the candidates passing because Tielemans is a fantastic passer of the ball, which helps form Leicester’s attacks. Leicester will need a Tielemans replacement to perform similarly to the Belgian. The main playmaking statistics we will look at are; assists, expected assists (xA), total passes, long passes, dribbles and received passes. Finally, we will take a peek at each player’s defensive numbers. Despite my love for Tieleman’s carefree playstyle, the modern game needs its midfielders to defend. The best defensive midfielders in the world can contribute going forward and defensively. The main statistics we will look at are; aerial duels, interceptions, recoveries and defensive duels.
Youri Tielemans – data analysis
All statistics and data relating to Youri Tielemans are concerning his performances during the 2021/22 Premier League season.
Leicester City’s star midfielder has performed well this season in terms of goals, scoring 0.26 times per 90 minutes. For a defensive midfielder to score once every 312 minutes is impressive. He also overperforms on his xG by 37%. Tielemans has scored two penalties in the six goals in the Premier League. But, he has scored two screamers—one against Manchester United and another against Brentford.
Tielemans has produced only two assists this season, culminating in just 0.1 assists per 90 minutes. The former Monaco midfielder has an xA of 0.1 as well. But, despite his disappointing assist numbers, he has been integral to Leicester’s passing. With the most passes out of all of Leicester’s midfielders, with 49.6 per 90, Tielemans dictates the centre of midfield. Tielemans also possesses the most long passes per 90, with 3.3, out of all Leicester’s midfielders.
With a total pass percentage of 83.9%, Tielemans isn’t careful with the ball. His long passing is also as carefree, with him just having a success rate of 41.4%. However, Tielemans low success rate for passes can be explained by his willingness to progress the ball forward from deep positions. Tielemans likes to collect the ball, doing so 37.2 times per 90 minutes.
Tielemans lets his passes do the talking, only attempting 1.8 dribbles per 90 minutes. His success rate of 58.5% is better than the likes of Kalvin Phillips (35.7%), James Ward-Prowse (45.5%) and Manchester United’s Fred (57.1%). Tielemans is still a below-average dribbler for most Premier League defensive midfielders, even more so for teams looking to get into Europe.
As seen from his heatmap, Tielemans likes to take up a position just over the halfway line. This is a prime position for a deep-lying playmaker as it allows them to survey more of the field, which can help pick out a pass. Occasionally, Tielemans will roam across the midfield, but he rarely does this.
Defensively, Tielemans is average. With 3.72 interceptions, Tielemans is better at intercepting the ball than winning possession back by getting stuck into a challenge. Tielemans is involved in 6.31 recoveries per 90 minutes with a success rate of 47.2%. Tielemans also contributes towards 6.31 defensive duels per 90 minutes, winning these duels 61.6% of the time. Youri is no aerial threat as his 1.23 aerial duels per 90 minutes, and he wins them every other time.
Option 1: Joan Jordan Moreno – data analysis
All statistics and data relating to Joan Jordan Moreno and Sevilla concern his/their performances during the 2021/22 La Liga season.
This La Liga season, Sevilla’s Joan Jordan has played 2224 for Julen Lopetegui’s side. Sevilla have the third most passes in La Liga, and Jordan is a massive part of this. Jordan has the most passes out of all Sevilla midfielders (1455) and the third-most in the team, behind only Jules Kounde (1591) and Diego Carlos (1734). Jordan is the metronome in Sevilla’s side. He loves to pass the ball, doing so 58.8 times per 90 minutes and with an 89.3% success rate, he is excellent at keeping possession. However, he also is not opposed to passing the ball long, with Jordan attempting 4.6 long passes per 90 minutes.
Jordan receives the ball the most out of any potential replacement with his 44.6 received passes per 90 minutes. He gets the ball the most because he tends to drop deeper to collect the ball. For example, against Barcelona, Jordan dropped deep to collect the ball. Other central defensive midfielders may have been closer to the halfway line. But Jordan feels more comfortable in an almost central defensive position.
Jordan loves to switch the play, which would be helpful to Leicester attacking threat. This is because Leicester have quick players like Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy, who would be able to sit in the space and wait for Jordan to make one of his pinpoint passes. Then, the players would use their pace to exploit the area.
Jordan has assisted once this season despite his fantastic passing, and his xA is only 0.07 per 90 minutes. His low xA can be attributed to his ‘Jorginho’ role, which simply keeps the ball moving instead of launching the ball forward like what Pirlo would have done.
Overall, it is safe to say Jordan is a fantastic passer of the ball. Plus, the system he plays in has made him very comfortable with the ball. Like Tielemans, Jordan is not a fantastic dribbler of the ball, with him attempting 1.5 a game. Jordan’s success rate of 50% is the least out of all the potential replacements.
When it comes to finishing, Jordan is not allowed to get into the box often, and this has led to Jordan not scoring this season and having an xG of 0.03 per 90 minutes.
Sevilla have the 7th-most possession in the top five leagues, so Sevilla’s players have less chance to show off defensively. Taking this into account, Jordan seems to be a good defensive player.
Jordan intercepts the ball 3.44 times per 90 minutes, which is only an 8.1% decrease on Tielemans’s interceptions. Despite Sevilla averaging over 60% possession and Leicester struggling to achieve even 50%. Aerially, Jordan is poor. He is involved in only 1.17 aerial duels per 90 minutes, and his success rate of 34.5% is not of a great standard. This may be a big problem for Leicester City as they have conceded 15 goals from set-pieces this season in all competitions, so they will need players who are better at defending from set-pieces. Jordan’s defensive duels of 7.24 per 90 minutes and his success rate of 52% make him a solid defender. He also attempts 7.57 recoveries per 90 minutes, and 48.7% of his recoveries are in the opposition half.
Overall, Jordan would be a great option. He is comfortable on the ball, and if he was paired next to a ‘proper’ defensive midfielder like Wilfred Ndidi, Jordan could express himself on the pitch. The 27-year-old may not be inclined to move to Leicester as Sevilla are in the Champions League position in La Liga. But, Premier League wages may be enough to bring the Spanish midfielder to Leicestershire.
Option 2: Kerem Derimbay – data analysis
All statistics and data relating to Kerem Derimbay and Bayer Leverkusen concern his/their performances during the 2021/22 Bundesliga season.
From La Liga to the Bundesliga now to look at the next option, Kerem Derimbay. First and foremost, the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder is a fantastic long passer. With 5.4 long passes per 90, you would expect his success rate to be relatively poor. However, with 67.5%, he has the highest success rate of all the potential replacements. He has shown that he loves to pass the ball long, which would work at Leicester. Some may argue that he wouldn’t get the same amount of time on the ball at Leicester as he does at Leverkusen. But, Leicester city deal with 11.95 PPDA against and Leverkusen have a 12.07 PPDA against. So, Derimbay plays for a team that deals with the same amount of pressure as Leicester on the ball.
An example of his great passing under pressure was when Leverkusen played FC Koln. Derimbay plays a fantastic pass into the space under pressure, launching a counterattack.
Derimbay also passes the ball 50.2 times per 90 minutes. His success rate of 81.8% is the lowest, which makes sense as he tries to force the ball forward where it may not make sense. But, Leicester may appreciate Derimbay’s eagerness to pass the ball quickly as he could release Leicester’s fast forwards more often than someone like Joan Jordan. Derimbay receives the ball less often than someone like Jordan, with the German midfielder receiving the ball 34.8 times per 90 minutes. Derimbay’s xA of 0.17 per 90 minutes is the most out of all potential replacements and his 0.14 assists per 90 minutes are also the best.
When it comes to dribbling, Derimbay is so-so. Attempting 2.72 dribbles, he is behind only one candidate, and his success rate of 51.7% leaves him in the same rank in the pecking order.
Derimbay may need some help in the finishing department. He rarely gets himself into good positions to score, evident with his 0.13 xG per 90 minutes. To compound this, he only scores 0.05 goals per 90 minutes or once every 1800 minutes. His low efficiency in scoring may be a problem for Leicester as they have only seven players with three or more goals this season. Tielemans has six goals in the league, which is the third most for Brenden Rodger’s men.
Defensively is where Derimbay shines. With 4.9 interceptions per 90 minutes, Derimbay trounces any other candidate or Tielemans himself. He also has the most recoveries per 90 minutes (8.21), defensive duels per 90 minutes (7.94) and defensive duels success rate (61.7%). The only defensive metric that Derimbay does not shine in is aerial duels, and he only attempts 1.5 per 90 minutes and wins just 23.5% of them.
Overall, Derimbay is a tremendous long passer, and he is excellent defensively when the ball is on the ground. He offers more threatening passes than Joan Jordan, but he doesn’t keep the ball as well, which may be an issue for Brenden Rodgers. At 28-years-old, Derimbay is the oldest out of the candidates, but he isn’t past his best.
Option 3: Matteo Pessina – data analysis
All statistics and data relating to Matteo Pessina and Atalanta concern his/their performances during the 2021/22 Serie A season.
Finally, the last candidate heralds from Bergamo, specifically Atalanta. Matteo Pessina is the odd choice out of the bunch. First, he plays in a very defined system that Gian Piero Gasperini has implemented, and Gasperini demands a high intensity to the press and fast attacking football.
Pessina statistics do show this off. He is involved in 3.41 aerial duels, more than double of Tielemans, Jordan and Derimbay. Crucially, Pessina wins 55.3% of his aerial duels. Pessina’s high aerial duels show off his ability to play in a high pressing side as he is willing to battle all over the pitch. His intensity is reinforced by his 8 recoveries per 90 minutes, with 55.8% of his recoveries coming in the opposition half. Pessina almost has as many interceptions as Tielemans with 3.6 per 90 minutes. When it comes to defensive duels, Pessina has 7 per 90 minutes, winning 57.4%. Pessina is an all-around good defender. His aerial ability will come in handy when Leicester need someone to help out with defending set-pieces.
When it comes to passing, Pessina will have less accurate passes. This is because Pessina plays in a quick attacking system, so his passes are more likely to be misplaced than someone like Jordan, who plays in a side with a slower tempo. Pessina overperforms on his 0.03 xA per 90 minutes by more than double, as he has 0..07 assists per 90 minutes.
Pessina completes 49.9 passes per 90 minutes with a success rate of 84.2%. Pessina also has the lowest pass to low pass ratio, 33.7:1, of all the players mentioned. This is because Pessina attempts just 1.5 long passes per 90 minutes. Pessina is inaccurate with his long passing, with only a 45% success rate. This comfortably makes Pessnina the worst passer of the ball out of all three potential options.
Where Pessina may fall flat with passing, he makes up for it with his dribbling ability. Pessina attempts 3.5 dribbles per 90 minutes, and his success rate of 55.3% is excellent. An example of his superb dribbling ability was when Atalanta played Sassuolo. Pessina received the ball on the edge of the box, dribbled past two defenders, got to the byline, and made a great opportunity with the cutback.
Like Derimbay, Pessina gets into good scoring positions, but he doesn’t have that lethal finish. Pessina averages 0.19 xG per 90 minutes but only 0.07 goals per 90 minutes. If Pessina played more minutes than just 1249, this underperformance in front of goal could have levelled out.
Pessina is only 24-years-old and still has time to adjust to the Premier League. This may be his downfall as he isn’t as experienced as Jordan or Derimbay. But, Rodgers may see his age as a blessing as Pessina could form a partnership with Wilfred Ndidi, who is only 25-years-old.
Who should Rodgers choose?
To get the answer, we would have to travel into the mind of the ex-Liverpool manager. Rodgers has seen Leicester miss out on Champions League football twice, and this season, The Foxes seem to have lost steam. Rodgers may change up what he wants from his defensive midfielders.
If he wants a cultured passer of the ball, someone who could dictate the game’s tempo, and a quite press resistant player, then Jordan would be the best option. Rodgers may want a player who can make things happen going forward and a fantastic long-range passer; then Derimbay would be ideal. The Northern-Irish man may wish for an upcoming player full of energy, defensively solid and a good dribbler. This would make Pessina the option.
If I were Rodgers and had the funds, I would go for Jordan. The best teams in the world take control of the ball. When looking at the list of teams in the top five leagues based on possession, you would have to go to Villareal, 11th placed on the list, to find a team outside the top three positions in their domestic league. Any team’s highest position in their domestic league, with less than 50% possession, is Atletico Madrid (4th) and Strasbourg (4th). Possession is vital in football, and Jordan is great at keeping the ball and would allow for more creative players, like James Maddison, to perform to their best.