This Thursday Roma plays the first leg of the
grand royal majestic superb awesome rather average Conference League semifinal vs Leicester City. While the Foxes have many dangerous men in their ranks (Daka, Maddison Square Garden, Perez but not Carles, Albrighton, Iheanacho libre, Lookman, etc.), allow me to focus on my two countrymen: Timothy Castagne and Youri Tielemans.
While I’m sure José already has a game plan in mind, let’s just give him some more reasons to be extra careful next Thursday. We all know Leicester’s strengths lie in the attacking department and not the defensive one, so I don’t really expect Tammy Abraham, Nicolo Zaniolo, or Henrikh Mkhitaryan to have many problems scoring a goal or three over both legs. But just like AS Roma, Leicester has some engines on their team who make things work and make it all click. One of those is Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans.
It looks like Tielemans has been around for ages (more than 400 official games since 2013), but don’t forget he’s only 24. He made his debut for Belgian record champion Anderlecht all the way back in 2013 at the age of 16—the Stefano Okaka of his generation if you’d like. Well, perhaps a bit more talented though. He immediately cemented his place on the first team as a teenager and won the title in his maiden season as a professional. He would go on to win one more title and two Super Cups in Belgium.
Afterward, he spent two seasons at Monaco before joining Leicester City in January 2019, winning both the FA Cup and Community Shield in 2021, while also scoring in that FA Cup final against Chelsea. Youri has won various awards along the way like Talent of the Year, and Leicester Player of the Season, he was also part of the Europa League Squad of the Season 2016-2017. On an international level, Tielemans is already a full member and vital part of Belgium’s National Team (49 caps and counting) which finished 3rd in the World Cup 2018. Not too shabby for a 24-year-old.
So what can he do? What can he become? Well, Tielemans is an Anderlecht youth product and a very versatile player who can play in multiple positions in midfield. Holding midfielder, central, or attacking midfield, Tielemans has done it all in his career so far. And with great success. His best assets are pace, agility, passing, and especially his long-range rockets. Tielemans has already scored some gems in the past so it’s important to not let him shoot at Rui Patricio from long range (I’m looking at you, Bryan Cristante, and Sérgio Oliveira).
He can still be inconsistent from time to time, which doesn’t put him in the same category yet as let’s say De Bruyne, Modric, or Bruno Fernandes, but he’s still got plenty of time to become one of Belgium’s finest footballers ever. If I had to compare him to someone from Roma, I’d say he’s an exciting mix of Pellegrini and Cristante. A midfield dynamo who can set up a teammate from all angles.
The second Belgian may be less flashy or skilled than Tielemans, but he’s a force to reckon with nonetheless. Castagne is an energetic wingback/fullback who is best compared to Rick Karsdorp. They’re even the same age and have the same physique. A marauding, tireless, aggressive right-back who can also play on the left, has three lungs, and doesn’t give up easily. And he’s also a familiar face for the Giallorossi because he played for Atalanta between 2017 and 2020.
Castagne (which FYI means chestnut in Dutch) has only joined Leicester last season and is slowly working his way up to become the top fullback in their 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 formation. Like Tielemans, he’s also a Belgian international but acts mainly as a deputy to first-choice Meunier. He and Thomas Foket from Reims are battling it out to book their ticket for the WC in Qatar by the end of the year.
Recently he’s been often playing left-back so that means he could directly face Karsdorp on the wing, which could be an interesting duel. If he plays in his natural position on the right, then Nicola Zalewski will need to contain him. I’m sure both Slick Rick and Zalewski have the attributes to make Castagne’s life hard, but they’ll need to bring their A-game for sure. He’s no Dani Alves (version 2011) or Hakimi, but still a dangerous threat. One moment of inattention and you’re in trouble.
Like I mentioned earlier, Leicester has multiple options up front, but these two Belgian bullets cannot be underestimated. I think it’s pretty clear by now: cancel out Tielemans and Castagne and you’ll go a long way in defeating Leicester or at least keeping the damage at a minimum in England. Then finish the job in Rome and send them Belgians back to where they belong: East Midlands.
Bryan, Rick, Nicola: Good luck... You’ll need it.