As Leicester flirt continue to keep relegation at arm’s length, two want-away players may be assessing how best to scure a move away come summer. Rumours have swirled around both James Maddison and Youri Tielemans joining Arsenal, and while the mention of neither name seems to cause any change in my blood pressure or heart rate, Saturday at least gives us a chance to see how they stack up against the side that’s currently top of the league. Put simply, I don’t see either one as competition with, and certainly not an upgrade on, who we currently have. That said, they’re just good enough in fits, starts, and even stretches to keep a close eye on lest they try to impress us.
Tielemans is 25 and Maddison is 26; both should be in their prime years. They are in part inhibited by their current squad; then again, together, they represent 22% of the outfield players and occupy two positions that constitute the spine of the team. One might expect one or both to at least occasionally transcend their dire surroundings. I will admit that Maddison has managed to trouble Tottenham, scoring twice against them and has been somewhat of a shining light in an otherwise dismal season, but he hasn’t shown enough to convince me that we should be after him. There’s at least a drive in there somewhere, something resembling desire, that could rekindle if he were to leave. The Foxes valued Maddison at some £70m this summer. With a another year still on his contract, that number could slump should Leicester slip into relegation or should his pre-World Cup knee injury continue to trouble him (although he did play a full 90 against Man U last weekend).
By contrast with Maddison, I don’t see much of a drive or desire in Tielemans. Playing deeper, one might expect him to be snapping into tackles, making interceptions, and driving up the pitch to link defense to attack. He just doesn’t do enough of that, not for a side that averages 50% possesion. Despite a reputation for lacking tenacity, Leicester insist that the Belgian’s fee would have to exceed £50m—and that was post-Mudryk transfer-fee madness. Speaking only from my guy, I rate Tielemans as a little better than Elneny but not nearly as good as Xhaka, Partey, or Jorginho. Would it be worth £50m to bring in Tielemans in the summer, knowing that he’d be riding the bench most of the time, knowing also that such a move might rule out the bigger, bolder move for Rice or Caicedo? It would take an epic performance on Saturday and through the Foxes’ final fifteen fixtures to justify that fee…but such a purple patch would only drive that fee even higher.
Having said all that, I’ll say the following without any malice whatsoever toward the club that pipped us to win the Prem in 2014: let’s do what we can on Saturday to send Leicester closer to relegation, the better to drive down those aformentioned transfer fees, and see what each player can be had for come summer. By then, we may or may not have won the Prem and/or Europa League and find ourselves in a very commanding position to negotiate.
Thoughts? Do I have it wrong on either player? If any of you are so bold as to go toe-to-toe with me, step up the plate in the comments-section below.