Following speculation over his future at Aston Villa this week, Youri Tielemans made the ideal effect on the pitch in our late 3-1 comeback win over Crystal Palace.
The 26-year-old arrived on a free transfer this summer, and with our desire to contend for major trophies on numerous fronts, he was an important addition to the club.
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Tielemans though has been largely limited to a bench role in the early part of the campaign, having found it unsurprisingly difficult to displace the favoured midfield duo of Douglas Luiz and Boubacar Kamara.
That led to comments from the Belgian International last week while on duty with Belgium, that were arguably blown out of proportion by some, as he hinted at an element of frustration over his role thus far.
“I may not start at Aston Villa, but I have participated in every training session so far and played in every match,” Tielemans told Nieuwsblad. “I have spoken to the manager of Aston Villa about the fact that I am not playing. He now chooses other players but it is up to me to do my best. He said there would still be opportunities to play. That explanation doesn’t help me much, but I hope I can show myself a little more in the coming weeks.”
As he often does, Unai Emery provided the perfect response in his pre-match press conference on Friday afternoon, as he welcomed the comments from Tielemans in terms of him wanting to have a more prominent part to play.
Ultimately, that is exactly what Villa want in the squad, as it not only pushes him to improve to stake his claim for a spot in the starting XI, but it pushes his teammates to continue to improve to keep their respective places.
That level of competition and depth is needed if we want to compete for trophies and be a top club, and
that was the message sent by Emery prior to the weekend.
“We try to increase our capacity in the squad, and we are going to play a lot of matches,” he told the media, as per VillaTV. “We start to play more than normal with the [Europa] Conference League. I will need, we will need, every player during the season.
“I like the player when they are not playing that they are asking how they can improve, how they can be closer to playing in the starting XI, and I’m very happy with him, with every player, because I want to be competitive in each competition.
“I want to be really strong in our squad, and I’m very happy with the midfield that we have. With Kamara, Dendoncker, Luiz and Tielemans, and Tim as well when he’s coming after his injury, we can use him and he can help us.
“Everything as a team, as a player, we want information about everybody to increase our level and I’m happy.”
Tielemans had to bide his time again on Saturday having been named on the bench against Palace, but with his teammates in need of an injection of quality and composure in midfield, he duly delivered after coming on in the 58th minute.
All three of Emery’s changes prior to the late introduction of Leander Dendoncker paid dividends, as both Jhon Duran and Leon Bailey got on the scoresheet
Tielemans, on the other hand, was crucial with his passes from midfield. First, a fantastic defense-splitting pass found Ollie Watkins in the box, where he won the penalty that made it 2-1.
Then, deep into added time, he sent another superb ball down the left wing for Moussa Diaby to cling onto, and the Frenchman cut his cross back for Bailey to seal the win.
After going behind, Villa lost our structure and manner of playing in a frenzied second half, and Tielemans played a significant role in restoring that coolness and poise while also delivering two key passes to help turn things around in our favor.
With the Europa Conference League kicking off on Thursday, the Belgian midfielder might get a start as a result of this performance, and any concerns about his role should fade as fast as they appeared.