Even the most obsessive supporters have suffered from footballing fatigue at some point during this stodgy season.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, games have been stretched out like a pizza dough, covering every conceivable timeslot. West Brom vs Crystal Palace at 8:15pm on a Thursday night? More of an insomnia cure than classic Barclays™.
The grim Super League debacle did not help either. To have the unsurprising but willfully ignored greed of the so-called ‘Big Six’ starkly exposed was a wholly depressing episode – even if the protests that followed offer some hope of a brighter future.
The biggest problem of all though, has been the lack of fans. Even the most dramatic moments of the season have fallen flat due to a sobering lack of spectacle and passion. However, as is often the way in life, the tonic for all of the 2020/2021 season’s woes was simple. All we had to do was watch 6,000 lucky bastards erupt as a twenty something from Belgium rifled a 30-yard screamer into the top corner.
Youri Tielemans’ strike in Saturday’s FA Cup final was as perfect a goal as is ever likely to be scored. Dripping in symbolism, in years to come it will (hopefully) be remembered as the start of football returning to the fans. We deserve it as well, having long been deprived of the visceral joy that makes the matchday experienced so intoxicating.
Watching the midfielder reel off to celebrate, thumping the badge on his chest like a madman was something we have all needed for months. Except if you are a Chelsea fan, of course.
Aside from the strike being steeped in symbolism, it also won the Foxes their first ever FA Cup. This caps off a truly incredible season for Tielemans who, if reports are to be believed, shook off interest from the some of the ‘Super League six’ in order to help take Leicester to the next level.
Since making his debut against Tottenham in February 2019 he has missed just one Premier League game. A frighteningly robust performer, his selection record is made even more impressive when you realise he has barely sat out of any cup games either.
He played in all but one of the Foxes’ matches en route to the League Cup semi-finals last season and did not miss a single second of this campaign’s FA Cup run. He also played all but one of their Europa League ties this term.
It is not just his ever-present nature that makes Tielemans such a vital cog in the Leicester machine. He is also some footballer.
At a time when so many traditional elite clubs are lacking top midfielders, the Foxes’ ability to field Tielemans alongside Wilfred Ndidi week after week has been a big reason for their rise. The pair complement each other superbly. Ndidi is the tireless destroyer who is happy enough taking the ball from Leicester’s centre-backs before laying it off for the more technical and creative Tielemans.
The latter is almost always involved in Leicester’s attacking phase, averaging just shy of three shot creating actions per 90 minutes this season, as well as a goal creating action around every other game. His blend of press resistant close control, eye for a line breaking pass and tireless engine make him dangerous wherever he is on the pitch.
While his signature flavour involves deep passes into either James Maddison or Kelechi Iheanacho in the number 10 position, his vital assist against Manchester United recently – an inch-perfect cross finished off wondrously by Luke Thomas – was evidence of his ability to exploit space out wide as well.
This term he has also doubled his Premier League goal return, netting several terrific strikes along the way, though none quite as good as the one he managed at Wembley. There is a real sense of him taking more responsibility with each passing week. Clearly brimming with confidence he is not afraid to push forward, safe in the knowledge that Ndidi and the back three have his back. This has been particularly welcomed in recent weeks with Ayoze Perez and James Maddison struggling to pull the strings just behind the two strikers.
Out of possession, Tielemans offers plenty as well. While not as gifted defensively as Ndidi, when discipline and shape are required he is more than capable of playing his part, never showing a hint of fatigue.
He had to show exactly these sort of stoic traits in the minutes following his winner on Saturday. The strike was the high point of his career so far, yet, as anyone who has tracked Tielemans’ progress closely this season will know, it was also business as usual.