Sacha Kljestan believes Youri Tielemans has the character to impress with the RSC Anderlecht midfielder in line to become the third youngest player to appear in the UEFA Champions League as Olympiacos FC travel to Brussels.
Tielemans played 90 minutes in Sunday's 2-0 defeat of K. Lierse SK – his fifth first team appearance, although only his second start – and his central midfield partner Kljestan was full of praise for the teenager, who could feature against Olympiacos aged 16 years 148 days. "It's easy to play with him," said the United States international. "
What impressed me is that we didn't play well in the first half and the fans let us know that, but despite his age he reacted so well. In the second half he played good football and that showed character. I enjoy playing with him, he works hard – so far, so good."
Of more pressing concern for the Belgian side is three Group C points against opponents who were also beaten on matchday one, although Kljestan preferred not to read too much into his team's 1-0 defeat in an August friendly between the sides. "You can draw some conclusions from that match but not everything," he said. "There was not much at stake, but this game will be faster and more physical. Olympiacos are a physical, strong team whose central defenders come forward. [In August] we played too slowly so now we have to play at a higher tempo – that's what we have to change."
With Anderlecht losing three of their four fixtures before beating Lierse – including matchday one's 2-0 defeat at SL Benfica – coach John van den Brom called on his senior players to step up, a necessity according to Klejstan. "I'm ready to do more. The coach wants more leadership from the older players; if I'm ready or not is not the question, it has to been done. You can lead in the dressing room, but you have to be leaders on the pitch as well."
One man Anderlecht will have to be wary of is Javier Saviola, who has four goals in his last six Olympiacos appearances and helped Málaga CF to a 3-0 group stage win at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium on 3 October last year. "He's a very dangerous player who likes to drop back into midfield to start attacks," Kljestan explained. "He wants to get forward with quick combinations and can get through a defence in two or three moves. He is somebody we have to be aware of all the time."
Anderlecht have won only four matches in the competition proper in their last six group stage campaigns and last season's matchday four defeat of FC Zenit was their first home victory in nine years, but Kljestan is hopeful the home fans can provide an invaluable lift this time round. "We hope that our supporters give us the extra edge; I hope they're 100% behind us from the first minute and realise how important this game is for us. This is a big game if we're to take the next step in the Champions League; we want them to give us a confidence boost and extra energy."