The Belgian Pro League is a league where every season young talent announce themselves to the world. The 2019/20 season was no different, with RSC Anderlecht’s Jérémy Doku catching the eye of some of the world’s biggest clubs. Even though Anderlecht missed out on European football for the second year in a row and only the second time in 57 years, Doku was a bright spot in their season.
Doku joined Anderlecht in 2012 at the age of 10 from Beerschot. He then progressed through the youth system before debuting for Anderlecht in 2018 at the age of 16. He has gone on to make 30 appearances for the Belgian giants so far, while also playing for Belgium at under-21 level. His performances have also been attracting the attention of national team boss Roberto Martinez.
Positioning and data analysis
Anderlecht usually line up in a 4-2-3-1 system with Doku playing as the right-sided midfielder. He also has the ability to start further up in more of a right-wing position.
As the heat map above shows, Doku prefers to occupy the wider positions near the touchline. While he can play on either flank, he prefers the right side because of his ability to cross which I will discuss in more detail later. Another trend with Doku is that he does not come centrally often as the heat map shows. This is because with Anderlecht’s tactics, the wide midfielders stay wide and carry the ball to the edge of the box so they can whip in crosses and drag the fullbacks out wide.
Doku also likes to carry the ball into the box and take defenders on. This then creates the space in the centre for the rest of the Anderlecht squad to move into. As this analysis will show, Doku is very much a player on a collision course with one of Europe’s elite clubs.
Without a doubt Doku’s prized asset is his dribbling. As shown above, his 12.54 dribbles/90 and 7.42 successful dribbles/90 led the Pro League last season, and it wasn’t close. Doku’s ability to drag defenders out of position and dribble past them has helped to create many chances for Anderlecht the last couple seasons.
Below is an example of this in action. Doku collects the ball near the halfway line and starts to drive forward. He then uses his dribbling ability and low centre of gravity to go past the first Genk midfielder that is closing him down. He then drives into the space and drags the defender out of position, which frees Vlap, and dribbles past him. Doku then plays a good through ball to Vlap who unfortunately hits the crossbar with his shot.
Standing at only 1.71 m, Doku is able to use his low centre of gravity and quick feet to be able to glide past defenders. While Doku has the ability to dribble past opponents anywhere on the pitch, he excels with this in the final third.
As shown above, Doku keeps possession well while dribbling in the final third and loves to take opponents on. In the 2019/2020 season, he attempted 168 dribbles in the final third, while being successful 126 times. This comes out to a 75% success rate. Five of these successful dribbles also resulted in a goal compared to an xG of only 2.36. These tight spaces are where Doku excels at the most, as the image below shows.
In this phase of play, Doku is 1v3 on the edge of the opposition box with the fourth defender ball watching. This crucially frees up the Anderlecht player to move into the space unmarked. Doku is able to use his quick feet to dribble past the three Oostende defenders and look for his options in the box. As he gets to the byline, he uses his vision and composure to find the free man at the near post. This phase of play results in a goal for Anderlecht, with Doku the creator.
Situations like this show why Doku is outperforming his xG after completing a dribble in the final third by almost three goals. This attack should not have resulted in a chance for Anderlecht, let alone a goal. Doku’s ability to create moments of magic like this are just one reason why the future is bright for this 18-year-old.
As shown above, Doku ranks high in crosses/90 with 5.2 and near the middle in accurate crosses/90 with 1.38. In total, Doku attempted 62 crosses with 25 being successful, a 40.3% success rate. This is an impressive success rate, and it could have been higher, as some of his crosses were put into dangerous areas, but were cleared away by an opposition defender.
In the image above, Doku is able to run onto the ball in behind and deliver a first-time ball across the face of goal. The ball ends up finding its way to Amuzu on the opposite flank. This should have resulted in a goal but Amuzu was just late getting to the end of it. However, this does show the vision that Doku has to be able to pick out a teammate with a first-time cross. It also shows his composure that he is able to hit it well first time while being closed down.
While for the most part his crosses are put into dangerous areas, some lack end product. This image above shows one of those misplaced crosses. Doku, at the top of the picture, makes a great run into the space. The Anderlecht forward at the bottom is unmarked but Doku decides to cross first time and does not spot the open man. The cross is poor and is cleared by the first defender. This shows that while Doku does whip dangerous crosses into the box, he does sometimes rush them.
The image above gives a clearer picture of Doku’s crossing ability. From the left, Doku was 8/25 or 32% on his crosses, while from the right was 17/37 or 45.9%. This matches up as Doku prefers to play on the right so he can use his favored right foot to cross in instead of having to cut back on his right from the left, or use his weaker foot. Doku also outperformed the xA last season in regards to his crosses, with him bagging two assists from an xA of 1.44. This scout report has so far shown how Jérémy Doku performs on the ball, but he also can offer a lot off it as well, which will be discussed in detail next.
Off the ball movements and link-up play
While Doku offers a lot with his on the ball abilities, he offers just as much off of it. Whether it is his runs in behind the defence, his positioning in the penalty box, or his link-up play, Doku also does well at all three. I will cover them all in turn.
Doku’s off the ball movement is something that is sometimes very overlooked. While he is mainly known for his work on the ball in tight spaces or near the opposition box, his off the ball movement cannot be understated. Doku’s runs in behind are capable of causing trouble for the opposition, as the examples below show.
Above, Anderlecht win the ball back in the midfield and start a counter attack. The fullback is caught out of position and Doku is able to capitalise. He sees the space in behind and runs into it. The ball is played over the top for him and he then uses his pace to get into the opposition box and scores. Doku was able to use his vision and pace to make a smart run in behind the defence.
Above is a bit of a different scenario. Vlap is just inside the box with the three Genk players forming a triangle around him. Doku and the player in possession are both being man-to-man marked. Doku notices the space in behind and is able to make a run into the space as the fullback gets caught ball watching. The ball does find its way to Doku who plays a dangerous cross into the box.
Another thing that he does well is his link-up play. He only has 3.82 progressive passes/90, which ranks low among other Pro League players from last season. But his ability to drop into deeper positions and start attacks are what he does well. Above, Doku drops inside towards the halfway line to receive the ball at his feet. This is able to drag the players inside which gives the Anderlecht fullback the space to make an overlapping run. However, Doku does not play that pass. He instead turns and passes in to the striker who then plays the ball to the fullback. This was a smart pass by Doku, as he would have had to make a complete turn to pass to the runner, which would have probably resulted in losing possession.
The image above shows Doku’s off the ball movement in more depth. He is in possession with the fullback coming to close him down. Doku plays the pass into the space that his teammate is running into. This causes the fullback and the man marking the Anderlecht player to react. Doku then makes and outside to inside run into the penalty box. The move does not amount to anything, but shows Doku’s ability to spot the spaces and move into them.
While on or off the ball, Doku is an exceptional talent offensively without a doubt. The other side of the coin is how does he contribute defensively.
Defensively is an area where Doku has the potential to do well at. As the heat map showed, Doku does not track back to help defensively often. Most of the time he will press in the offensive third and that’s it. However, when he does track back and defend he can put in a shift.
Above the Genk player is trying to play a pass to the fullback who is in space. Doku is able to anticipate the pass and jump in front and intercept. Notice that this interception took place in the middle third of the field. As mentioned earlier about Doku’s ability to pick out teammates and spot spaces, he can also do the same defensively.
Defensive duels are another aspect of his defensive side that are solid, but still need work. In the image above, Genk have a throw-in. The ball is thrown-in and Doku goes shoulder-to-shoulder with the Genk player and is able to hold possession and drive into the space. This happened in the attacking third, an area of the pitch where Doku is more active defensively. Doku is very much a player who likes to defend from the front. While he will track back occasionally, the defensive side of his game in the defensive third could use some improvement.
Even though Doku is a very talented young player, he is not without his flaws. While his strengths still heavily outweigh his weaknesses, there are still some that weigh on him. With Doku only being 5’7’ (1.71 m), his aerial presence is minimal. Out of 28 aerial duels attempted in the 2019/20 season, he only won 7. This comes out to a 25% success rate.
Another weakness is at times his ball retention. Doku had 10.17 losses/90 last season, which ranked in the top half of all players from the Pro League. As the image above shows, most times he lost possession in the final third. In total, Doku lost possession 153 times in the 2019/20 season, with 106 times being in the final third. That equates to 69% of time he lost possession he was in the final third. Even a slight improvement on this number year-on-year could then make Doku’s end product improve as well.
There is no doubt that Jérémy Doku is a very talented football player. At still only 18, he still has plenty of growth left and the ability to adapt to a multitude of different tactics. At Anderlecht he is surrounding by other young talent that will give him competition and veterans that will help him develop. It would be no surprise if this summer or next he was snapped up by one of the world’s biggest clubs. In a few years time, Jérémy Doku has the potential to become a household name.