While most European leagues have begun to return to action, Belgium was quick to bring a premature end to the Pro League. With just the play-off promotion to go, top-flight sides are beginning to look ahead to next season and equip their squads with new talent. KAA Gent finished second but were a long way off top side Club Brugge. With Gent qualifying for the UEFA Champions League next season, they have already looked to strengthen their squad.
Alongside the experienced Sven Kums of Anderlecht, Gent snapped up Jordan Botaka from fellow Pro League side Sint-Truiden. The former EFL player was at both Leeds United and Charlton Athletic before and has been in the Pro League since 2017, amassing 103 league appearances. Gent will hope that his knowledge of and experience in the league will benefit them in the 2020/21 season. With Jonathan David looking set for a move to the Bundesliga, the side are looking for attacking players to fill the gap his departure will create.
This scout report will use tactical analysis to compare both Gent and Sint-Truiden to see where Botaka will have to adjust to fit in with a different set of tactics. Following that, this analysis will look into where Botaka will fit in at Gent, and whether or not he is likely to be a success at his new club.
Tactically, Gent set up with a narrow 4-3-1-2 formation for around 84% of their matches, whereas Sint-Truiden operated a variety of back three formations. Within this system, Botaka operated either as a wing-back or the central attacking midfielder in a 3-4-1-2 formation.
In terms of attacking focus, Sint-Truiden targeted the central areas, with 39% of their attacks going down the middle, similar to Gent who also focus 39% of their attacks down the middle. While for the majority of his career Botaka has been seen as a winger, he may well replicate his central attacking midfield role with Gent, unless he is also used as an attacking right-back.
At the defensive end, Botaka will be expected to press and win the ball back higher up the field with Gent. Sint-Truiden averaged the least recoveries per 90 in the league last season with only 66.53, and only 7.90 of these were in the final third. Gent, on the other hand, averaged 78.16 recoveries per 90, with 11.35 of these being in the final third. These numbers are backed by pressing intensity, where Gent sit second with 246.63, while Sint-Truiden are third-bottom with 350.80. Botaka will have to adjust, going from a team willing to sit deep and force sides to play through them to one which looks to recover the ball further forward and quicker.
Possession-wise, Botaka will not have to make many adjustments. Gent sit second overall in possession per 90 with 57.1% while Sint-Truiden are not far below them with 52.7%. However, in possession Botaka will be expected to cross far more than he did with Sint-Truiden. Gent are fifth in crosses per 90, averaging 17.26 crosses. Sint-Truiden on the other hand only averaged 10.34, the lowest in the entire league.
There are some similarities between Botaka’s former side Sint-Truiden and his new side Gent. The next two sections will look at what Botaka offers going forward and during defensive passages of play.
At the attacking end
Botaka has been in the league long enough that Gent should know exactly what to expect from him. This season, he contributed three goals and four assists for Sint-Truiden. He met his 2.97 xG, whilst also averaging 0.12 goals per 90. Assists-wise, Botaka exceeded his 2.40 xA and averaged 0.15 per 90. While these numbers do not jump off the page, with better players around him, perhaps Botaka’s attacking output may improve.
One of the main focuses of Botaka’s game is his dribbling. He averages the third-most dribbles for wing-backs in the division with 6.8 per 90. However, his success rate is the lowest in the top eight at 47.16%. Watching Botaka play, it is clear he is a technically gifted player with plenty of tricks up his sleeve. This is certainly entertaining to watch, however, it can also lead to his side being put under unnecessary pressure.
For example, in this game against KAA Genk, Botaka receives the ball in his own third under pressure from the away side’s press. Losing the ball here would put his side under immense pressure, as both centre-backs are marked and passing lanes have been shut off. The safe option for Botaka would be to play it back to the keeper, or just clear it down the line.
However, we see where Botaka’s desire to dribble can get him into trouble. Instead of taking the safer options, he attempts to use his technical ability to dribble around the opponent. He ends up losing the ball, allowing Genk to push further forward and create an opportunity to score.
While Gent will no doubt want to encourage Botaka to play his natural game, they will also want to ensure he does so without putting the defence under unnecessary risk. What may help Botaka is that, barring a change in tactical approach, Botaka is likely to be used in the central attacking role, rather than as a wing-back.
Where Botaka may need to adapt at the attacking end will be in his crossing. With Sint-Truiden he averaged 3.32 crosses per 90, around a third of their total crosses per match. With an accuracy of 30.23%, he is by no means a bad crosser of the ball. Gent will be hoping that, as he attempts more crosses in their system, this accuracy rating goes up rather than down. This will certainly be the case if he is used as a wing-back.
As the below table shows, Gent’s usual right-back Alessio Castro-Montes is one of the top crossers in the league with 5.03 at a 37% accuracy rating. If Botaka is used in this position, he will be expected to provide the same number of crosses. With Michael Lustig also on the list, it is worth noting that reports are he is set to leave the club this summer. This opens up the opportunity for Botaka to perhaps be back up to Castro-Montes.
With a physical presence like Depoitre leading the line, Botaka will be expected to provide him with good service. When we look at the below graphic, we see a large concentration of his dribbles on the right flank, with the majority of this keeping possession rather than shooting. Gent will be hoping these possession-keeping dribbles end up as crosses when he is in those wide positions.
However, when we compare crossing numbers to Gent’s current attacking midfielder, Roman Bezus, we see that if Botaka is used in this position he will not be expected to cross as much if Gent are looking for a like-for-like. Bezus only attempts 1.92 crosses per 90, with a 34.62% accuracy. We can view this in one of two ways, either Gent are looking for a player like Botaka to attempt more crosses than Bezus, or they will look to use Botaka in the same way that Bezus operates.
At the defensive end
With Gent wanting to win the ball back higher up than Sint-Truiden, Botaka will be expected to press more than he has been doing. In terms of recoveries, he is averaging 4.75 per 90, while also winning 56.56% of his 4.71 average defensive duels per 90. Further to this, Botaka sits quite low in terms of counterpressing recoveries, with just 2.43 averaged per 90.
We must consider when it comes to the counterpressing that Sint-Truiden aren’t looking to win the ball higher up and counter-press. With Botaka winning over half of his defensive duels, we can safely say he is a decent defender for a more attack-minded player. Gent will hope that this translates into a higher number of counterpressing recoveries for their side next season.
Again, the best comparison we can make is to Bezus. In terms of counterpressing recoveries, Bezus averages 2.96 per 90, another indicator of the press that Gent constantly make, and have over Sint-Truiden. However, Botaka is not far off that, and should be able to operate in the expected system fairly comfortably. Of these recoveries, Bezus is averaging 1.92 in the final third. Due to his position, Bezus is making his recoveries in the central and final thirds, and most of these are from counterpressing, as we see from the graphic below.
With Botaka winning over half of his duels and averaging more recoveries per 90, Gent could see him as an upgrade in the pressing game over Bezus. This may give them greater flexibility in terms of using one or the other, depending on the matchup. Where they come up against a team that is susceptible to a high pressing game, they may choose Botaka over Bezus.
Where Botaka can also help on the defensive end is in his ability to play as a wing-back. Gent may see him as cover for both the central attacking position and the right-back position, even though they operate a back four and not the back three Botaka is used to. Again, his recoveries and defensive duels statistics would suggest he can do a job in those positions but may require more discipline when it comes to decision making. Operating in a four provides less cover for when he loses the ball after deciding to dribble than when he operated as a wing-back with a back three behind him.
While Botaka’s numbers hardly jump off the page, it is clear that Gent have signed him due to his versatility to play in multiple positions. Whether he has enough quality to start ahead of Bezus or even Castro-Montes is yet to be seen, and probably unlikely. He will certainly be a more than an adequate squad player, who may have to settle for appearances from the bench, or from injuries to teammates.
However, it is also worth considering that Gent might have signed him with a view to bringing more tactical flexibility to the squad, rather than relying on the same back four formations. The likes of Botaka mean they can look at back three lineups if they so please. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the summer recruitment pans out for the side, as to whether there is a shift in tactical approach on the cards.