Match day three of the Belgian Pro League season matched 16-time champions Club Brugge against new boys K Beerschot VA. However, coming into this match, those positions seemed swapped. Beerschot had just come off back-to-back wins while Brugge stumbled to a defeat in their first match before beating Eupen in their second match.
Both sides came into this match wanting to get three points, Brugge to right the ship and Beerschot to keep flying high. The match started off rather slow but picked up in the second half. In the end, it was Beerschot who got a narrow 1-0 win and were able to leave the Jan Breydel Stadion with all three points. This tactical analysis will examine how this was the case
For Brugge, Philippe Clement opted to keep the same 3-5-2 formation that was used in a 4-1 win over KAS Eupen. Former Liverpool player Simon Mignolet kept his place in goal in front of a back three anchored by Brandon Mechele. Dutchman Ruud Vormer captained the side with former Ajax player Mats Rits and Hans Vanaken his midfield partners. Siebe Schrijvers started up top alongside 18-year-old Senegalese striker Youssouph Badji. AC Milan target Krépin Diatta also started.
On the other side for Beerschot, Hernán Pablo Losada decided to stick with his usual 3-4-1-2 formation. Mike Vanhamel kept his place in goal in front of his back three. Raphael Holzhauser occupied the #10 position in front of the midfield four. Yan Vorogovskiy and Joren Dom occupied the wide midfield positions, with a front two of Marius Noubissi and Tarik Tissoudali.
Beerschot’s defensive solidity
While both sides played with three-at-the-back formations, their defensive shapes were different. Brugge played a higher line and defended and attacked with a three-man backline. Losada however, set Beerschot up in a back five while out of possession. This allowed them to be more open when they were attacking but be able to shut the door when defending. When attacking, the wide midfielders of Beerschot would act almost as wingers, making overlapping and underlapping runs and getting into the box. However, when possession was lost, they acted as wingbacks, forming a back five. This tactical set-up helped propel Beerschot to victory
Beerschot started in their compact defensive shape from the first kick of the game. In the above image, Brugge have an early attacking chance. The three centre-backs are tight and compact preventing runs in behind through the middle. This forces Vormer to play the ball out wide and allows Beerschot the time to get into a strong defensive shape inside the box. This also allows the midfielders of Beerschot to get into better positions on the edge of the box to possibly start a counter-attack. This phase of play does end up resulting in a chance for Brugge, but nothing more.
Even in the second half as Brugge started to attack more, the defensive game plan and tactics from Loasada didn’t switch. In the below image, Beerschot are once again defending in a staggered back five, but the four defenders in the centre are once again tight and compact. Vormer is forced to play the ball in the air as there is no space for the attackers to run onto a ball in behind. The resulting ball is cleared away by the Beerschot defenders and launches them on a counter-attacking opportunity.
When they weren’t under as much pressure, Beerschot’s defensive five were strong in their man-to-man marking. Utilising this system gives a defence more flexibility in regards to their responsibilities defensively.
As shown in the above image, Brugge are on the attack, but no players are yet attempting to make runs in behind the backline. As shown, each defender is responsible for one attacker, with the Brugge player in the centre being marked by two Beerschot players. Another interesting tactic is how the two wingbacks are staying wide leaving a lot of space between them and the back three. This is used so the other three defenders are not getting dragged out of position, and it can stay as 1v1s down the flanks. This phase of play does result in a chance for Brugge, but Beerschot hold firm.
Throughout this match, Beerschot were able to frustrate Club Brugge with their defensive tactics, with Brugge having 19 shots in the match and 10 on target, but no goals. A lot of the shots attempted by Brugge as well were blocked by the Beerschot defenders. They were not afraid to put their bodies on the line in this match, and it shows why they currently have nine points from nine so far this season.
Brugge’s defensive deficiencies
With Brugge operating with a high line throughout, space was bound to open up in behind the defence. While playing a high line is beneficial at times when playing against weaker sides, it also can leave a defence very exposed. Most of this space was through the middle, which Beerschot exploited to great extent. Out of all of the Beerschot attacks, 88% went through the middle. Coming into this match, Losada must have seen this as a potential tactical weakness that they could exploit on the counter, which Beerschot did. Following are some examples of this defensive deficiency by Brugge.
Above is the pass that results in the goal for Beerschot. Brugge lose possession in the middle third and are caught napping defensively. Because of the high line being played, they are not able to get back in a defensive shape quick enough. This results in big spaces between the centre-backs and allows Holzhauser to run in behind and convert a relatively easy chance for Beerschot. Also, Balanta is out of position with his body turned towards the ball, taking him out of the play instantly and leaving Brugge even more exposed. Playing a high line can either be a blessing or a curse for sides. As the next examples also show, for Brugge it was the latter.
Above is another problem that Brugge had defensively. In this phase of play, all three centre-backs are caught ball watching. Another thing to note is that the three Brugge defenders are also overloading the ball side, leaving the far side of the pitch wide open. The wide midfielder for Brugge tries to get back to help defensively but is too caught out to be involved defensively. Beerschot are on the counter and are breaking quickly after they were able to break out of the Brugge press and this also played a key factor in the space being left open on the far side of the field. Both attackers notice the space through the middle and both make runs in behind. The ball is played in behind but does not end up resulting in a chance for Beerschot. Once again Brugge were caught napping, but this time they got lucky.
Ball-watching was something that Brugge did a lot of defensively. Above, the ball is on the edge of the box being closed down by the defender. Once again space opens up in behind for the attacker as the Brugge play is caught ball-watching. The cross is attempted by the player to the far post but is blocked by the first defender and goes out for a corner. Brugge once again get lucky that their defensive lapses didn’t result in a great chance or even a goal. With the way that Club Brugge played defensively at times during this match, it is surprising they didn’t concede more than one goal.
This lack of defensive solidity is a worrying sign for Philippe Clement’s side. After losing the first match of the season, Clement altered the formation from a back four to a back three. This paid dividends in the second match of the season, but after this loss against Beerschot, it almost seems like they went backwards. Club Brugge conceded 14 goals in 28 matches last season, they already have three conceded in three matches. If things get any worse, then changes may happen at the Jan Breydel Stadion.
Club Brugge’s Pressing
Club Brugge came into this match with the intention of being able to press high up the pitch and keep a high defensive line. Even though Beerschot came into this match as the team in form, Brugge knew that they had the better quality.
Above is an example of this pressing. The Beerschot player receives the ball in the midfield and three Brugge players instantly close him down. All passing lanes are cut off immediately and he has no space to turn into. Unfortunately for Brugge, a foul is committed resulting in a free-kick for Beerschot.
While Brugge did press well in the midfield, they also did a good job of pressing higher up the pitch. In this phase of play above, the Beerschot goalkeeper receives the ball and looks to play it short. However, Brugge are positioned really well defending all the passing options. This eliminates the option of the goalkeeper playing short, as it would most likely result in a dangerous giveaway. Schrijvers is also pressing the goalkeeper really high which results in the goalkeeper attempting to play long. The pass results in a giveaway and possession back for Brugge which almost results in a scoring opportunity.
As the match progressed and Brugge started to get desperate, the pressing intensified. In the first half, Brugge’s PPDA (passes per defensive action) was 9.4. This was intensified in the second half to 3.6. In the above image, there are only a few minutes left in the match. As compared to the earlier image in the midfield area, this pressing was noticeably more intense. As the Beerschot player looks for his teammate, he is instantly closed down by three Brugge defenders. Both of his teammates are also being marked, but the player closest to the touchline has more space. The pass is able to find him, but he is closed down and Beerschot lose possession.
All things considered, Brugge were lucky to not concede more than one goal. They did press well throughout and held the majority of possession, but Beerschot were able to defend superbly. Some might consider Beerschot to be lucky to get out of Bruges with the three points, but this tactical analysis showed it was deserved. Beerschot are high flying in their first season in the big time, while Philippe Clement’s Club Brugge side are wondering what is going wrong so far this season.