Gent hosted OH Leuven in round seven of the 2020/21 Belgian Pro League season. For Gent, the current campaign has so far been a disastrous one. They have picked up six points from a possible eighteen in league action. Something of greater concern is the fact that the club has already parted company with two different managers this term. Both Jess Thorup and László Bölöni have been fired, making Wim de Decker the third manager of the season. Visitors OH Leuven came into the game looking to make it three wins out of four.
Despite a host of goalscoring opportunities, Gent found themselves three goals behind after only 50 minutes. Kamal Sowah scored a brace for Leuven, with each goal coming either side of a strike from Mathieu Maertens. Gent responded with two goals of their own, with Tim Kleindeist and Niklas Dorsch both scoring from the penalty spot. However, the hosts could not convert their chances, and as a consequence, fell to their fifth league defeat of the season.
Manager Wim de Decker made several changes to the team that played in Wednesday’s Champions League qualifier against Dynamo Kiev. Davy Roef began in goal, as Gent lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Across the back four, they started with Alessio Castro-Montes, Igor Plastun, Dino Arslanagic and Milad Mohammadi. Former Bayern Munich man Dorsch and Elisha Owusu paired up in centre-midfield. Ukrainian Roman Bezus began as an attacking midfielder, playing deep off the striker Kleindienst, whilst Osman Bukari and Anderson Niangbo starting wide.
Experienced OH Leuven manager Marc Brys set his team up in a 4-4-1-1. Venezuelan international Rafael Romo started between the sticks for the visitors. Sascha Kotysch paired up alongside youngster Toon Raemaekers at centre-back, with full-backs Barnabás Bese and Dylan Ouedraogo completing the back four. David Hubert, who played for opponents Gent from 2013 to 2017, lined up alongside Kristiyan Malinov in the centre of the midfield. Maertens started on the left-wing, with Sowah, on loan from Premier League side Leicester City, started out on the right. Frenchman Xavier Mercier started in the attacking hole, just behind compatriot Thomas Henry who was leading the line as a lone striker.
The Gent press
With three advanced midfielders playing behind lone forward Kleindienst, Gent were set up well to press Leuven high up the pitch. The image below shows Gent’s PPDA compared to Leuven’s. As we can see, Gent’s PPDA throughout the game is much lower than Leuven’s, meaning that they maintained a much higher intensity of pressing throughout the game.
Their intent to press was evident right from the beginning of the game, with Kleindienst leading from the front to try and win the ball back. Below, we can see Kleindienst brilliantly angle his run so the defender in possession cannot return the ball back to his centre-back partner. With the Gent midfielders pushed high, the defender resulted in sending the ball long.
Another example of Gent’s intensive team press can be seen in the image below. After receiving the ball from his goalkeeper, Leuven defender Kotysch is left with few options from teammates due to the press from the Gent players.
Kleindienst, who is circled, smartly positions himself to prevent Kotysch coming back inside to find either keeper Romo or fellow centre-back Raemaekers. Time and time again, the Leuven backline sent the ball long or were forced back due to the pressure they were receiving from Kleindienst and co. For the Gent players, dealing with the long ball was not something that became a problem. Whilst Leuven striker Henry, standing at 6ft 4”, offers plenty of aerial presence, he had little support around him for second and third balls. With Henry so isolated, Gent were able to clear up and turn over possession to build another attack out the back.
Gent kept the ball well in both the first and second half- the statistics show that. They kept 69% of the ball possession throughout the 90 minutes, dominating both halves of play. Notably, as see in the image below on the right, their passing accuracy was also far greater.
However, for all their possession and wasted chances, Genk found themselves well and truly punished.
Leuven punish bad defending
It has been a disappointing start to the season for Gent, and that continued to get worse. Despite dominating possession throughout the game, ‘De Buffalo’s’ went into the half 2-0 down. They then conceded another immediately after the interval. Leuven had capitalised on poor defending to score three goals in just a seven-minute period. Manager Wim de Decker will look at all three goals conceded as goals that would be avoided another day.
It is no coincidence that Leuven’s xG was so low, despite all the goals scored. Gent in fact had a higher xG throughout the entire game. The data below suggests that on a different day, they would have been been the team scoring three, or even four goals.
For Leuven’s first goal, Gent defended a corner with man-marking. The Leuven players smartly set up on the edge of the 18-yard box (as seen in the image below), resulting in a huge space been created in front of the goal.
Recognising the two vs one situation, Sowah took a short corner with Mercier, worked the ball in the space, and took a clear shot on goal. The goalkeeper should have done better but allowing the two vs one was complacent defending.
For the second goal, bad defending was yet again to blame, as right-back Castro-Montes was guilty of ball watching. Looking at the ball and expecting a different pass, he stepped out the back four to intercept a tackle. However, Leuven played the ball over the head of Castro-Montes and into the gap he had subsequently opened up. After tracking back to Henry, who now had the ball, he was beaten far too easily and Henry squared it for Maertens to tap home.
For the third, it was simply too easy again for Sowah. As seen in the image below, Dorsch, circled, expects a pass to Mercier to be intercepted. In doing so, he slows down whilst tracking Sowah. Mercier dummies the ball, and Sowah runs clear to make it three. It was, by all means, an impressive counter-attack by Leuven, who had six counters in the game, compared to only three by Gent.
If Dorsch had tracked back with full a sprint, he would certainly have given himself a good chance of tackling Sowah.
Gent change formation
Wim de Decker needed a reaction fast to get anything out the game. Within minutes following the third goal, Laurent Depoitre was introduced, replacing Bezus. Gent changed to a 4-4-2 formation. The reason for this was to add more of an attacking threat and stretch the pitch.
One thing you can be guaranteed with both Depoitre and Kliendeinst is an aerial threat. Both players are well over 6ft and have scored a host of goals throughout their careers from the air. Disappointingly for Gent, neither Niango or Bukari recorded an accurate cross into the box during their whole time spent on the pitch. The same was said for Dylan Mbayo, who replaced Niangbo on the left-wing.
With a three-goal lead, and responding to Gent’s formation change, Leuven began to sit deeper and deeper. As seen in the image below, Depoitre and Kliendeinst sat high, forcing the Leuven centre-backs deep. This allowed more space in the middle of the pitch for the Gent midfield to create.
Leuven held their own towards the latter stages of the game as Gent pushed for goals. They got their reward twice from the penalty spot, with both Dorsch and Kleindienst the scorers. German-born Kleindienst came very close to adding his second from a corner, crashing a header off the crossbar. Unlike Gent, Leuven defended corners with a hybrid set up of both zonal and man-marking. Kleindienst towered above his marker and was unfortunate not to tie up the game.
Having come off the back off a 2-1 defeat to Dynamo Kiev, it has certainly been a week to forget for Gent. The home team will be extremely disappointed not to have taken at least one, if not all three points, from the game. They certainly had enough chances to do so and dominated for large spells. Most disappointingly for the home team will be the manor that they conceded all three goals.
For Leuven, it was an excellent three points on the road. They defended well throughout the game and took advantage of the opportunities presented by Gent. Two goals marked an excellent week personally for 20-year old Kamal Sowah, who signed a new contract extension at parent club Leicester City this week.
Gent will once again be in home action for round eight of the league season, with Beerschot the visitors to the Ghelamco Arena next Sunday. Leuven are also playing at home next week, hosting Zulte Waregem on Saturday.