Sporting Charleroi hosted Cercle Brugge in round eleven of the 2020/21 Belgian Pro League season. After a brilliant start to the season, winning all six of their first six games, Charleroi have since experienced a drop in form. Without a win in their past three attempts, this fixture presented an excellent opportunity to get back to winning ways. Visitors Cercle Brugge came into the game sitting in ninth after nine games. However, they only trail fourth-placed Charleroi by four points. They came into the game full of confidence, having swept Gent aside 5-2 in their last league outing.
The first half was tight, with neither team really looking like scoring. Both were well defensively disciplined, limiting space for their opponents and keeping their shape well. However, Charleroi showed why they have been one of the best teams in the Belgian Pro League this season. It was an excellent display of attacking quality in the second half.
Two goals in five minutes early into the second 45 meant the home team took full control of the game. Goals from Ali Gholizadeh, debutant Saido Berahino and Shamar Nicholson wrapped up a 3-0 win for the home team. Ali Gholizadeh was a player whose performance was particularly of note, as he comprehensively pulled the strings of the Charleroi attack.
Sporting Charleroi manager Karim Belhocine was without Massimo Bruno, Cristophe Diandy and Ivan Goranov. New signing Łukasz Teodorczyk, who arrived on loan from Serie A side Udinese this week, was also unavailable for selection. The home team lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with veteran Nicolas Penneteau starting in goal. Dorian Dessoleil and Steeven Willems provided plenty of experience at centre-back, joined by full-backs Jules Van Cleemput and Joris Kayembe to complete the defensive four. Former Japanese international Ryota Morioka started in central midfield alongside Marco Ilaimaharitra. With Ali Gholizadeh on the left, Mamadou Fall on the right and Saido Berahino down the centre, Charleroi lined up with plenty of attacking quality. Berahino was making his debut for Les Zèbres, having arrived on loan from struggling Zulte Waregem. Kaveh Rezaei, with five goals already to his name this season, started up front.
Paul Clement’s Cercle Brugge side started in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Brazilian Warleson lined up between the sticks for the away team. Compatriot Vitinho began at left-back with Robbe Decostre on the right. Naomichi Ueda partnered Scotland international David Bates at centre-back. In the defensive holding role was Franck Kanouté, whose career started out at Juventus, with Kévin Hoggas and Leonardo Lopes in central midfield. Starting on the right-wing for Cercle Brugge was Anthony Musaba, with Kylian Hazard, brother of Thorgan and Eden, on the left. Ike Ugbo led the line in a lone forward role. Ugbo has impressed so far this season, having arrived on loan from Premier League side Chelsea.
Two sides defensively disciplined
Paul Clement set his Cercle Brugge side up in a compact 4-1-4-1 formation. Knowing that Charleroi had so much attacking threat in their ranks, the away team stayed disciplined in their shape throughout the first half. In the image below, we can see the shape that Cercle Brugge took up when Charleroi had possession of the ball.
Circled in the middle is Franck Kanouté. Playing in holding midfield, the Senegalese youngster was entrusted to limit the space available to Saido Berahino. Berahino likes to look for the ball in the space between the opposition lines. Whilst he did tend to drift away from Kanouté, much of the time Berahino got himself on the ball was by dropping deep.
It has a first half that produced few chances. Much of this was down to Cercle Brugge limiting Charleroi the opportunity to play the expansive football we normally see from them. Charleroi also were very disciplined in their defensive efforts. In possession, we saw a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation, but, when out of possession, it turned into a 4-4-1-1. This was due to the defensive efforts of attacking wide men Ali Gholizadeh and Mamadou Fall. As we can see in the image below, both of them dropped back to make a back of four across the midfield.
Cercle Brugge’s attacking threat from wide areas was limited because of this. The two wingers were consistent in their energy not only getting forward but tracking back throughout the game.
Throughout the game, Charleroi looked to press Cercle Brugge to limit their time on the ball. As we can see in the image below, their PPDA was 6.4 in the first half, and 8.8 in the second.
This compared with Cercle Brugge’s PPDA of 25.5 in the first half, and 8.7 in the second. Increasingly, with defending with more of a press in the second half, Cercle Brugge ended up shipping three goals.
Charleroi clinical going forward
After a stalemate in the first half, Charleroi came out all guns blazing in the second 45. The formation of both teams remained the same, but Charleroi’s threat going forwards certainly intensified. The attacking quartet of Fall, Gholizadeh, Berahino and Rezaei caused problems for Cercle Brugge throughout the second half. In the image below, we can see the four of them on the top of the box.
This kind of shape allowed them to play off another, with their movement causing a lot of problems for the Cercle Brugge defence. For Cercle Brugge, things were very different. Striker Ugbo tended to find himself very isolated with little support around him, which made life easy for the Charleroi centre-backs.
As mentioned, neither team changed formation in the second half. However, one change that hugely influenced the game was Fall and Gholizadeh switching positions. As a result, both of them looked a lot more effective, cutting in on their favoured feet to find a sight of goal.
The image above was typical of Fall in the second half. Receiving the ball with his back to the opposition defender, he cut inside and set off on a mazy run. This allowed Charleroi to transition quickly and players forward to attack the Cercle Brugge backline.
It was Gholizadeh who broke the deadlock on 53 minutes after some brilliant individual work. It was quickly 2-0 when Berahino nodded in from close range after a Ryota Morioka shot deflected off the bar.
Gholizadeh star of the show
Ali Gholizadeh had a very good game. He had a hand in all three goals that Charleroi scored, which included scoring one himself after some individual brilliance. The Iranian winger was a constant threat going forward with both his pace and technical ability. For his first goal, Gholizadeh found himself in a one vs one situation with Cercle Brugge full-back Vitinho.
Seeing the space in behind, he dropped his shoulder and cut the ball past the defender, leaving him in his path. From an extremely tight angle, he slotted the ball past goalkeeper Warleson to put his side in front.
Gholizadeh is a player who can cross a ball very well. On numerous occasions, he cut in from the right onto his favoured left foot and delivered some excellent balls into the box.
In the phase of play below, Gholizadeh found himself one vs one with the defender. Sensing the danger, another Cercle Brugge defender headed over to double up on him. However, Gholizadeh cut inside and sent in a dangerous cross into the box. This had Cercle Brugge pegged back unable to clear their lines and a goal shortly resulted. He played a similar hand in the third and final goal of the game.
After dribbling the ball towards the corner of the Cercle Brugge 18 yard box, he showed great awareness as he played in Robbe Decostere who got round him on the overlapping run. Decostere cross found Shamar Nicholson who completed a good fan for all associated with Charleroi.
Manager Paul Clement will be disappointed at his sides second-half showing. They collapsed defensively after a solid showing in the first half. There was also very little creativity going forwards for the away team. With a total xG in the game of 0.81, compared to Charleroi’s xG of 2.81, it was clear that the home team deserved to take all three points.
For Sporting Charleroi, this was an extremely important win. After three straight defeats in all competitions, this win takes them to the top of the Belgian Pro League. Should results go their way, they will remain in top spot going into round 12 next week. The debut of Saidio Berahino will be encouraging for Sporting Charleroi. He is a player who can offer so much when he is on top of his game and his goal here will be a big boost for confidence.
Having finished third in the league last year, Sporting Charleroi continues to show that they are serious about a title challenge this year. Next week, they travel to Mechelen in the Friday night game. This will be another game they are expected to win. For Cercle Brugge, a more challenging fixture awaits away at Oostende on Sunday 8th November.