Zulte Waregem hosted Antwerp in round nine of the 2020/21 Belgian Pro League season. After a difficult start to the campaign, the visitors are unbeaten in four games and a win could take them into the top five. On the other hand, Zulte Waregem have had a below-par start to the campaign. The hosts have picked up just seven points from a possible 24, so a win here was important.
It was Zulte Waregem who looked the better team in the opening stages of the game and took the lead after just seven minutes through Jean-Luc Dompé. However, such an early goal meant Antwerp had plenty of time to get back into the game. And that they did. Three goals in the second half, scored by Faris Haroun, Martin Hongla and Cristian Benavente, secured all three points for the visitors. After the chances they created, Zulte Waregem will surely be disappointed to not get a result from the game.
Zulte Waregem head coach Francky Dury lined up his team in a 4-4-2 formation. Louis Bostyn started between the sticks behind centre-backs Olivier Deschacht and William Bianda, on loan from Serie A side Roma. Laurens De Bock and Daniel Opare started as full-backs, completing the back four. Ibrahima Seck capped once by Senegal, started in the centre of midfield alongside the experienced Damien Marcq. Gianni Bruno began out on the right-wing, with Jean-Luc Dompé on the left. Upfront, Tomáš Chorý partnered Jelle Vossen. The former Middlesbrough and Burnley man has two goals to his name in his first eight appearances of the league season.
Visitors Antwerp, winners of last season’s Belgian Cup, began in a 3-5-2. Manager Ivan Leko lined up with Jean Butez in goal. Dylan Batubinsika, a graduate of the PSG Academy, started in a back three alongside Jérémy Gelin and Ritchie De Laet. Danish international Simon Juklerød began in his usual left wing-back role, with Koji Miyoshi on the right. Pieter Gerkens, Martin Hongla and Faris Haroun all got the nod in an experienced centre-midfield for Antwerp. Lior Refaelov partnered Dieumerci Mbokani upfront. Mbokani, formerly of Premier League side Norwich City, so far has three goals and two assists to his name this season.
Zulte Waregem quickest out the gate
Home team Zulte Waregem were the quickest out the gates at the Rainbow Stadium on Sunday. They took the lead after seven minutes when Jean-Luc Dompé was released through on goal by Daniel Opare. The build-up to the goal was especially interesting.
Antwerp started the game determined to press Zulte Waregem high up the pitch. In the image below, the visitors pressing intensity in the first 15 minutes averaged 9.7.
Whilst Antwerp were looking to press early, Zulte Waregem did much the opposite. Forwards Jelle Vossen and Tomáš Chorý dropped deep when the Antwerp backline had possession of the ball. This almost created a 4-2-4 formation for Zulte Waregem, with both wingers defending high. The image below shows how the home team were typically shaping up in the early stages of the game. They were happy for the Antwerp backline to possess the ball.
This was a stark contrast to Antwerp’s early game plan, which the visitors subsequently paid for. Zulte Waregem goalkeeper Bostyn played the ball out to his back four. In the image below, we can see Antwerp are pushed high to make life difficult for their opponents to play out. Five players in total pushed towards the Zulte Waregem backline.
Fortunately for the home team, Daniel Opare was able to find his way out of danger and break the press. Charging into space, leaving five players up the other end of the pitch, Zulte Waregem were now on the attack. Opare’s quick transition got his team into a five vs five attack towards the goal. Once closed down by an Antwerp defender, he calmly found the run of Dompé who broke clear to score past Butez. It was a brilliant move by Zulte Waregem and pulled apart Antwerps high press.
A deserved first-half lead
Antwerp had chances to equalise in the first half, with Miyoshi and Hongla both testing keeper Bostyn. Experienced striker Dieumerci Mbokani went closest for the visitors, meeting a Pieter Gerkens cross with his head and rattling the crossbar. However, it was Francky Dury’s side who went into the half-time break 1-0 up. Zulte Waregem had chances to add more goals to the scoreline themselves but were unable to do so. Their xG in the first half was 1.47, suggesting they were much more deserving of the lead through the chances created, comparing to Antwerp’s 0.36.
Despite falling behind and looking less like scoring, it was Antwerp who had the majority of possession in the first half. With both Mbokani and Chorý up either end of the pitch, both teams also had a long ball outlet that they were not afraid to use. In the first-half Zulte Waregem looked long more, whilst Antwerp dominated possession. Interestingly, however, in the second half, it was the other way round, with the lion’s share of the ball going to Zulte Waregem.
Antwerp’s clinical second-half
When going forward, Antwerp looked to push wing-backs Juklerød and Miyoshi as high as they possibly could. If they could break the Zulte Waregem defensive line, it meant they had a lot of width high up the pitch.
Despite the excellent position of this attack in the image below, Antwerp could not create a goalscoring opportunity. However, the second half was a different story. After 56 minutes, club captain Faris Haroun tidily finished for the visitors after picking up a lucky deflection off a Zulte Waregem defender. Once that goal went in, Antwerp looked a far more confident team going forwards.
Manager Ivan Leko sent on pacey winger Opoku Ampomah to replace Simon Juklerød. Ampomah immediately had an impact on the game, showing his electrifying speed. He picked up the ball from deep and drove into space, as seen in the image below.
He found Mbokani who then slipped the Ghanian through on goal, only for him to blaze over. It was a remarkable counter-attack with a disappointing end, but a sign that another Antwerp goal was coming.
And it did. Zulte Waregem were punished just like they had punished Antwerp in the first half. As the ball was being played out from the back, Zulte Waregem saw an opportunity to press and try and win the ball. With six players pushing high, the ball fell to Koji Miyoshi who knocked the ball forward to Mbokani to sett off an attack.
Six Zulte Waregem players immediately were taken out the play and left behind as Antwerp stormed towards goal. Pieter Gerkens calmly found Martin Hongla on the top of the box, and he finished past keeper Bostyn to make it 2-1.
Zulte Waregem change of formation
After two goals in quick succession, Zulte Waregem looked for a reply. Manager Francky Dury sent on Abdoulaye Sissako for Jelle Vossen and Bassem Srarfi for goalscorer Dompé. He changed formation from their original 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 as they went chasing an equaliser. Target man Chorý now had more support up top, with Srarfi, Sissako and Bruno all played just underneath him in attacking midfield roles.
Despite the formation and change, Zulte Waregem were not able to create any meaningful goalscoring chances. The substitutes made little impact, whilst Chorý was left isolated by the Antwerp backline. Instead, in the dying stages of the game, it was the substitute, Cristian Benavente, who scored after receiving a pass from Ampomah. The home team will be disappointed at the way they defended for all three goals. On a different day, they may have all been avoided.
Zulte Waregem will feel hard done by. Their 1.92 xG was greater than Antwerps (1.71) over the 90 minutes, which suggests they deserved at least a point from the game. Disappointingly, however, only five of their 14 attempts hit the target, compared to Antwerps 11 out of 20. Clinical finishing is what separated the two sides in this game.
Antwerp will be delighted with the three points in a win that extends their unbeaten streak to five games. Ivan Leko’s side, now in 5th, are next in league action on Sunday 25th, hosting 3rd place Beerschot which promises to be a good game.
Zulte Waregem manager Francky Dury will draw encouragement from the fact his side were able to create chances from the game. However, their inability to keep goals out at the defensive end of the pitch is a concern. They have now conceded the second-most goals in the league, letting in a total of 22 across the first nine games of the season. The manner in which they have conceded some of their goals will be just as disappointing.
With a visit to Oostende next up on the fixture list, Dury has an important week of training ahead. Another defeat could potentially see them drop into the bottom two, should other results go against their way.