However, it was Charleroi who came out on top. The win made it five out of five to continue their fantastic start to the season. Clear cut chances were few and far between. The game will not likely be remembered as ‘one of the greats’. Goals from Kaveh Rezaei and Shamar Nicholson both came in the last 20 minutes. The three points mean Charleroi have a 100% start to the season. Having finished 3rd in the league last time out, they have so far shown that their title challenge will be a lot of more serious this season.
The hosts set up in a 4-3-3 formation, with former Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper Eike Bansen starting between the sticks. 39-year-old Olivier Deschacht lined up alongside Ewoud Pletinckx at centre-back, with full-backs Laurens De Bock and Daniel Opare completing the back four. Youngster Jannes Van Hecke and Omar Govea began alongside defensive midfield anchor Ibrahima Seck, who is on loan from Genk. The front three comprised of Jelle Vossen, Gianni Bruno and Burundi captain, Saido Berahino.
Sporting Charleroi manager, Karim Belhocine, opted to start his team in a 4-2-3-1. The heavily experienced Nicolas Penneteau kept his place in goal for ‘Les Zèbres’. The Frenchman is a player with over 400 Ligue 1 appearances to his name. Across the back four, they lined up with Maxime Busi, Steeven Willems, Dorian Dessoleil and Joris Kayembe Ditu. Guillaume Gillet, who won several league titles in his time at Anderlecht, sat deep in the centre of midfielder alongside Marco Ilaimaharitra. An advanced three of Ryota Morioka, Shamar Nicholson and Ali Gholizadeh started behind Iranian centre forward, Kaveh Rezaei.
Charleroi’s defensive shape
Vital to keeping Zulte Waregem’s attacking threat at a minimum were central midfielders Gillet and Ilaimaharitra. Despite playing a forward three, the home team continuously found it difficult to create chances throughout the game. Both Gillet and Ilaimaharitra sat deep in front of their back four to fill the passing lanes and minimise the opportunity for the Zulte Waregem attackers to find space. Ilaimaharitra was the only player on the pitch to win 100% of his defensive duels, coming out on top eight times. Gillet won five of his eight.
The above image shows a typical example of both Gillet and Ilaimaharitra marshalling the back four after the ball is played out wide to Zulte Waregem’s Daniel Opare. With few options in front of him to play the ball into a teammates feet, Opare sends a long ball towards Vossen and Berahino that is comfortably dealt with by the Charleroi centre-backs. This became a fairly common theme in the game.
By screening the back four, they cut off the passing lanes to key man Berahino, a player always likely to pose a goalscoring threat at this level. The lack of space also disrupted the opportunity for Berahino to link up play between either Vossen or Bruno, with both of them becoming isolated out wide.
When the Zulte Waregem backline possessed the ball, Rezaei and the three advanced midfielders for Charleroi sat tight and narrow. By doing so, they clogged the midfield substantially, causing side-ways passing or long balls as a result. The image below represents their defensive solidarity in midfield, with players dropping behind the ball and staying compact to minimise space.
The defensive discipline of Gillet and Ilaimaharitra gave a lot more license to the rest of the Charleroi midfield to get forward. As we can see in the image below, represented by number 30 and 26 respectively, they sat very deep. This meant Charleroi were almost playing a 3-2-3-2 formation for large proportions of the game. Notably, left-back Joris Kayembe Ditu took advantage of the additional freedom to push high. He regularly took up a position by the halfway line in midfield.
Congesting the midfield
Whilst Zulte Waregem were finding it difficult to find space through the centre of the midfield, Charleroi did have a lot more success at doing so. This was especially evident in the final 20 minutes of the match. During this time, they managed to record three of their four shots on target, two of which hit the back of the net.
The movement of Morioka, capped five times for Japan, was impressive, drifting in midfield and being able to find pockets of space to pick up the ball. Despite being deployed on the left side of a midfield three, Morioka continuously drifted inside to pick up the ball. This caused a headache for Seck or Opare. They either had the choice of getting tight to Morioka or leaving him in the hope a teammate followed. In the image below, Seck follows Morioka, but in doing so creates a space in behind for a Charleroi player to get the ball and attack the backline.
Another example of Morioka creating problems for Zulte Waregem is seen in the image below. He drops deep but is not tracked by Opare. With Gillet and Ilaimaharitra getting on the ball and dictating the tempo the game, the Zulte Waregem midfielders pushed high. Their press was slow and ineffective and, as a result, the space between them and Seck became extremely stretched. This allowed the likes of Morioka to pick up the ball in plenty of space, turn and attack towards the defence.
Fortunately, Charleroi were lacking quality in the final third, but on a different day could have been significantly more dangerous.
Morioka was involved in both Charleroi goals. For the first, the midfielder capitalized on a poor defensive challenge by Pletinckx to square for Shamar Nicholson to shoot. He fluffed his shot which luckily fell to Rezaei who slotted home. For the second, Morioka drifted inside once again. As seen in the image below, despite less space this time, he was able to be hugely effective in causing the home team problems. After picking up the ball, two Zulte Waregem players drifted towards him which allowed th substitute, Lucas Ribeiro, space to run in behind.
Ribeiro latched onto Moriaka’s pass and subsequently took advantage of poor defending to knock it on for Nicholson to hammer home the second goal.
Equal possession but little creativity
Zulte Waregem head coach, Francky Dury, will have been frustrated at his team’s inability to create goal-scoring opportunities. Whilst Charleroi won 2-0, the possession stats would suggest that it was not so one-sided. As seen in the image below, Zulte Waregem had an equal share of the possession throughout the 90 minutes. More notably, they were able to reach the opponent penalty area whilst in possession only 1% less than Charleroi.
Despite having equal possession, Charleroi scored two goals and managed 11 shots, with an xG of 1.53. On the other hand, Zulte Waregem could only manage three shots towards the goal, with an xG of 0.10.
Zulte Waregem a lacking plan B
Another interesting statistic is how each team faired up when counter-attacking. Both teams set the stall out with attacking formations. However, Charleroi recorded nine counter-attacks, compared to only one from Zulte Waregem. Again, this is likely because of the freedom that many of the Charleroi players had to get forward due to the defensive discipline of Gillet and Ilaimaharitra.
As mentioned previously, Berahino found himself very isolated in the centre forward position. Govea also ran into similar problems. Even though they were having little luck, Zulte Waregem continued to try to attack through the centre of the pitch. There was another telling piece of data that summed up Zulte Waregem’s lack of creativity. They only managed to record one key pass all match. This was compared to seven recorded by Charleroi, a bitterly disappointing statistic for the ‘Essevee’.
There were also several opportunities to cross the ball into a packed penalty area towards the latter stages of the second half. Nevertheless, the wide-men either passed up the opportunity and came back inside, or the delivery was of very low quality, the latter being a lot more frequent. In the image below, substitute William Bianda found himself a great opportunity to cross the ball. Four players were in the box, awaiting the ball to be crossed. However, he slowed the tempo of the attack, came inside and passed backwards, which completely killed the attack.
Over the 90 minutes, Zulte Waregem attempted 18 crosses into the box, but only four of them were accurate.
Sporting Charleroi are the team to beat in the Belgian Pro League so far this season. Maximum points, a single goal conceded and a five-point lead has been a fantastic start to the season. It was a disciplined performance by Karim Belhocine’s men against a Zulte Waregem team that lacked final third quality all afternoon.
Charleroi will look to make it six out of six when they entertain Beerschot on Friday evening. Zulte Waregem face a greater task, with league champions Club Brugge visiting on Sunday. Dury will look for considerable improvement, especially offensively after creating so little on this occasion.