Match day five of the Belgian First Division A season pitted Beerschot-Wilrijk against KRC Genk at the Olympisch Stadion in Antwerp. This match also had two teams with differing levels of form. Beerschot came into this match as one of the best teams so far this season in the league, winning three of their first four matches. On the other side, Genk sat in the bottom half of the table, after winning one, losing one, and drawing three of their first four matches.
This match turned out to be a very entertaining one as well, with Beerschot coming away from it as 5-2 victors. Genk had to play out the last 20 minutes of the match with nine players as well, with two red cards picked up within ten minutes of each other. This defeat also spelled the end of Hannes Wolf’s time with Genk, with the former Hamburg and Stuttgart manager getting sacked on Tuesday morning. This tactical analysis will show a few tactics that the sides used, as well as analyse them in more detail.
Hernan Pablo Losada lined Beerschot up in their tried and trusted 3-4-2-1 formation, veteran Mike van Hamel lining up between the sticks. Frederic Frans anchored the back three, with former Paris Saint-Germain youth player Pierre Bourdin and Joren Dom either side of him. Tom Pietermaat and Ryan Sanusi anchored the midfield, with the dangerous front three of Raphael Holzhauser, Tarik Tissoudali, and Marius Noubissi in front of them.
Hannes Wolf lined Genk up in a 4-3-3 formation with 35-year old Danny Vukovic in goal. The Colombian partnership of Jhon Lucumi and Carlos Cuesta were flanked by Gerardo Arteaga on the left and West Ham target Joakim Maehle on the right. Daniel Munoz anchored the midfield three, with Kristian Thorstvedt and former Celtic midfielder Eboue Kouassi either side. Record signing Theo Bongonda started off the right wing, with Junya Ito off the left and Paul Onuachu through the middle.
One thing that Genk did really well, at least in the first half, was their pressing. Hannes Wolf set the team up to go and press the ball from the first whistle, which is exactly what they did. The three up top stayed tight to their man and would always press high to try and drive the Beerschot defenders back into their own box. They also would swarm to the ball to close the man with the ball down, with a few instances of this happening, with one shown below.
Above, the Beerschot player has the ball against the touchline. Three Genk players swarm around him and win possession back in their half of the pitch. This pressing strategy also allowed Genk to cut off all of the passing lanes for the Beerschot player, even though there were three unmarked Beerschot players in front of him, he was not able to find an open teammate and as a result, possession was turned over.
The PPDA (passes per defensive action) for Genk was 6.0, meaning that throughout the match, they pressed high and tried to not allow much time for Beerschot on the ball. Compare that to Beerschot’s PPDA, which was 17.4, and it shows how high Genk were pressing, while Beerschot were sitting back and trying to hit Genk on counter attacks. This tactic worked really well in the first half, but dropped off substantially in the second half after Genk went down to nine men. If Genk were able to keep 11 players on the field the whole match, then there was a very good possibility of them getting something from this match.
As mentioned, most of the pressing by Genk occurred in the first half, and while there were occurrences like the one shown above, where the high press and closing down worked really well, they also had some lapses in concentration that occurred while they were trying to press high. Below is an example of this.
Above, Beerschot are trying to play out of the back with Genk pressing them high up the pitch. As shown, each Genk player is assigned to a man to press, but a breakdown in tactics occurs, which leaves the Beerschot player on the far touchline completely unmarked. This occurs as there are two midfielders marking one player, which leads to the breakdown. As a result, the ball is played to the Beerschot player out wide, and they are then able to play through the Genk press with relative ease.
When it came to loose balls with this pressing intensity, any misplaced pass was pounced upon by a Genk defender. While this high press did leave them vulnerable in behind because of their high line, it gave them the threat of winning the ball high up the pitch. Below is an example of this in action.
As shown above, the Beerschot defender plays a poor ball out to the player on the touchline, and Maehle is able to jump in front of the Beerschot man and grab possession of the loose ball. This then allows Genk to start a quick counter attack, which results in a very good chance for Genk that they cannot convert. To be able to press high like this and do it consistently, a squad has to have the right mix of players for it to work well. Genk are definitely a side that have the ability to play like this all the time with their mix of talent. However, this will be something that will have to be watched closely going forward, with Genk now looking for a new manager.
Beerschot’s defensive solidity
While Beerschot are not the most defensively solid team in the Belgian league (7 goals conceded so far this season), their fluidity in defense is something that is very interesting to keep an eye on. Losada has lined his side up every game with a three at the back formation, but this changes throughout the match, depending on the situation that is presented to them. While they have conceded the most goals in the top four of the league, this fluid formation change is vital to Beerschot. Below is an example of this in action.
In this phase of play above, Beerschot are defending with two lines of four. They are also sitting back and letting Genk attack them, instead of trying to press high and leave themselves exposed. Beerschot are not a side that like to press high, they are much more a counter attacking side. Genk held 60% possession in this match, but were not nearly as dangerous when attacking than Beerschot. As shown in these two lines of four, only one Genk player is positioned between the lines, but is not in an open position to receive the ball. The only option for Genk is to play the ball either backwards or out wide to the player on the near touchline. This phase of play does not result in anything for Genk, as Beerschot are able to hold their compact defensive shape.
Above is something else that Beerschot did well defensively. There marking was superb throughout most of the match, and as shown, with the Genk attackers in between the lines, they were dual marking them. This led to numerical advantages in the defensive third for Beerschot, and perfectly set them up to defend most Genk chances. Another thing to point out here is how well Beerschot were able to defend against Onuachu all game. Standing at 6’7” tall, Onuachu is not an easy player to defend aerially. To try and counter this, Beerschot always put two defenders on him to try and limit the amount of chances that Onuachu would get throughout the match. This ended up working out rather well for them, as Onuachu was quiet throughout most of the match aerially.
However, though Beerschot were rather strong defensively throughout, they still had their lapses in concentration as well. Above is one example. Genk have possession and are in the attacking third. There are eight Beerschot men back defending, but two extra Beerschot defenders are caught ball watching, leaving two Genk players unmarked as a result. While the player on the ball is being closed down, and loses possession as a result, there was every chance that Beerschot could have been caught out and conceded a goal that could have really easily been avoided. While Beerschot’s defending is a strong part of their game, it is at times also a weakness. With 7 goals conceded through 5 matches of the new league season, it is the most of any side currently in the top 6 of the league. If they are able to sort out some of these deficiencies, then they could stay high up the table this season.
Attacking through the middle
One thing that both sides did well at was attack through the middle of the field. As the graphic below shows, both sides had their most dangerous chances when attacking through the middle of the field, even if it wasn’t their preferred method of attacking.
As shown, both sides found most of their success through the middle of the field, with Genk utilizing more of the high pressing approach and then trying to carve Beerschot open, while Beerschot sat back and waited to regain possession in a dangerous area to start a counter attack.
This phase of play shows what Beerschot had to work with throughout the match. In the above image, practically everybody is near the far touchline, where the ball is currently in possession of Beerschot. This leaves the unmarked man free to go wherever he likes, as there is no one covering the centre of the field. This was something that Beerschot utilised frequently. With Genk playing their high press throughout, space often opened up in behind for the Beerschot players to run in behind.
What Genk did was more based upon the movements of their striker. Onuachu is a very good target man, and also has very good hold up play, so as a result, Genk played it often to his feet in order for him to hold the ball up and allow his teammates to join the attack around him. While Genk also played it out wider to the wings, this was more used as a decoy so they could draw players out of position, and as a result, cross the ball into the box, where they could try to find Onuachu. While above he is operating further out wide, this is something that he did really well through the centre of the pitch as well, and in the first half at least, it helped to give Genk more flexibility when attacking, though this dropped off in the second half, and when Onuachu was replaced late on by Dessers.
In the first half, this was a very even matchup, and Genk looked the stronger side, and looked more likely to go on and win the match in the second half. However, Genk capitulated in the second half, and Beerschot continued to play really well. After two red cards from Genk, Beerschot went on to win the match 5-2. And now after the dust has settled, Genk have hit the reset button and are on the search for a new manager, while Beerschot are continuing to fly high in their first season in the Belgian top flight. As this analysis has shown, at the moment, both of these clubs look on course to do much different things this term.