Match day 9 of the Belgian Pro League season matched KRC Genk against Sporting Charleroi at the Luminus Arena. Both sides came into this match in similar runs of form, with Charleroi coming off a loss to Standard Liege, and Genk coming off back-to-back draws with new manager Jess Throup at the helm. After a very eventful 90 minutes, it was Genk who came away with a 2-1 win, giving Throup his first win since he took charge of Genk, and at the same time, ending Charleroi’s run of 8 straight match days sitting on top of the Belgian Pro League table. This tactical analysis will break down tactics used by both manager, and analyse what dictated this result.
Jess Thorup decided to change his formation up a little for this match, opting to start in a 3-4-3 formation. 35-year old Australian Danny Vukovic started in goal behind the Colombian trio of Jhon Lucumi, Carlos Cuesta, and Daniel Muñoz. Jere Uronen and Joakim Mæhle were the wingbacks, with recent Rangers target Patrik Hrosovsky and Kristian Thorstvedt as the central midfield pairing. The front three consisted of rumoured former Chelsea and Liverpool target Theo Bongonda and Junya Ito out wide, with target man Paul Onuachu operating through the middle.
Karim Belhocine lined up Charleroi in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Nicolas Penneteau started in goal behind a back four of Joris Kayembe, Dorian Dessoleil, Steeven Willems, and Jules van Cleemput. Marco Ilaimaharitra and Ryota Morioka sat deep, with Mamadou Fall, Saido Berahino, and Ali Gholizadeh starting further advanced. Kaveh Rezaei was the main striker.
Genk’s Back Three
For the first time in Jess Throup’s short time so far as Genk manager, he opted to start with a back three in defence. This strays away from the system Genk have normally been using this season, with the two managers prior to Throup also utilising a back four system. Throup decided to take a risk with the back three, and for the most part his risk was able to pay dividends. The following examples will show how this back three operated throughout the match.
Above shows that basic setup that was used by Genk for the majority of this match. All three centre-backs are relatively level with each other and are fairly stretched out. While this is not a good thing to be when defending against an opposition attack, Genk used this wide back three often when in possession near their own 18-yard box. This allowed Charleroi to be more spaced out in the midfield, which opened passing lanes for the centre-backs to pass into. It also allowed Charleroi to become more aggressive in defensive scenarios. This allowed space in behind for Genk’s wingbacks to run into, which will be discussed in more detail later.
Another thing that this back three offered Genk was positional flexibility. As shown above, Jhon Lucumi leaves the back three in order to press the opposition attacker with the ball. As a result, Joakim Mæhle leaves his wingback position in order to cover for Lucumi and create a man advantage near the 18-yard box. This then allows Genk to play tight and compact to be able to defend this attacking moment from Charleroi. It also allows no space for the opposition attackers to run behind the defence. This tactical awareness by Mæhle allows the back three to stay together, and also shows the flexibility that playing with wingbacks offers Genk when they are in a defensive moment.
One change that Thorup made to his back three in the second half is the compactness when they were in possession of the ball. As shown above, as opposed to the start of the first half, the three centre-backs are playing tighter when in possession. One thing the Thorup must of noticed tactically in the first half was how advanced and dangerous his wingbacks were able to go. This tighter back three also forced Charleroi, as a result, to tighten up in the midfield, which allowed plenty of space on either wing for the wingbacks to run into.
This is something that Genk looked to exploit at every possible moment, which will be discussed in more detail later. As a result, the back three looked rather strong for Genk to finish out this match, with this defensive performance one of their best all season so far. Genk looked like a different team defensively this match than they have the whole season prior to this match, so this could be the system that helps Thorup propel Genk back up the table into the top six positions of the Belgian Pro League.
Charleroi Attacking the Wings
With Genk using a high pressure three at the back formation, space down the wings was bound to open up for Sporting Charleroi to exploit. This was evident by watching the match and looking at all the statistics afterwards, as the attack chart below points out.
As shown above, in the attack map, 93% of Charleroi’s attacks went down either flank, with only 7% going through the middle of the pitch. This was mostly due to the positioning of Genk’s wingbacks, with them always pushing far up the pitch, usually inside the opponent’s 18-yard box. Below are some examples of this in action from the match.
In this phase of play above, Charleroi are able to play a ball over the top and break the lines of the Genk defence. Joakim Mæhle is pushed up the pitch in the attacking third, and therefore, gives space for Mamadou Fall to run into. A great ball is played over the top from the Charleroi midfielder. As a result, Muñoz has to come out of the back three to be able to defend this chance from Charleroi. This displaces the back three and allows a very good chance for Charleroi to score. However, Genk survive this attack, and as the match progressed, made sure that they had enough men back to prevent these Charleroi counter-attack opportunities.
This also happened in the second half on the opposite side of the pitch. Here, the Charleroi player is once again in possession and driving into the 18-yard box. Again, one of the three centre-backs is forced to come wide to close the player down. The wingback, Uronen, circled in yellow, is way out of possession after possession was turned over in midfield by Genk. This does not result in a goal for Charleroi, but it did result in a very good chance. While this is not the kind of chances that Throup wanted his Genk side to be giving up, Belhocine’s men will be ruing their missed chances from these kinds of positions. If Charleroi were more decisive in these situations, they could have left the Luminus Arena with at least a point or even three, instead of leaving empty-handed.
The attack of Genk’s wingbacks
In Joakim Mæhle and Jere Uronen, Genk have two of the most dangerous wingbacks in the Belgian Pro League. Both players are capable at defending, but what they excel at most is the attacking side of their games. During this match, these attacking qualities shined brightly, with both wingbacks being involved in many chances, and were the most creative players on the pitch for Genk. The following examples show this attacking play in action.
In this phase of play, the Genk centre-back plays a very good ball over the top for Uronen to run onto in behind. He is able to find himself in this space as a result of Theo Bongonda, circled in yellow, dropping off into a deeper position to allow the space for Uronen to run in behind. This is one tactic that Genk used on both wings, with Bongonda and Ito dropping off in certain moments to allow the space for Uronen and Mæhle to run into. This phase ends up resulting in a dangerous chance for Genk, but the end product is not there.
This phase of play results in a very good chance for Genk as well, and it also originates from one of the wingbacks. This chance comes as a result of a loose ball bouncing around in the midfield. A majority of the Charleroi defenders are caught ball watching, and Mæhle uses his tactical awareness to get past the Charleroi defence and run onto the ball that was sent in behind. Mæhle now has acres of space for him to run into and create a very good chance for the Genk forwards. However, Mæhle is tracked down inside the box and the ball is forced out for a goal kick.
This was a scenario where Mæhle could have played an early ball into the box. He also could have shot when he had space and tested the goalkeeper. However, none of these happened, and the great chance goes to waste for Genk. This, however, did not stop Mæhle from continuing his forward runs into great spaces, and he eventually got his reward.
Here Mæhle finds himself in the midfield after drifting inside from his right wingback position. Mæhle finding himself in this position is able to create a 3v3 with the second line of Charleroi defenders. Mæhle is able to notice the space in between the lines and begins to dribble his way through into the Charleroi 18-yard box. He is then able to get past the last line of Charleroi defenders and fire a shot across the goalkeeper into the back of the net. This goal ends up being the winner for Genk and shows that attacking prowess described earlier of the Genk wingbacks, especially that of Joakim Mæhle.
Jess Throup may have found his best formation for this Genk side from this win against Sporting Charleroi. The three at the back formation allows Thorup to utilise his best centre-backs all at the same time, as well as using his two wingbacks in their natural position. While both Mæhle and Uronen are both capable as fullbacks in a back four, utilising them as wingbacks in a back three allows Throup to use these two players to their strengths.
This match was one that was a very open, tactical battle. This tactical analysis showed a lot about the mindsets of both managers coming into this match. Belhocine stuck with his tried and true 4-2-3-1 formation, while Thorup tinkered with a 3-4-3 and was able to find instant success. Sporting Charleroi are now forced to go back to the drawing board after now being winless in their last three matches in all competitions, and not being able to progress through to the group stages of the UEFA Europa League. Genk meanwhile, are unbeaten in Jess Throup’s first three matches as their manager and must be hoping that the man who brought Gent back into the Champions League qualifier this season, can have the same impact on Genk that Philippe Clement had when he helped them to the title a few seasons ago.