Sporting Charleroi hosted Gent in round thirteen of the 2020/21 Belgian Pro League season. Although they came into the game as league leaders, Charleroi’s form of late has been poor. They had recorded only one win in their past five matches. Gent’s form, on the other hand, has been much more alarming, recording just two wins from their last 11 games in all competitions.
Despite being favourites and having home advantage, it was in fact Gent who took all three points home with them. It was an astute defensive display by Gent, winning 1-0 thanks to a well-taken goal by Osman Bukari. Charleroi did have chances on multiple occasions but were extremely wasteful with their finishing.
Sporting Charleroi manager Karim Belhocine set his team up in the usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Belhocine was without his two new signings; ex-Liverpool and Rangers man Jon Flanagan and Łukasz Teodorczyk, both of whom were not fit. Starting in goal for Charleroi was experienced Frenchman, Nicolas Penneteau. Dorian Dessoleil and Steeven Willems began in central defence with Jules Van Cleemput and Joris Kayembe at full-back. Marco Ilaimaharitra started alongside Ryota Morioko in centre midfield. Former Premier League star Saido Berahino was chosen to play in an attacking midfield role, with Ali Gholizadeh to the left and Mamadou Fall to right. Kaveh Rezaei, who has scored an impressive six goals in eleven league games so far, began up top.
Wim de Decker lined his Gent side up in a defensive 5-3-2 formation. Lining up between the sticks was Turkish international Sinan Bolat. The middle three of the Gent backline was made up of Andreas Hanche-Olsen, Núrio Fortuna and Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui. Full-backs Jordan Botaka and Milan Mohammedi completed five-man backline. In a three-man midfield were Sven Kums, Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe and former Bayern Munich man Niklas Dorsch. Upfront, Roman Besuz partnered Osman Bukari. The duo came into the match with the disappointing record of only one goal scored between them in league action so far this season.
Gent Defensive Shape
Lining up in a 5-3-2, it was clear that Gent were not going into the game with an all-out attack. When Charleroi were in possession in the Gent half, the visitors were very compact in their shape. When they looked to switch the ball, the Gent back five did a fine job of keeping their shape whilst shuffling across the field. Life was made easier by the positioning of Niklas Dorsch and Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe. As we can see in the image below, they shielded the backline when they were out of possession. This minimised the space and cut off the passing lanes that Saido Berahino and striker Kaveh Rezaei were looking to utilise.
When in possession, Gent would transition from a 5-3-2 into a 3-5-2. It was full-backs Jordan Botaka and Milan Mohammedi who pushed high and wide. Charleroi found it difficult to cope with the two extra players pushed up, both of whom constantly found themselves in space. In their 4-2-3-1, Charleroi were set up to play narrow, which again played to the advantage of Gent.
In the image above, we can see the kind of positions that the full-backs were getting themselves in. Striker Rezaei sits behind the ball alongside Berahino, Mamadou Fall and Ali Gholizadeh. However, because they are so narrow, the Gent defenders constantly have the option of switching the ball out wide to break the Charleroi line.
It was Botaka who especially threatened most. The DR Congo international constantly stayed wide with the expectancy of receiving a pass at any time, regardless of where his team had possession. In the image below, we can see the advantage of this. The ball is fired into the feet of Roman Besuz, who dropped deep. Knowing Botaka was hanging on the wide right, he hit a perfect first-time ball to the full-backs feet. Rather than just the threat of a one on one with the opposing full-back, it also created two vs one situations.
Odjidja-Ofoe looked to anticipate this type of ball being played and would look to provide support to the rampaging full-back.
The Gent press
Gent not only defended well from the back, but also from the front. When Charleroi goalkeeper Nicolas Penneteau got the ball, the Gent forwards and midfield looked to make sure they could not play out the back. This happened with great success.
In this image, Penneteau has a goal kick. Whilst his defenders drop short to encourage playing the ball out, they are immediately closed down by Gent players. Instead, the goalkeeper is forced long. This was especially beneficial for Gent, as the Charleroi forward line presented little aerial threat.
It was not just goal kicks that they looked to press. When Penneteau looked to play quickly and get the ball out to his defenders, the pass was often returned backwards. This was due to the speed of the Gent press. A perfect example of this can be seen below.
Right before the half time whistle blew, Gent got their just reward. Joris Kayembe found himself in possession just past midway in his own half. Having found himself crowded out by Gent shirts, he was forced to turn backwards. He sent the ball back to defender Dorian Dessoleil. Gent pounced, with each of the five players in the vicinity of the ball pushing forwards to force Dessoleil back to his goalkeeper.
Dessoleil does just that. However, in his effort to make a straight pass, he completely fluffed his lines and sent a complacent, under-hit pass towards Penneteau. Osman Bukari, a player with a brilliant turn of pace, pounced quickly to latch onto the ball ahead of defender Steeven Willems and finish expertly past Penneteau.
Lack of quality from Charleroi
Whilst the game stayed at 1-0, both teams had multiple chances to score. The best opportunities fell to Charleroi, who were wasteful in their finishing. A number of times they worked the ball around the middle of the pitch well, only to be let down by a lack of quality in the final third. Saido Berahino, a player of quality at this level, had a difficult afternoon as Niklas Dorsch constantly limited his space.
On one of the few occasions of the game in which Berahino did find himself running with the ball towards goal, the result was disappointing. The former England U21 striker advanced well towards the Gent goal. Towards the edge of the box, looking certain to test the opposition goalkeeper, his strike completely lacked quality. It was the kind of Gent keeper Sinan Bolat will have been happy to welcome more of.
Another example of poor quality in the final third can be seen in the image below. Late in the first half, the talented Ali Gholizadeh cut in onto his favoured left foot.
With Kaveh Rezaei running onto goal, all that was needed was a simple but well-weighted ball in front of him. Instead, Gholizadeh completely over hit the pass to let another chance of begging. It was a theme for the night for Charleroi.
Rezaei, as well as Mamadou Fall had other good opportunities to score in the second half, forcing keeper Bolat into good saves. However, the best opportunity of all fell to central defender Dessoleil. Japanese midfielder Ryota Morioko delivered a sumptuous free-kick into the box. Bolat looked to come out, but after realising he was not going to make it, he got himself caught in absolute no man’s land. Bolat was spared his blushes when Dessoleil was unable to capitalize, sending his header wide of the post.
Gent defensive display
Gent had some good fortune due to the Charleroi finishing, but nothing should be taken away from their defensive display. Manager Wim de Decker set his team up well, with some very good individual performances. Defensively, Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui put in a very good shift at centre-back. Through the game he followed Kaveh Rezaei like a hawk, winning the majority of his aerial duels and defensive duels against the forward.
Another notable performance came from midfielder Niklas Dorsch. With Saido Berahino presenting such an attacking threat for Charleroi, Dorsch made sure to keep him quiet throughout the game. He sat deep off Kums and Odjidja-Ofoe to ensure he occupied the pocket of space that Berahino looked to receive the ball.
In the above image, we can see examples of when Dorsch even tracked Berahino into his own defensive backline. This really summarised his determination to stop him at all costs.
An extremely frustrating afternoon of Charleroi was summed up towards the end of the game. Manager Karim Belhocine was sent off for descent towards the fourth official. He will be encouraged by the fact his team are still creating chances. However, that will mean little compared to having to reflect on another defensive mistake and poor quality of finishing.
For Gent, this is a huge step in the right direction. It has been an extremely poor season to date, but de Decker will hope this display will finally properly kick start their campaign. The win takes them to 10th, whilst Charleroi drop to 4th.
Next up for Gent is Zulte Waregem at home on Sunday, which presents a great opportunity for another three points. Charleroi are on the road playing at Eupen on Friday. Eupen have only won two of their 12 games this season.