After joining KRC Genk in the summer of 2017 from AaB, Joakim Mæhle has become one of the most talented full-backs/wing-backs in the Belgian Pro League. His great mix of physical and technical abilities as well as superb performances has attracted the recent interest of two Premier League clubs, Burnley and Southampton. This following scout report and tactical analysis will analyse the strengths and weaknesses of Mæhle’s play what tactics fit him best, and show why it would not be surprising to see these two clubs, and other clubs, fight to sign Mæhle in the near future.
As this heat map above shows, Mæhle lives on the right side of the pitch. Also, while he lines up as a traditional fullback, he excels more in the attacking aspect of the game. A good comparison that could be used is Andy Robertson of Liverpool, a traditional fullback who loves to get forward and play crosses into the box. Another thing to know about Mæhle’s positioning is that he will also come centrally to find space. This does not happen often, and when it does, Mæhle does this to make underlapping runs in behind the defence. He excels in positions just outside the 18-yard box near the byline, which will be discussed in more detail later in this piece.
Mæhle going forward
Without a doubt, Joakim Mæhle’s strongest attribute is his off-the-ball movements and his runs in behind the opposition defence. His blistering pace, accompanied by his good awareness, makes him a danger on counter attacking situations.
As the charts above show, Mæhle ranks highly in the Belgian Pro League when it comes to progressive passes/90 and progressive runs/90, with 9.03 and 4.01 respectively. This shows his ability and desire to get forward, which leads him to also being more favorable in a wingback role. This statistic also shows the stats of attacking players as well, so this highlights even more his prowess going forward.
In the phase of play above, Mæhle is driving forward towards the opponent’s 18-yard box. He lays a pass off to the winger who is staying wide. The opposition fullback moves out wide to cover the winger in possession, which gives Mæhle the space to be able to make a run in behind. He is able to use his pace to get past the man that is marking him, and the winger plays the ball to him as he is making an overlapping run into the box. This results in a shot on target for Mæhle, which forced a good save out of the goalkeeper.
Another thing that Mæhle does well when making these progressive runs is his awareness of his surroundings. In this phase of play above, every Excel Mouscron defender is on the opposite half of the pitch. Mæhle notices this and continues to play wide to the opposite touchline. His teammate notices his positioning and plays the ball to him over the top for him to run onto. This should have resulted in a great chance for Genk to score, but Mæhle takes a poor touch and has to chase the ball out wide. This gives the opportunity for the defenders to get back into position and press him. He is still able to get a cross into the box, but it is poor, and the chance goes begging. This still is able to show Mæhle’s positioning awareness, and the dangerous positions he is able to get himself into going forward.
Overlapping runs are what Mæhle does best. In the phase of play above, notice how once again, the winger stays wide to the touchline. Mæhle plays a pass to the winger, who gets closed down by two opposition defenders. The one defender is supposed to be marking Mæhle, but gets caught ball watching, which results in Mæhle having the freedom to make an overlapping run into the box unmarked. His movement is able to result in a great chance for Genk, but unfortunately, the chance goes begging for them once again. This positional awareness and off-the-ball movement is what makes Joakim Mæhle such an interesting player that the big European clubs are looking for. Most top clubs today look for fullbacks that are able to get forward and join the attack, which is a quality that Mæhle excels at. While this is not the only quality that makes Mæhle tick, this is the quality that defines his style of play the most.
Another ability that Mæhle excels at is crossing. He is very much an early crosser of the ball, so he is someone who prefers to cross the ball from a deeper position, rather than further advanced. His crossing is also something that stands out from the rest of his game, as he does it so often.
Mæhle ranks highly on the number of crosses attempted/90 with 4.69, while also ranking in the middle on accurate crosses/90 with 1.07. While it could be argued that his number of accurate crosses/90 should be higher, it is the dangerous positions that he puts his crosses into that show what he offers in this regard.
Here is one example of the early crosses that Mæhle favours. He receives the ball in a position where he has the space to whip a cross into the box. The space opens up between the two defenders, which allows Mæhle to play the cross through that gap. He plays a great ball into the box, as it finds his teammate’s head, but it is headed wide. Mæhle’s ability to send early crosses into the box gives him an advantage in situations like this. The defenders are still out of position and don’t have the time to be able to mark their man correctly. This gives Genk a major attacking advantage and also explains how Mæhle gets most of his assists from crosses.
This assist chart shows where Mæhle ranks this season in assists for the Belgian Pro League. He has 2 assists with an xA of 1.84, so he is outperforming his xA in this metric. Also, both of Mæhle’s assists have come from crosses, which emphasizes the danger that he presents from them. While his crosses may not always be the most accurate, they do tend to be dangerous when they are delivered into good areas. He does, however, rank low the lowest on the average assists/90 with 0.15, but has the second-highest xA.
Above is one of those assists that Mæhle has gotten from a cross this season. Once again, Mæhle plays the cross early into the box, and it is able to perfectly find the head of the Genk striker who powers it into the back of the net. This all starts from the position that Mæhle is able to find himself in. He is not getting closed down by the defender, so he is able to have the time and space to whip a perfect cross into the box and help lead Genk to three points.
The crossing ability that Joakim Mæhle cements his position as an attack-minded fullback. While he is not poor defensively, the attacking side of his game defines who he is as a fullback. He enjoys to get forward and join the attack and contribute in whatever way he can, but it will hurt him at times defensively. We will next look at that defensive side of his game, where while he can and will put in a shift defensively, it needs some fine-tuning.
While not his strongest attribute, Joakim Mæhle is still a rather capable fullback while defending. While lapses do occur in his game defensively, his work rate and aggressiveness help him greatly in this aspect.
As shown by the charts above, Mæhle ranked rather highly in the Belgian Pro League in the 2019/20 season with defensive duels/90 and % of defensive duels won. His rates of 8.63 and 61.83% respectively ranked rather high in the league against all other defenders.
The phase of play above shows an example of Mæhle’s defensive work rate. Genk lose possession in midfield, and Mæhle is pushed high up the pitch as he was making a run in behind. Instead of slowly jogging back or walking, he runs back to press the opposition in possession from behind. This allows Mæhle to win possession back for Genk and get them going on the attack again from a dangerous position. With how many runs Mæhle likes to make in behind the defence, this ability to track back shows that he rarely gets tired during a match.
Another factor of his defensive side that he excels as is his anticipation. In the phase of play above, the match is nearing its end. The opposition midfielder tries to play a pass towards the touchline and Mæhle is able to anticipate it and jump in front of the loose pass. He then is able to use his pace and burst of acceleration to be able to drive towards the opposition’s box. His ensuing cross results in a goal for Genk and wins them the match on the last kick of the game. While Mæhle succeeded in winning the ball this time, this type of anticipation could be costly for his side at times. If he does not win the ball, Mouscron could have used the space left in behind to get a good chance on goal. The attacking mindset that Mæhle often uses does pay dividends for him defensively.
A final point on Mæhle defensively is that he is not afraid to put his body on the line. In this phase of play, he is about to engage in a 50-50 challenge inside his own 18-yard box. The Oostende player is able to get to the ball first, but Mæhle is able to use his body to block the shot and clear it out of danger. Now while there are moments when Mæhle has lapses in his concentration defensively, he is able to spot and react to impending danger. This shows one of those moments. This is also once again able to highlight Mæhle’s ability to anticipate and react to the danger. While Mæhle is very much an attack minded full-back, he is also able to put in a shift defensively. His combination of raw talent and athleticism means that he still has some ways to go to develop the defensive side of his game, but these few instances show that the ability to excel in both phases is possible.
There is no doubt after this analysis as to why Joakim Mæhle is a sought-after full-back by some clubs in Europe’s top five leagues. Bayern Munich, PSG, and Manchester City are just some of the clubs that love having attack-minded fullbacks in their sides. While Mæhle still has some way to go before he could be linked with clubs of that stature, his attacking ability and the potential to improve the defensive side of his game shows why the future is bright for this 23-year old Dane.