The 2019/20 season did not go according to plan for Genk, as they finished seventh in the Belgian First Division A and missed out on the playoff spots. The 2018/19 season however, was one to remember. That season Philippe Clement led Genk to their fourth Belgian title in the club’s history and the first since the 2010/11 season. The summer of 2019 was also the time that Genk broke their transfer record to sign 24-year-old Belgian winger Théo Bongonda from Zulte-Waregam.
Bongonda started his senior career at Zulte-Waregam before moving to Spain and joining Celta Vigo for four seasons. After a quick stop in Turkey he was back in Belgium with Waregem before joining Genk last summer. This scout report and tactical analysis will analyse what Bongonda brings to the table how he may fit into different tactics, and what could also be improved upon.
As the heat map above shows, most of Bongonda’s play occurs on the left-hand side of the pitch, with him also tracking back to defend often. He also likes to drift centrally and also to the right-hand side, but what is most interesting is that he does not really get into the box, a trait of his that I will discuss in more detail later. He is also left-footed, which makes starting off the left-hand side a bit of a curious case. If he were starting on the right, he would at least be able to cut inside on his left to open up for a shot or a pass.
Shooting is something that I would say is one of Theo Bongonda’s most under-the-radar attributes. While he only scored six goals last season, he was able to find himself in positions where he could challenge the goalkeeper and force a save.
As shown above, a lot of shots that Bongonda attempted were on target, and forced the goalkeeper into some type of save. Another note is that Bongonda attempted a lot of shots from outside the box, which coincides well with what his heat map shows us. Being a winger that will come centrally, he is not a fox-in-the-box type of player, instead being someone who likes to finesse from range or hit with power from a distance.
His shots/90 also rank highly among other First Division A players from last season, putting him in the top 50% with 2.39 shots attempted per 90 minutes. Below are some examples of his shooting and positioning in action.
Above shows an example of Bongonda’s ability to work in tight spaces and still find the room to get a shot off. Bongonda is driving forward with the ball at his feet and a defender on his shoulder. The other two Standard Liege defenders come to try and close him down, but he is able to cut inside. He then makes his way to the edge of the 18-yard box and shoots at the goalkeeper who parries it back into the danger area. No goal results for Genk, but Bongonda was able to make a chance from nothing with his footwork and subsequent shot.
While Bongonda does not always move into the box to shoot, this phase of play shows that he is still very capable from either range. He starts this sequence from outside the 18-yard box. No one closes him down so he is able to make his way into the box fairly uncontested. The two defenders then fail to close down the space in between them, and Bongonda is able to attempt a quick fire shot through the space. The shot surprises the goalkeeper, with Bongonda able to put so much force behind it. The shot is saved, but once again drops into the danger area before it is cleared away.
While he only scored six goals last term in the Belgian top flight, Bongonda was still a threat when it came to shooting, but in more of an indirect way as described above. A lot of his shots were hit with enough power to where the goalkeeper was not able to catch and hold onto the ball. Instead, the ball would either be parried out for a corner or put right back into the danger area for Genk to possibly act on. This then created a lot of second ball chances for Genk, with some being able to be converted.
Dribbling is also something that Bongonda excels at. As shown above, in the 2019/20 season, Bongonda ranked in the top 50% of both dribbles/90 and successful dribble/90 with 7.32 and 4.17 respectively. What makes Bongonda dangerous with his dribbling is his ability to turn with pace and blow past defenders. A couple of examples of that are shown below. When it comes to his on-the-ball traits, dribbling could be considered his best.
Above, Bongonda receives the ball at his feet and is instantly closed down by a defender behind him. There is also a defender to his right who is closing him down and limiting his space to turn. Bongonda is aware of the space to his left and is able to quickly turn into the space while holding onto possession. He then drives into the space and is able to keep the play going forward when it looked like his only option was to play it backwards. Being able to turn quickly and open up to create the space is a great talent, and allows more chances to be created that otherwise wouldn’t have in other situations.
Above, Bongonda is able to utilise a burst of pace to get past the defender into the space. As shown, Bongonda is being closed down by the defender in front. He is not able to turn back as the defender is closing him down from behind and cutting out the passing lane to his teammate. This leaves his only option to try and beat the defender with skill and a turn of pace. He is able to do this with relative ease and work his way into the space before finding an open teammate with a pass.
Above is another example of Bongonda using his dribbling and burst of pace to get past the defender. Here Bongonda is 1v1 on the edge of the 18-yard box. As you can see, there is space just inside the box as the defenders are not at the moment trying to close this space down. This gives Bongonda the option to dribble past his man and run into the space. He then tries to pick his teammate out who is running into the box, and this results in a chance for Genk.
When it comes to Bongonda’s ability on the ball, no one can deny that the potential is still there for him to become a very technically skilled player. But what makes Bongonda stand out from other wingers in Belgium is how much he works when his team are not in possession of the ball. This tactical analysis will next cover what makes Bongonda excel when he is not in possession.
When it comes to how Bongonda plays without the ball, his work rate is absolutely superb. From the first minute of the match Bongonda is up in the opponent’s face pressing the ball. This is something that he does throughout the match as well, and not just in the first half. Below are some examples of this high pressing style.
In the above image, Standard are attempting to play out from the back while holding a 1-0 lead. The centre-back is looking to play the ball to the full-back on the near side. Bongonda uses his work rate to be able to press the centre-back in possession. The ball is then played to the fullback who Bongonda then continues to press until the ball is cleared out by the Standard defender. Another thing is how Bongonda came from his wide position to a central position in order the press the ball carrier. This is a common occurrence from him, as Bongonda enjoys to move centrally when Genk are in or out of possession. He does this because of his fantastic work rate, as he is always one of the furthest Genk players forward on most pressing opportunities.
Above Bongonda is staying in his wide attacking position. The ball is played to the Standard full-back who receives it in a poor position. With not much space to turn and clear, the defender chooses to run back towards the byline to try and open up some more space. Bongonda notices this movement and decides to put a high press on the defender. As he closes him down near the byline, Bongonda is able to put enough pressure on the defender that the ball is cleared out of play for a Genk throw. As shown, this occurred in the final third of the match and Bongonda’s work rate and pressing hadn’t dropped. This shows his ability to press throughout, and also have the awareness to be able to spot a good opportunity to close the defender down.
Above, the Sint-Truiden defender has possession of the ball and is looking for his passing options. In this sequence, Bongonda is pressing from behind and eliminating the option for the defender to take his time and turn to look for his teammate behind him, or try and switch the play to the other side. The only option is to pass the ball back to the goalkeeper. Bongonda anticipates this and begins the press the goalkeeper right as the ball is passed. The forces to the goalkeeper to play it long instead of looking for an option shorter to attempt to build up the play. This results in a giveaway by Truiden and an attacking chance for Genk.
This fantastic work rate from Bongonda is one that is prevalent throughout the match, and he never seems to tire that easily. While this work rate is able to help him out really well when he is pressing, it also benefits him greatly while tracking back and doing his defensive work as well.
Defensively, Bongonda is very intent on tracking back and helping his teammates defend, as the images below will show. While he only had 3.25 recoveries/90 last season, which didn’t rank highly in the Belgian league, he did still put in a shift defensively at most times.
As shown above, Bongonda started near the halfway line. He then tracked all the way back to the edge of his own 18-yard box and was able to put the challenge in on the attacker before he was able to attempt a pass. This resulted in winning the possession back for Genk and they were able to start back on the counter. Bongonda could have easily stayed further forwards during this defensive sequence, but he instead used his work rate to track back and help, as Genk were also outnumbered defensively in this phase of play.
Bongonda also has the ability to stop opposition counter attacks if needed. Above, the opposition have possession of the ball and are trying to break on a counter-attack. Bongonda notices this and is able to close down the opposition player with the ball and put in a very good challenge. The ball ends up popping out and finding the Genk defender, who is able to pass back to his goalkeeper and slow everything back down. Another thing to note is Bongonda started this sequence from near the left flank, with him tracking all the way back centrally.
Above, Beveren are in an attacking position near the edge of the Genk 18-yard box. Bongonda is closing the man down and gives him no option other than to run towards the corner flag. Bongonda follows him all the way to the corner while keeping the high press. With no option to turn on find a pass on, Bongonda is able to nick the ball away from him and put it out for a throw-in. Defensively, Bongonda is very capable, and is not a player who would be considered a liability with the defensive side of his game.
While there are not many flaws that exist in Bongonda’s game, there are two minor things that could be worked on.
First are his losses. Bongonda ranked near the top in the 2019/20 season in losses. He ended up with 11.49 losses/90 last season. As shown above, most of these losses occurred in the final third of the field, but there are also some that occurred in more dangerous areas in the middle third and even in Genk’s own 18-yard box. Some of these losses were careless as well, with incidents like dwelling on the ball for too long. Also included in this graph are loose passes too, with once again most of them occurring near the opposition’s 18-yard box. However, there are some that occurred in the middle third and near Genk’s 18-yard box, which resulted in opposition chances.
The second minor weakness for Bongonda is his progressive passes. As shown above, Bongonda only averaged 3.04 progressive passes/90 last season, ranking him near the bottom in the Belgian league in that category. Compare that to his progressive runs/90 of 3.85, which ranked him in the top half in that category. What this shows is that Bongonda is keener on using his dribbling ability to be able to run into the box with the ball as opposed to passing it. While this may not be the worst thing, it may be better for him to try and make more progressive passes as well, which may result in more chances for Genk.
Compared to his 2018/19 season, Bongonda had a fairly quiet season last time out. The undeniable talent is there as this analysis shows, and at still only 24, has plenty of time to be able to refine his skills. As a 21-year old he was linked with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United, and just last season was linked with Scottish giants Celtic. If Bongonda can return to that type of form again, then it would not be surprising if he gets his first call up to the Belgium senior team and those clubs return again for his services sometime in the future.