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artwork by @chapluana.

In a competition where five clubs are regular contenders for the title, it’s not easy to maintain your hegemony. Club Brugge appointed Ivan Leko at the beginning of the 2017/2018 season. He was an instant success winning the league championship in his first year in the Jupiler Pro League. In his second year, he is trying to scale similar heights. However, KRC Genk is proving a worthy rival and are currently in pole position to win the title. In this head coach tactical analysis, we look at the functional ideologies of Ivan Leko in the 2018/2019 season supported by statistics.

How does Ivan Leko’s philosophy come across in his second season as a head coach in Belgium? Does his outfit make a chance to win the title again? 

Formation

Ivan Leko’s Club Brugge side has played in a variety of formations this seasons. They have played in a 4-4-2, a 3-5-2, a 3-5-1, a 3-4-3, a 5-3-2, and a 3-4-2-1 formation. The most used by Leko in this season is the 3-5-2 formation (48%) followed by the 3-5-1-1 (24%) formation. Ivan Leko favours a three-man defence.

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Club Brugge 3-5-2 vs Standard Liege

The 3-5-2 formation as portrayed above has been used in the recent title play-off games, sometimes changing to a 3-5-1-1 formation. In the game against Standard Liege, they played with Wesley Moraes and Siebe Schrijvers up top, but over the season they have used other strikers too. Jelle Vossen and Hans Vanaken often play as the two strikers as well.

The wing-backs in the formation above are Krépin Diatta and Emmanuel Dennis, but Club Brugge plays with Thibault Vlietinck on the right on several occasions. The five midfielders are of great importance to the way Club Brugge play both offensively as defensively. It’s the core of this Club Brugge team.

In the scenario portrayed below, Club Brugge plays with three central midfielders D Vanaken, Mats Rits, and Ruud Vormer, and with two wing-backs: Diatta and Dennis.

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Club Brugge’s five-man midfield

The five-man midfield all have different individual roles to play. In the game against Standard Liege, this was slightly different. In the above example, Rits was the midfielder that played closest to the back-three, while Vanaken and Vormer stayed closer to the strikers, trying to assist them in creating goalscoring opportunities.

Defensive shape

The majority of the games (3-5-2 or 3-5-1-1) under Ivan Leko are played with three defenders and five midfielders. Defensively, there are three central midfielders with defensive duties, which you can see in the image below. Essentially, there are two lines of three defensive-minded players.

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Club Brugge’s central midfield in defence

When Club Brugge was under attack, the wing-backs drop down and join the defenders so there is a back five, as the image below portrays.

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Diatta and Dennis drop to the defence

The five-man defence is assisted by the rest of the midfield, which makes the formation into a 5-3-2 when under attack from KAA Gent.

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Rits played in front of the defence and Vanaken-Volmer completed the defensive set up

When the five-man midfield drops down as a whole, Club Brugge’s defensive shape becomes more visible. Five defenders with Rits playing in front of the defence. The attacking midfielders Vanaken and Vormer complete the shape.

Versatile wing-backs

The key to the attack or the defence is the wing-backs. In the games against Standard Liege and KAA Gent, Diatta and Dennis were the wing-backs. In the game against Mouscroun, Diatta and Vlietinck were the wing-backs. These wing-backs play a great part in the defence, as we have seen above. However, going forward those wing-backs are of great influence as well, as illustrated in the image below in the game against Mouscroun.

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Club Brugges wing-backs making runs down the line

Vlietinck and Diatta keep the playing field wide, which means that there is room in the middle for Vanaken and Vormer to create. This also leaves either Vlietinck or Diatta unmarked which could the side create chances from wide.

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Vlietinck gets the ball on the right flank and is ready to cross the ball into the box

How do the wing-backs contribute to the attacks under Leko? The simple answer is the width. They have the freedom to receive the ball without pressure and cross the ball into the box, as you can see in the image above. Vlietinck gets the ball from Vormer and crosses the ball, while Vormer makes a run in the box. Together with strikers Wesley and Schrijvers, Vormer attacks this cross.

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Diatta gives a through ball to Vanaken

Diatta gets the ball high on the opponents half and instead of giving a cross, he gives a through ball to Vanaken. He then delivers a cross, but the important point here is the wing-backs have multiple options going forward, giving Club Brugge a better chance at creating goalscoring opportunities from the wide areas.

Key players going forward

We discussed this earlier but Vormer and Vanaken are quite important going forward. A five-man midfield leaves Club Brugge with plenty of attacking options. We will take a closer look at the pair of Vormer and Vanaken.

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Vanaken and Vormer are the creative midfielders

Hans Vanaken signed for Club Brugge in 2015, when he came from Sporting Lokeren. Vanaken was voted as the best player of the season in the Jupiler Pro League and won the award again this season. That’s no real surprise as he’s having quite the season. He has played 37 games this season, scoring 13 goals in the league, making 13 assists and 84.6% pass completion.

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Vanaken’s 2018/2019 heatmap. Credit: Wyscout

While he has played as a left central midfielder in most games, he likes to go deeper into the opponent’s half and cause damage there, the statistics speak for themselves. His partner Vormer has been instrumental to their attacking success as well. His stats might not be as impressive as Vanaken, but he managed to get six goals, six assists and has a pass completion of 82.8%.

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Vormer’s 2018/2019 heatmap. Credit: Wyscout

He plays as a right central midfielder who likes to deep into the opponents half as well. Together with Vanaken they orchestrate the attacks from the midfield. They often have two options going forward. Option one is to give a through ball to the strikers. Ivan Leko instructs his players to press the opponent the second they lose the ball, as is the case in the image below.

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Vanaken presses the midfield of Gent and recovers the ball

Vanaken’s pressing leads to the recovering of the ball by Club Brugge and Rits quick pass means that Club Brugge has the advantage of going forward with Vanaken making a run towards the box.

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Vanaken making a run towards the box

When Rits makes the pass to Dennis, Vanaken switches from pressing the midfielders to making a run towards the box.

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Vanaken plays a through ball to Wesley

Vanaken gets the ball back from Dennis and is looking for an opening to pass the ball. On this occasion, Vanaken passes the ball through to Wesley. This doesn’t lead to a goal on this occasion, but this is one of the options of how the Vanaken-Vormer block attacks.

Another option is to make run down the line and produce a cross. In the game against KAS Eupen, Vormer does exactly that.

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Vormer moving down the line

Vlietinck recovered the ball on his own half and makes his way forward. Vormer goes with him and tries to get in a position to receive the ball.

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Vormer swinging in the cross

Vormer gets the ball from Vlietinck and makes a run down the line before he crosses the ball into the box. There are two people ready to attack this cross, the two strikers Wesley and Schrijvers. This option of creating a goalscoring opportunity is also used by Vormer and Vanaken.

Final thoughts

Ivan Leko’s Club Brugge has been a tactically adept side this season. Their 3-5-2 formation was designed to both defend compact with their 5-3-2 when under attack, but also to be creative going forward with Vanaken and Vormer. This tactical analysis broke down his key fundamental ideologies and there is a better understanding of how he has performed this season.

They entered the playoffs for the title as second-placed, but one team seems to be better this year: KRC Genk. Nonetheless, Ivan Leko is having a decent season so far and has taken this Club Brugge side even further, after winning the title last year.


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Marc Lamberts

My name is Marc Lamberts. Freelance journalist and Arts & Culture student. Football fanatic. Love 3-5-2. UEFA C. 27. Dutch.
Marc Lamberts