Club Brugge didn’t finish top in the Jupiler Pro League in the 2018-2019 season as KRC Genk won the title, but their performances on the pitch did sparkle many. Ivan Leko was the mastermind from the touchline, but the leader of the orchestra was Hans Vanaken, as this tactical analysis will show.

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 2017-2018 and won the award again this season. Vanaken was an important player in the 2018-2019, because he was instrumental in Ivan Leko’s 3-5-2 formation. We will explore that in this tactical analysis.

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Ivan Leko’s 3-5-2 of Club Brugge. Hans Vanaken has played the majority of the games on the midfield as a left central midfielder.

As you can see in the image above, Ivan Leko employed a 3-5-2 formation with a five-man midfield. Vanaken usually played in a high block with Ruud Vormer, just in front of defensive midfielder Mats Rits.

On other occasions, Hans Vanaken would move forward and form a striker duo with veteran Jelle Vossen. This happened in 40% of the matches this season, but the place on the midfield was were Vanaken had the most impact on the game.

Attacking style of play

Hans Vanaken played a significant role in the attack. His statistics show that much. He has 17 goals and 16 assists in 40 games played during last season with a pass completion of 84,8%. If you look at his heatmap of the last season, you can see that he mainly moves on the left central midfield, moving a bit more to the left-wing position.

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Hans Vanaken’s heatmap of the 2018-2019 season: he mainly plays on the left-midfield on the opponents’ half.

In reality, this means that Hans Vanaken is involved with the attacking style of play conducted by Club Brugge. Vanaken goes forward and passes the ball to the upcoming versatile wing-backs, in order to create a chance from the flanks. This can be seen in the image below.

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Hans Vanaken creates spaces for the upcoming wing-backs on the left.

Vanaken didn’t only create the space for the cross, but also followed up on that pass. He moved forward into the box in order to receive the pass from the wing-back and make an attempt on goal. He did that on several occasion this season, but you can also see this in the image below in the game against Antwerp.

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Vanaken moves into the box, ready to attack the cross.

Vanaken creates chances for others and himself on the left-hand side, but equally important for the attack, is his partnership with Ruud Vormer. Their attacking block creates a number of chances.

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Vormer and Vanaken with Rits playing behind them.

As said before, Rits played behind those two in a defensive role, while Vanaken en Vormer tried to play high on the opponent’s half. Especially when in control of the attack as can be seen below.

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Vanaken and Vormer play high up Antwerps half to pose a threat to their opponents.

While Vormer was often the central midfielder that dropped a bit more back, Vanaken was the central midfielder who played more progressively. In this pass map below of the game against Antwerp you can see that Vanaken receives a lot of passes going forward and distributes them to the front two.

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Pass map Vanaken against Antwerp.

Vanaken plays closely to the attackers Openda and Wesley, creating a threat on the left side and making life easier for the attackers going forward.

Vanaken created many chances which can be seen in the amount of shot assists and second assists he had through the season. He had 98 passes that lead to a shot from a teammate and 6-second assists, passes that lead to a teammate giving an assist.

Role in defensive shape

As part of the five-man midfield, Vanaken also had his defensive duties in Ivan Leko’s 3-5-1-1 or 3-5-2 formation. When the opponent attacks the five-man midfield helps the defence, as can be seen in the image below.

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The five-man midfield drops down when Club Brugge are under attack. The versatile wing backs and defensive midfielder Rits form a five-man defence.

The role Vanaken had in this type of defensive situation can be seen in the image below, where he is part of the Vanaken-Vormer block that drops down with Rits playing in front of the defence.

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Vanaken and Vormer complete the defensive 5-3-2 set up when being under attack.

Vanaken and Vormer formed the three midfielders alongside Rits. The versatile Club Brugge wing-backs completed the five-man defence, which meant that the defensive 5-3-2 formation was in place when under attack by KAA Gent, like on the image above.

Vanaken and Vormer formed the first defensive line in these situations, and Vanaked did well with that this season. He had 299 recoveries of which 51,8% were on the opponent’s half, 168 interceptions and 38 clearances during this Jupiler League 2018-2019 season.

Prolific midfielder

Next to the tactical analysis, we also had a look at his statistics. His statistics for this season are great. Not only has he scored 17 goals and given 16 assists, but he’s also beating his expected goals (15,67) and expected assists (12,27). This means that he capitalises on the chances he gets or the chances he creates.

His statistics for passing are quite impressive as well. He has made 2673 passes during the season with a pass completion of 84,8% in 40 matches. 433 of those passes were to the final third (75,8% completion), which indicates that he constantly wants to create chances.

Final thoughts

Club Brugge sought to retain their title in the Jupiler Pro League but failed to do so. But that wasn’t of lack of trying of Hans Vanaken. He had a very successful season with 17 goals and 16 assists as this tactical analysis showed. His contribution was vital in the attacking style of playing Club Brugge had and many clubs will look for ways to attract him over the summer.

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