Belgian First Division A 2019/20: KV Mechelen vs KRC Genk – Tactical analysis


Saturday saw KV Mechelen play KRC Genk in the Belgian First Division A. The newly-promoted side and the champions had met each other in the Belgian Supercup where KRC Genk was victorious. This encounter was completely different with a 3-1 win for KV Mechelen, as this tactical analysis will show.

In this analysis supported by statistics and tactics, we will have a look at three tactical trends during this Belgian First Division A-game. We will look at the attacking style of play of KRC Genk, how KV Mechelen pressed with their 4-4-2 formation and how the home side had a direct style of passing in this tactical analysis piece.


Line-ups KV Mechelen vs KRC Genk

KV Mechelen employed a 4-4-2 formation in this Belgian First Division A game with Rob Schoofs and Jelle Van Damme as central defensive midfielders. They had no neutralise the KV Mechelen threat. The two strikers who were responsible for the threat in front of the KRC Genk goal were William Togui and Gustav Engvall.

The away side KRC Genk played with a slightly different approach than they did in the Belgian Supercup. This time round they employed a 4-2-3-1 formation with two defensive midfielders and three attacking midfielders in front of that defensive pairing of Bryan Heynen and Sander Berge. Mbwana Samata was the sole striker in this system.

Attacking style of play KRC Genk

KRC Genk want to prolongate their title of last season and want to achieve that with an attacking style of play, even in away games. We look at a few different approaches the reigning champions used in this game.

Firstly, their wingbacks are instrumental in their attacking style of play. When their wingbacks Jere Uronen and Joakim Mæhle move up, the attacking midfielders and striker make their way towards the box.

Uronen makes a run down the line.

In the image above, you see left wingback Uronen on the ball, making a run down the line. At the moment that Uronen reaches the halfway line, the attacking players make their way forward, as you can see in the image below.

Uronen has the ball, the attacking midfielders and striker, make their way towards the box

Uronen could pass the ball to Joseph Paintsil on the left-hand side, but in this situation opted for the through ball to Benjamin Nygren. While this was a high-risk pass to do, it posed to be a threat to the KV Mechelen defence.

Right wingback Mæhle does the same as Uronen, he makes a run down the line and has two options going forward: a) to give a cross or b) make an action and cut inside.

On the other flank, Mæhle did something the same, where he moved up on the pitch and made a run down the line. After doing that the wingback often had different options. He could cross the ball into the box for the attacking players to attack it or he would cut inside and create a shooting opportunity for himself.

Another example of KRC Genk’s attacking play could be found in the way that their defence stood high up on their own half and tried to start the attack from there. Instrumental to this was the passing from their central defensive duo Sèbastien Dewaest and Carlos Cuesta.

Central defensive duo Dewaest and Cuesta playing close to the opponent’s half.

In the image above you can see that defensive line is quite high up the pitch. Which means that the central defenders also are more involved in the attacking style of play. Uronen played higher up on the pitch which meant that Dewaest had more space to make his way forward too.

Dewaest passes to Hagi, who wants to turn into the middle.

Dewaest has the ball on the opponent’s half and opts to pass to Ianis Hagi, instead of going down the line to Uronen. Hagi wants the ball and tries to turn inside, but is well defended in this instance. This style of play would give them some space through the middle in which they could form a threat. Instrumental to that was the passing accuracy of the central duo Dewaest and Cuesta. Dewaest had 99 passes of which 91 arrived at a teammate, which is a percentage of 92%. Cuesta had a less high number with 62 of 85 passes arrives, which is a percentage of 85%.

Positional attacks KRC Genk during the game vs KV Mechelen

The attacks that KRC Genk conducted were distributed evenly, but the most threat came from the right side when Mæhle made a run down the line and assisted the attacking players. 80% of the expected goals were created from the right flank.

KV Mechelen pressing with 4-4-2

KV Mechelen had to deal with the attacking style of play by KRC Genk. The way they tried to do that was with different forms of pressing. The first system of pressing was the way that the attackers pressed when the KRC Genk defenders had the ball.

When one of the central defenders had the ball in a situation where that particular defender wanted to move up, KV Mechelen pressed that defender with both the strikers, as you can see in the image below.

When a central defender of KRC Genk had the ball and tried to move up, both KV Mechelen strikers pressed that particular defender.

Another way the attackers pressed the defenders was when they were turning their back to the opponent’s goal. They would not press one particular defender, but each attacker would press a defender.

Each attacker presses a defender when they turn their back to the KV Mechelen goal.

In the image above you can see that both Gustav Engvall and Togui press the KRC Genk defence when they are turning their back. Also, midfielder Schoofs is on the halfway line is making his way up to add to that press.

The second system of pressing could be identified as the pressing that took place after a free-kick or when the goalkeeper of KRC Genk played it short. KV Mechelen would not press instantly but would start pressing from the halfway line.

The press starts when KRC Genk moves into KV Mechelen’s half.

As soon as they pass the halfway line, KRC Genk would find themselves being pressed by the home side. This is illustrated in the image below, where three players press KRC Genk in an attempt to recover possession of the ball.

Three players press KRC Genk when they get into KV Mechelen’s half.

These were systematic presses by KV Mechelen, but in some phases of the game, they wanted to disrupt the attacking style of play by KRC Genk. Especially the pace of that style of play was something that concerned the home side and they dealt with it in a third way of pressing.

KV Mechelen want to disrupt the attacking style of play and aim to get the pace out of the attack.

Although KRC Genk had an attacking style of play, the way KV Mechelen pressed made it extremely difficult for the reigning champion of the Belgian First Division A. KV Mechelen executed their pressing plan very well.

Direct passing style of play KV Mechelen is the key

If we look at the number of passes in this game, KRC Genk passed a lot more. The away side had 505 passes of which 424 reached a teammate. KV Mechelen had significantly fewer passes – 314 passes of which 227 reached their teammates, but that was not crucial in their win in the Belgian First Division A. It was the style of passing that was the key to their victory.

Their passing style could be characterised as direct passing style. This could be seen in the 1-0 and 2-0 they scored against KRC Genk. In this example, we will explore the 1-0. The 1-0 started with a goal kick from keeper Yannick Thoelen.

Engvall controls the goal kick from Thoelen, while Storm makes a run forward, anticipating the pass from Engvall.

Engvall controls the ball and turns towards the KRC Genk goal and sends Storm on his way. Directly after passing the ball, Engvall runs in the open space and makes himself available to receive the pass again from Nikola Storm.

After Engvall passes to Storm, he heads into the open space and is ready to receive the ball again.

Engvall gets the ball and wrestles with the defender, but is slightly stronger. He looks up and sees that Togui has made his way into the box and cross the ball to the striker. Togui’s powerful header is too strong for the KRC Genk keeper and Togui scores the 1-0 for the home side.

Engvall crosses the ball and Togui scores the 1-0.

KV Mechelen was very dangerous with a quick passing style of play. In just 4 passes they went from the keeper to the cross that led to the 1-0, and KRC Genk could not deal with that direct style of passing. That style of passing was the key to the goals scored by KV Mechelen.

Final thoughts

KRC Genk came into this game as clear favourites against the promoted side. Their attacking style of play led to a few chances, but they could only convert one of them. The home side, however, surprised the reigning champion of the Belgian First Division A with different systems of pressing and their direct style of passing. The latter providing the KV Mechelen to score three goals against KRC Genk. The newly-promoted side is an interesting team to watch this season.

Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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