Big things were expected of Vincent Kompany’s move into management. A leader on and off the pitch during his time as a player, his return to Anderlecht, where he started his career back in 2003, was supposed to mark the beginning of a successful managerial career. It has so far not worked out that way, with zero wins and three loses from the first five games of the season. In this Belgian Pro League fixture against Genk, Anderlecht were beaten 1-0.
A goal from Mbwana Samatta in the 55th minute decided the tie, with the home side digging in to nullify the Anderlecht attack, restricting them to just two shots on target. Genk’s tactics meant they had only 40% of possession, which may seem odd considering they were the home side, facing an out of form team. However, Felice Mazzu got his tactics spot on, enabling them to hold on to the slim lead and continue his side’s solid start to the season.
The most notable thing about the formations was Anderlecht starting with a 4-3-3, for only the second time this season. In three of their previous four matches, they had begun with a 4-1-4-1, but as results had not been going their way, Kompany and his assistant Simon Davies opted for this change, in an attempt to add more attacking options to their side. Samir Nasri was pushed further forward to occupy the most advanced position, with Nacer Chadli on the left of the front three, and Francis Amuzu on the right.
Genk set up in their usual 4-2-3-1, with Bryan Heynen and Sander Berge tasked with sitting in front of the back four. Junya Ito and Joseph Paintsil provided the width in attack, tasked with getting passes and crosses into the inform Samatta.
Anderlecht’s front three
Having only scored three goals in their opening four fixtures, it was clear that a change was required if Anderlecht were going to start scoring more frequently. Out went Isaac Kiese Thelin, who had been leading the line in the previous game against KV Kortrijk, with Nasri being moved into the middle to be the focal point of attack. It was rare to see him playing in this position; for the majority of his playing career, he has been a number 10 or wide on the right. For Anderlecht he has played mainly in the heart of midfield, even ending up just in front of the defence for a period in the 4-2 loss against Kortrijk, so it was interesting to see how this new position would work out.
Straight from the first minute, it appeared that Anderlecht’s front free would be pressing the Genk centre-backs. With the midfield three also being compact in the middle of the pitch, it meant Genk would be forced to either go long towards their forwards or have to move the ball wide quickly to break through the press. Kompany’s side were initially very disciplined when off the ball, working hard to limit both the time and space in an attempt to win it back much nearer the opposition goal.
Having a fluid front three can be a huge benefit to any side, as seen with the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool. Amuzu started on the right side of the attack but is considered to be strong with both feet. Therefore, he will always have the option of going down the line and crossing with his right, or cutting inside and shooting with this left.
When going forward and attacking, all of the front three were making intelligent runs, in an attempt to drag defenders out of position and to make space in more central areas. With Nasri’s dash from a central position out to the right, a gap in the middle opened up, allowing Amuzu the space to move into and shoot from the edge of the area. It harmlessly went wide and lead to nothing, but this smart movement implied it was likely going to produce further goal scoring chances.
The issue came in the second half when Nasri started dropping deeper as he wasn’t seeing enough of the ball. Given his natural position in the centre of the pitch, this was always likely going to happen the further the game progressed, as he looked to become more involved and create opportunities from deeper positions.
Here we see him almost on the halfway line, picking up a pass from the defence, with his back to goal. The problem with this is that neither centre-back followed him, leaving them both free to mark the two wide players. Ideally one of the midfielders would have been the one to pick this ball up, with then Nasri offering an additional option further up the pitch. Because of situations like this, Anderlecht struggled to create anything clear cut. It wasn’t until Luka Adzic came on for the last 20 minutes that Anderlecht’s attacking threat returned, but by this time it was too late, and the game was beyond them.
The worrying stat for Anderlecht is that they had almost double the number of shots than Genk (16 to 9) but half the amount on target (2 to 4). This has been a trend throughout their opening games this season. So, despite the clever runs and fluid movement of their attackers, there is still much work to be done in front of goal.
Genk were victorious in last year’s championship playoffs in the Belgian First Division, and it was mainly thanks to the goals of Mbwana Samatta. His 20 goals in 27 games were remarkable, especially when he only managed 16 in his previous three seasons at the club. Not just a goal scorer, his movement across the line is intelligent, always looking to run across the centre-backs to receive balls in wide areas.
Occupying a central position here, Samatta gives himself several options. One is to run left towards the back post, anticipating a cross from Casper de Norre. Considering Kompany’s height advantage and strength in the air, this option seems unlikely to succeed. Therefore, the Tanzanian striker takes the option of running into the channel, with the ball coming down the line into his feet. This then creates space behind him as Kompany had to follow the run, inviting his teammates to attack into the box. Selfless runs like this would necessarily bring him goals, but it will open up chances for other players.
It is also Samatta’s link-up play, ability to switch the ball and begin attacking moves that sets him apart from other strikers in the Belgian Pro League. For the build-up to the goal, he receives the ball in an inside left position. Looking up and seeing Ito in space, he hits a 50-yard pass into the Japanese attacker’s feet. Not content with admiring the pass, he then sets off toward the penalty area.
With Kompany being dragged towards the ball, and the midfielders not anticipating the run, Samatta had plenty of space to fire his shot into the top left corner. The classic number 9 was notoriously one dimensional, wanting the ball played into the six-yard area and often being very isolated from the teams’ build-up play. Samatta is a totally different kind of player; intelligent running, aware of the space around him, and being involved in the build-up of attacks, as well as finishing off chances.
Anderlecht’s high line
The high defensive line is a risky style of play that sees a team push up in order to shut down the amount of time an opposition has to play. However, it requires high levels of skill and cohesion as the team stepping up leaves spaces to run into. It is unusual to see it away from home against the defending champions, even more so when considering Kompany’s lack of pace.
As mentioned previously Anderlecht were pressing high up the pitch, meaning the space in the middle of the pitch was incredibly small, forcing passes to be hit either long or wide. Kompany moved forward to get tight to Joseph Paintsil, but then immediately has to retreat as a ball is played behind him. In this case, his centre-back partner Phillipe Sandler (on loan from Manchester City) covers the run of Samatta to snuff out the chance, but it illustrates the dangers playing the high line can cause.
Later in the first half, Genk managed to play through the press, with Bryan Heynen picking up the ball just inside the opposition half.
Kompany charged out in an attempt to push the line up even further, trying to close Heynen down whilst looking play the front three all offside. However, he was the only one who moved forward, so he left a gap behind him. The right-back Killian Sardella is then forced to move across to cover him, leaving a giant gap in behind. Again, the dangers of the high line are on show here- Heynen has three options to aim for, and it forces the Anderlecht players to run back towards their goal, which all defenders are loathed to do.
Vincent Kompany has been a superb defender over his career. He is a great passer, sharp in the tackle, and every now and then can even hit a screamer from 25 yards to help his side win the title. But his age and long injury record have taken its toll on the Belgian defender, and now struggles against players with pace, and balls in behind.
A famous example from last season, where a loose ball from John Stones forced Kompany into a rash challenge on Mo Salah, who would’ve been through on goal had he not been taken down. It was a poor tackle, which the Belgian was lucky to escape with only a yellow card. But it does highlight how this issue with high lines is not something new for this season.
The analysis shows how despite a positive start from Anderlecht, their troubles continued and are now winless in their first five games of the season. Having more shots and denying the space for the opposition to play into is all very well and good. But if you cannot convert your chances, and allow the other team to finish theirs, then you will struggle to win football games. With Kompany ruled out for the next few games with a hamstring injury, he will hope he can turn his side’s fortunes around from the side-lines, in their next game against top of the table Standard Liege.