Belgian Pro League 2019/2020: Cercle Brugge v Club Brugge – tactical analysis

Belgian Pro League 2019/20: Cercle Brugge vs Club Brugge - tactical analysis tactics

Derbies against your bitter rivals are amongst the most hotly anticipated games of the season. The fans of each side are desperate to win and to have the bragging rights over the opposition fans for following months. This was the 167th meeting between Cercle Brugge and Club Brugge, a fixture that dates all the way back to 1901. In this Belgian Pro League fixture, Club Brugge came out on top, beating Cercle Brugge 2-0

Both wide forwards were on strike for Club Brugge: Krepin Diatta opened the score during the first half with Emmanuel Dennis adding the second just after the hour mark. Cercle struggled to get into the game, seeing only 35.76% of the ball. Each team had four shots on target, but Clube Brugge were much more clinical, as seen by their XG (1.88) compared to their opponents (0.94).

This tactical analysis will look to provide an in-depth analysis into each side’s tactics, to see how Clube Brugge manager Philippe Clement set up his team to dominate the game, leading to his side being victorious yet again in this inter-city (and inter-stadium) derby.


Cercle manager Frans Schotte set up his side in a 3-5-2, a formation they have only used for 10% of their game time this season. Corentin Fiore and Giulian Boancone were tasked with providing the width as wing-backs, while Alimami Gory and Idriss Saadi were the focal points at the front of the attack. Club Brugge also lined up with a reasonably unfamiliar 4-2-3-1 set up. Clinton Mata started at right-back but had the freedom to get forward to help assist Dennis to help double up on the Cercle Brugge wing-back. Diatta started on the left of the midfield three, with Federico Ritta giving support from left-back, playing a more disciplined defensive role than Mata on the opposite side.

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Cercle’s struggle with 3-5-2

 It has been a difficult start to the season for Cercle Brugge, having lost five of their opening six games of the Belgian Pro League season. Previous formations of 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 were evidently not working, so manager Schotte opted for a 3-5-2, in an attempt to try and outnumber Club Brugge’s midfield. Having three centre-halves should have also released the wing-backs from the majority of their defensive duties, enabling them to get forward. However, the wing-backs repeatedly found themselves pinned back, struggling to get into advanced positions.

Belgian - Pro-League 2019 - Cercle Brugge - vs - Club Brugge - tactical - analysis- tactics
Both wing-backs were forced to drop deep to aid their centre-backs

Early on in the game both Fiore on the left and Boancone on the right found themselves well into their own half to help stop an attack. When the ball was eventually won back, both wide players were still very deep, leaving the two strikers completely isolated in attack. It can be natural for teams to play 3-5-2 when in possession, and 5-3-2 when the opposition have the ball.  However, it does rely on the wing-backs getting up and down the pitch, to give options when attacking. This simply didn’t happen for Cercle during the opening hour of this game.

Another issue when playing this formation, and not having the wing-backs pushed up when out of possession, means that the opposition full-backs will be afforded a lot of time on the ball. With the two central strikers sitting on the two-opposing centre-halves, Club Brugge’s full-backs never felt under any real pressure.

Belgian - Pro-League 2019 - Cercle Brugge - vs - Club Brugge - tactical - analysis- tactics
Ritta has plenty of space to move into down the left-hand side

With Gory and Saadi staying in central positions, the left-back Ritta had time to move up the pitch into the opposing half, without being pressed or hurried into a mistake. Playing with wing-backs is meant to deny this time on the ball, with them being able to push up or sit deep, depending on the situation. But throughout the first half and for large parts of the second, Cercle’s wing-backs were so concerned on sitting back and repelling attacks, meaning they struggled to get into forward positions.

Attacks down the right- hand side

It was noticeable very early on in the first half that the majority of Club Brugge attacks were coming down the right-hand side of the pitch. With the right-back Mata not being marked and with time on the ball, it meant he was able to get forward and contribute to the attacking moves.

Belgian - Pro-League 2019 - Cercle Brugge - vs - Club Brugge - tactical - analysis- tactics
Nearly two-thirds of attacks came down the right flank

The real danger down this side of the pitch was Emmanuel Dennis. His speed and clever movement meant he was always a threat, wherever he was receiving the ball in positions further up the pitch, or if he dropped deeper, giving him space to run into.

Belgian - Pro-League 2019 - Cercle Brugge - vs - Club Brugge - tactical - analysis- tactics
Large gap on the right-hand side opens up

This situation highlights the number of options that Club Brugge had down this side of the pitch. The space in behind the Cercle full-back means there are two midfield runners, Hans Vernaken and Ruud Vormer, who are able to make runs into the channel. For this example, Dennis played a pass into the highlight space to Vormer.

Belgian - Pro-League 2019 - Cercle Brugge - vs - Club Brugge - tactical - analysis- tactics

At the same time, Vernaken anticipated this and made a run towards into the area. Neither defender followed him, so he was open to receive the ball from Vormer. A quick one-two had the ball back with Vormer, who only had to play a simple ball across the six-yard-area to Diatta, and Club Brugge were 1-0 up.

While having midfielders making intelligent runs into space was how the first goal came about, there were a number of times when Dennis looked to get to the by-line himself and cut the ball back across the six-yard box. This is something that Man City have become known for over the past few seasons under Guardiola: having players move from the wide starting positions to narrow attacking areas, before playing the ball back across to a runner from deep.

Belgian - Pro-League 2019 - Cercle Brugge - vs - Club Brugge - tactical - analysis- tactics

In this example, it was David Okereke making the run into the danger zone for Dennis to cut it back to him. While on this occasion the ball is cleared, it was another good chance that the Nigerian wide player created. His speed and runs in behind the Cercle backline caused havoc in this Belgian Pro League fixture and was one of the stand-out reasons why Club Brugge won this derby so convincingly.

Switch to 3-4-3 and Hazard stretching play

Anyone who knows anything about football will be aware of Eden Hazard, the Belgian forward who recently moved to Real Madrid from Chelsea. His younger brother Thorgan is also making a name for himself in the Bundesliga, where he spent several seasons at Borussia Mönchengladbach before being poached by Borussia Dortmund this summer. Less well known is Kylian Hazard, a second younger brother. He never played for Chelsea in the two years he was there and was on loan at Cercle Brugge last season before being signed permanently. Like his brothers, he is a wide forward, has the ability to dribble past defenders and look to cross early balls into the box.

It was only after going 2-0 down that Schotte looked to change his team. Sacrificing a midfielder and moving away from playing with wing-backs, Hazard was brought on to try and salvage something in the final 30 minutes, and provide width further up the pitch.

Belgian - Pro-League 2019 - Cercle Brugge - vs - Club Brugge - tactical - analysis- tactics
Acres of space on the right flank for Hazard to run into

Club Brugge had played with a higher line on average than their opponent with the full-backs operating further forward, leaving space in behind them. This wasn’t exploited by Cercle’s wing-backs when they had been playing a 3-5-2, but the change and introduction of Hazard saw him looking for balls into these gaps, making runs into dangerous areas.

Belgian - Pro-League 2019 - Cercle Brugge - vs - Club Brugge - tactical - analysis- tactics
All 3 of the substitute’s average position was much higher up the pitch

While we can see that Hazard (number seven) primarily was on the right-hand side of the pitch, he had the freedom to move across the front three, in an attempt to drag defenders around and confuse them with his movement.

Belgian - Pro-League 2019 - Cercle Brugge - vs - Club Brugge - tactical - analysis- tactics
With Club Brugge looking for a third goal, more gaps appeared in their full-back positions

Again, we see that with the whole defensive line being pushed up, there was plenty of space for Hazard to run in behind. In addition, another substitute Lyle Foster was also making a run into space in the centre. This change of formation really aided Cercle to finally cause their rivals some problems, with intelligent runs causing Club Brugge’s backline to sprint back towards their own goal, something defenders are loath to do. Ultimately it was too little too late for this match, but it does show that Cercle do have the players and formation variation to create issues for their opponents.


Cercle Brugge continued to struggle this season, with this loss against their biggest rivals consigning them to their fourth defeat in five games. They only really began to create chances in the last 25 minutes of the game, but even then they failed to carve out any really dangerous opportunities. Club Brugge looked confident, with Emmanuel Dennis being particularly effective on the right. They host Galatasaray in the Champions League this week, and it will be interesting to see if they can carry on their good form.

Artwork by @chapulana

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