Some clashes are always worth tuning in for, especially if they are between a country’s two most highly decorated teams. The rivalries will have been built over decades, with the supporters of each side desperate for victory. In Belgium, Anderlecht are the most successful team with 34 titles, and Club Brugge are the best of the rest with 15. It was the side from Bruges who triumphed in this Belgian Pro-League fixture, with them defeating Anderlecht 2-1.
Vincent Kompany’s side went ahead in the fifth minute thanks to a Nacer Chadli goal. However, the lead was incredibly short-lived, with Brugge equalising only a minute later through a deflected Krepin Diatta shot. Both sides looked to go on and win the game, but it was Philippe Clement’s who got the all-important winning goal, with Diatta getting his team’s second with 21 minutes left to play.
Like in their credible 0-0 draw against Galatasaray in the Champions League mid-week, Brugge set out in a 3-5-2 formation. This saw several players in slightly unfamiliar roles. Clinton Mata, nominally a right-back was part of the back three, and Diatta, usually a wide forward, was playing as a right wing-back. Emmanuel Dennis, the star man in the Bruges derby last week led the line alongside Percy Tau.
Anderlecht stuck with their tried and tested 4-3-3 set up. With Kompany still injured Philippe Sandler was partnered by Derrick Luckassen in the heart of the defence. Samir Nasri’s poor form meant there wasn’t even a place for him on the bench, so Nacer Chadli operated as the focal point of the attack, flanked by Francis Amuzu on the right, and Yari Verchaeren on the left.
Anderlecht’s attempts to bypass the midfield.
From early on in the first half it was evident that Kompany and his assistant manager Simon Davies had instructed their goalkeeper Hendrik van Crombrugge to play short passes into the full-backs before they would quickly look to hit the channels and use the pace of Amuzu and Saelemaekers to get in behind the Brugge wing-backs.
Knowing that the two Brugge strikers would only be marking the centre-backs, it meant the Anderlecht full-backs had a vital few extra seconds on the ball to get their heads up and play accurate passes down the line. With the Brugge wing-backs pushing up in attack, it meant there was space in behind them for the Anderlecht wide players to exploit.
There was another reason that the away side had opted for this tactic; to bypass the central areas, where Brugge were particularly effective at pressing and winning back the ball in dangerous places. Even though they both lined up with three central midfielders, the Brugge wing-backs would often shift across into central positions to give an extra option in the middle of the pitch.
There was one occasion where the Brugge midfield was uncharacteristically open, and it led to Anderlecht scoring. Not being switched on following a throw-in on the right side, the ball was played to Verschaeren, who had acres of space to turn and move forward into.
A clever ball played between the defenders found Amuzu. Mingolet, known for his mad moments from his time at Liverpool, rushed out to tackle the Anderlecht wide man, but his challenge led to the ball falling to Chadli’s feet, who was presented with an open goal. So, while this chance came from playing through the middle, this opportunity didn’t present itself again during this Belgian Pro-League fixture as Brugge became more organised, and Anderlecht stuck to hitting it into the channels.
High flying wing-backs
Playing wide forwards as wing-backs can leave you prone to attacks down the flanks, with players caught high up the pitch and struggling to get back, as we’ve seen above. However, the reverse of that is that with these players pushed further forward it can occupy the opposing full-backs, causing them all sorts of problems.
Relieving Diatta of some of his defensive duties meant that he was always offering an attacking option for the Brugge midfielders. In their previous game against local rivals Cercle Brugge, 61% of all their attacks came down the right-hand side, with Diatta and Dennis causing havoc. Again in this fixture, they looked most dangerous when moving forward on this side of the pitch.
Diatta didn’t just offer runs in behind, he was also dropping into more removed positions, spotting runners heading into dangerous positions.
In this example, Dennis made a surging run from his left forward position, into the gap that had opened up in the Anderlecht backline. By having different approaches to their attacks, it meant that Brugge’s style of play was unpredictable. The defending full-back was unsure of whether to press the player on the ball, leaving space in behind, or sit off and drop into the space, allowing the wing-back time to move forward and play a dangerous pass.
Had both wing-backs been flying forward at the same time, it meant that the Brugge back three would have been left very exposed to an Anderlecht counter-attack. This rarely happened, as the wing-backs were intelligent enough to attack in turn, with one sitting when the other moved forward.
Again this example shows that Brugge were not playing one-dimensionally, that they had the means to alter their attacking moves to keep the defenders guessing about where the danger would be coming from.
Lack of focal point = lack of goals
Many teams have been successful in recent seasons when playing with false 9’s. Anderlecht have been trying a similar thing this season. Kompany tried it with Nasri against Genk, but it didn’t really work out as he struggled to get on the ball. Here in this game, it was Chadli who was tasked with this role.
Here we can see that all of the Anderlecht front three, plus an attacking midfielder are deep inside their own half, not making any attempt to press the man with the ball. This isn’t necessarily unusual, giving the centre-back more time than other players, but here it just appears passive. Anderlecht didn’t have a mid-week game, whereas Club Brugge did. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was the other way around- the home side won 45.2% of their attempted challenges, whereas the away team only 43.42%. Not exactly a massive difference, but you’d expect for them to have a bit more desire to win the ball back in these areas.
Early in the second half, with Brugge pushing more men forward in search of a winner, Anderlecht won the ball back just inside their own half, and looked to quickly move forward. Unfortunately, Chadli, the man who was supposed to be leading the attack, hadn’t anticipated his team-mates winning back possession, so hadn’t made any kind of forward run into a dangerous area.
The attack quickly broke down, and Brugge regained possession. This clearly shows why Anderlecht have been struggling, with them only registering 6 goals in 8 games so far. It may mean Kompany will have to alter his tactics if this record is going to improve.
Later on in the second half, Anderlecht finally committed more players to their attacks, but that then left them vulnerable on the counter. In this example the Brugge midfielder Hans Vanaken won the ball back, then immediately spotted the run of Dennis, who just had the keeper to beat. While it didn’t lead to a goal, it showed that even when Anderlecht did try to attack in numbers, it left them open at the back, with their midfield not offering much defensive support.
From this analysis, we can see that while Anderlecht may be the most successful Belgian team of all time, on current form they won’t be adding this year’s championship to their trophy cabinet. They were easily outclassed here, with their tactics leaving them passive in the attack. With only one win all season it feels like Vincent Kompany has an increasingly tough job to turn it around.
Club Brugge oozed class. With this win seeing them move up to second in the table. It will be interesting to see if their good form can be replicated in their upcoming Champions League ties against Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.
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