Club Brugge lead the Jupiler pro league with ten points and a game in hand. Their last five games have produced four wins and one draw. Philippe Clement’s tactics have led Club Brugge to score the most goals while conceding the fewest goals. They’re coasting to league glory now, and can only be stopped by their own devices. This kind of success is too consistent to be ascribed to luck.
Same story, different players
In this analysis, the first thing of note is the improvement and decline of teams in the Jupiler League this season. Genk won the 2018/2019 season with 63 points, so if they win all their remaining ten league games in the 2019/2020 season, they would still fall short of last season’s exploits by three points. After changing their head coach, the current title holders would never have mounted a valiant defence of their crown.
Last season, Charleroi didn’t even make the Championship round. Gent ended the championship round in the 5th position. Yet Charleroi and Gent currently sit in 2nd and 3rd places respectively, pointing to an improvement from those teams. Nevertheless, the 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 seasons are similar as last season, when Genk won the regular season with 10 points. The other teams in the running were close to each other in terms of points. It’s a similar tale this season, but Club Brugge is ahead of the pack this time around.
2019/2020 Jupiler Pro League – No man’s land
The winners of last year are experiencing a decline in form. Certain teams have improved, but none as much as Club Brugge. The improvement from Gent and Charleroi is only enough to chase the pack, not win the title. This may change as both teams still have ten games to take their regular season tally to 69 each. This analysis is focused on Club Brugge, so we will not be doing a tactical analysis of the other teams. The point is, Club Brugge already have a chance to surpass its 2018/2019 regular season performance with 23 points. From the onset, the title was ‘no man’s land’ – free for whoever would step up and do what needed doing. Club Brugge is the team that showed the kind of improvement that wins championships.
A show of intent
To explain Club Brugge’s improvement this season, we should look at the head coach. Club Brugge scored a point over Genk by taking the coach who won the 2018/2019 season. As an institution, Club Brugge has shown the intent it takes to win trophies: they’ve won the league 15 times, twice in the last five years. Their signing of a proven winner spoke intent. That intent no doubt filtered to the players who by default would’ve gained more confidence and set higher standards.
Apart from the winning mentality that came with signing Clemente, the transfer strategy also contributed to the team’s success this season. Under Clemente, Club Brugge oversaw a squad rebuild, adding 20 players and letting 20 go. The squad of 2019/2020 is very different from that of the previous season. This sends a message of the club’s ruthlessness in terms of the performances it expects from its players and this is highlighted by the signing of Simon Mignolet, a Champions League winner with Liverpool. Clemente brought a competitive environment where class performance is expected from the players, and the tactics to match that ambition.
Club Brugge tactical analysis
Club Brugge’s on-field success this season has been characterised by a combination of different factors. They defend to attack. They pressure opponents so as to win the ball back in positions where they have multiple options going forward. When they have the ball, they play short combination passes and make runs to keep the ball. Then they play direct forward passes as soon as possible to capitalise on the runs of their forwards. These tactics have proven key in their title pursuit.
When they don’t have the ball, they try to disrupt the opponent’s build-up play with a four-man press. Two men usually go up to cut off forward passes from the centre-backs. Two men then press in the wide areas to reduce the time which the opposing full-backs have on the ball. Their pressing strategy is characterised by closing down an opponent to make him uncomfortable and they are also good at anticipating passes. This gives them the ability to chase the ball, increasing the probability of forcing errors.
Fig 1: Four Club Brugge forwards press the four opposing defenders. The aim of this is to disrupt the opposition’s buildup play.
Fig 2: To buttress this point, check the fact sheet which shows that Club Brugge have the second-best pressing stats this season.
Defending to attack
While they press aggressively in the opponent’s final third, they become more conservative if the initial press is bypassed. They are hardworking as a unit and fall back to protect their backline. This does not mean that they maintain a low block – they just want to have as many men between the ball and the goal as possible.
Rits, the defensive midfielder has been crucial in this phase. He often works closely with the two centre-backs to form a back three. When the full-backs drop back, they usually have a 5 man defence which an opponent will typically find hard to break down. In this phase, there are usually two centre-midfielders patrolling the middle. The aim of this is for the 5 defenders in the high line to win the ball back and quickly release it to the midfielders who are usually good passers. In this phase, they usually look like a 5-3-2.
Fig 3: Four defenders preparing to stop the attack. Note the circled man – that is usually Rits, joining the defense to create a back 5. Right behind this defensive line are three midfielders.
Fig 4: A different game but the same theme: a back five as supplemented by the defensive midfielder and three midfielders ready to turn defence into attack.
Their direct passing really plays into this strategy. If the ball is won, the full-backs immediately join the midfield. The midfielders and defenders are always on the lookout for the runs of their pacey forwards. Since they usually win the ball back in an advanced, rather than a deep, position they can easily play through passes into space. This has been a recurring theme this season. This instant attack aims to get the ball forward as soon as possible.
Fig 5: Note how up to three men are getting ready to run in behind the defender. The Club Brugge defender is also ready to release a long pass. This play instantly bypasses the opposition midfield and defense. With one good pass, Club Brugge could be in on goal.
The pack mentality
Club Brugge this season have focused on adventurous passes. The advantage of this is that all they need is a midfielder with some space. He just has to play the right pass and he instantly bypasses the opposition’s defense. For this to be effective, two or three forwards stand on the edge of the last defender, ready for a run. More often than not, the attempted pass is intercepted but when the passes reach the goal, quality chances are usually created. (Check Fig 5 for illustration)
This, however, is not the only way they create chances. Combination passes among each other have been a highlight of their tactics. The speed of these short passes usually confuse the opponent and create space for the ball receiver. This has especially been effective because there are always three players within a short distance of each other. This means that there are always options ready to receive a short pass.
Fig 6: The player with the ball begins the move. This attacking move is unpredictable as there are many ways that it could go. It would seem though that the objective here is to exploit the half-space (green arrow); note that a lot of blue shirts are in this attack. This gives the opposition defense a lot to think about.
Fig 7: the effectiveness of this attacking play is enhanced by the numerical advantage. There are many threats to the defending side. Hence why the defenders don’t know exactly what to expect.
Instrumental to their goal-scoring exploits this season has been the role of the defenders in the tactics. Club Brugge’s full-backs play high up the pitch. During the build-up, they play a 2-3-5, with 2 centre-defenders having the option of playing vertical passes to the defensive-midfielder and full-backs who form a line across the middle. This frees the two attacking midfielders and forwards to get into effective positions. Then the full-backs push very high, effectively creating a front 5.
As earlier stated, the aim is usually to play a direct pass behind the opposition defence. Sometimes, these passes are played to the forwards. Other times, they are played to the attacking full-backs who then get into good positions to cross. In the latter case, the presence of 3 forwards in the 18-yard box increases the likelihood of a successful cross or in-depth pass.
Club Brugge has been successful in the 2019/202 season for various reasons. Clemente has made transfers and brought a feeling of competitiveness to the club. They have played well as a unit, hitting the opposition fast. The stats don’t lie: they suggest that Club Brugge has been the best team, and by a mile.