Relegation-threatened KV Oostende welcomed the underperforming Racing Genk to the Versluys Arena on the Belgian coast on the 7 March. Genk, led by former Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga manager of Stuttgart and Hamburg, Hannes Wolf, have not had the greatest of seasons in the Pro League but came into the game with seven points from their last five games. Following last year’s UEFA Champions League qualification, the away side were sitting outside of the European qualification spots. The hosts, on the other hand, were on their second-worst run in the league over the last five matches.
Despite their lowly ranking, Oostende managed to frustrate Genk using a tactical set up that forced the visitors into having to play a more direct style than they would have preferred. Fashion Sakala was able to give the hosts the lead with his eighth goal of the season. However, the game plan had to change following a 45th-minute red card for midfielder Louis Verstraete. This put pressure on an Oostende defence featuring future Ligue 1 player Wout Faes, who is joining Stade de Reims in the summer. Oostende ended up shipping four goals. Despite a late Francois Marquet goal, the hosts were unable to stage a comeback with only 10 men.
This tactical analysis, in the form of a match report, will provide analysis on how both sides initially set up to break the other down, before looking at how each side’s tactics changed in the second half following the red card.
Initially, Oostende deployed a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Sakala as the lone striker with Ronald Vargas, an energetic and willing runner, on the right looking to support as often as possible. Genk set up with a 4-2-3-1 formation, having target man Paul Onuachu as the lone striker with former St Pauli man Mats Möller Daehli in behind, with the impressive Junya Ito on the right and Theo Bongonda on the left.
An early injury to captain Sebastien Dewaest forced Genk to move Colombian left-back Carlos Cuesta into centre-back with fellow South American Neto Borges coming into left-back.
Oostende Press and Attack
For Oostende, their game plan was clear from the first minute of the game. Sit in with a bank of five across the midfield and force Genk to try and play through them. However, they also had developed a situational press, which was triggered by a Genk pass. Sakala was tasked with pressing the right centre-back of Genk, looking to force him to play a horizontal pass across to the left. As Sakala pressed, left central-midfielder Kevin Vandendriessche would quickly leave the bank of five to apply pressure and look to force a mistake when the pass was made.
For example, we see the bank of five across the midfield. In this clip Sakala hasn’t pressed but is instead cutting off the inside pass, forcing the Genk man to look left. We see Vandendriessche already shaping to move, anticipating the pass.
Vandendriessche anticipates correctly and reaches the player as he gets on the ball, putting him under pressure while he is facing his own goal.
This disrupts the flow of the Genk attack, forcing them to move the ball into areas they don’t want to and play quicker and, in this instance, the only safe option is back to the centre-back.
This situational pressure is part of how Oostende wanted to transition from defence to attack. With Sakala, they have an able dribbler and quick striker who they are looking to utilise to drag the team up the field. They are hoping that when Vandendriessche applies his press, it will force a mistake and allow them to exploit the space in behind the centre-backs with the pace of Sakala.
The image below highlights this, as we have already seen how Sakala is pushing on the left-hand side, which would explain why 41% of the attacks go down this side. As he is also the lone striker, he drifted into the middle as well, explaining the 57%. With Sakala not being responsible for the press on the right-hand side, he had little reason to go there and Oostende had little reason to look there for attacks, hence only the 2%.
However, this tactic left Sakala isolated many times, with the midfield struggling to get forward and join him. In most cases he was up against both centre-backs, and while Vandendriessche was willing to press on the opposite side to Sakala, he was not able to get forward to occupy the other centre-back and aid him, as the below image shows with both Sakala and Vandendriessche highlighted.
While the press of Oostende did cause Genk some trouble, with a target man like Onuachu they had the perfect ploy to switch up how they looked to attack. Ito was down as the right-winger in the line-up, however he was given the freedom to drift inside. With the hosts in their banks of four defenders and five midfielders, both Ito and Daehli were encouraged to get around Onuachu. Genk defenders were looking to hit the striker with long direct balls, who was then expected to lay the ball off to the more creative Ito and Daehli.
Below we see what this looked like during the game. With Ito tucking in as he has, it has allowed the right-back of Genk ample space to get forward. This gave Genk players more options, as they could look to hit Onuachu and get the ball into Ito and Daehli, or play a long switch to the full-back to spread the home defence.
In the above image, we see Ito and Daehli operating in the gap between the midfield and defence of Oostende. However, they also looked to get beyond Onuachu where possible. While KVO were willing to sit in, but also press when the situation arose, Genk had a variety of options in attack to keep the defence guessing. Daehli and Ito had free roam to move between the lines of defence and midfield, and as the image below shows beyond the target man Onuachu.
However, in the first half prior to the red card, the hosts were solid in defence and were able to deal with the different attacking tactics Genk were able to deploy.
Second half changes
Unfortunately for Oostende, the red card for Verstraete changed everything. It meant they were no longer able to apply a situational press, forcing Vandendriessche to remain in the now bank of four across the midfield and sit much deeper. As the below image shows, he is in no position to apply a press after Sakala has forced a horizontal pass, as to do so would leave too much space for Genk to play into.
For Genk, this meant they no longer had to look for a long ball into the target man and could build from the back. Without the press, as the above image shows, there is enough space for the centre-back to push into, or for the more creative midfielders to drop into.
Players such as Daehli, who became even more effective after Oostende were reduced to 10 men. He managed to find the net twice in the second half, and this was down to his positional freedom. In the above picture, we see him on the right-hand side next to Onuachu. Without the press of the hosts, he was also able to drop into a deeper position to get on the ball, something he did not do in the first half.
In the next image, we see him popping up on the left-hand side of the attack. With Daehli given license to roam and contribute to the play where he saw fit, this made it difficult for the 10 men of Oostende to pick him up.
With both his goals coming from inside the box, it is clear that the home side struggled to pick him up and locate his position on the pitch.
In attack, Oostende were still looking for Sakala, but with 10 men it proved extremely difficult. As the below image shows, no one gets forward to support the attack, despite the KVO player taking the ball from the halfway line. There is a five on two advantage for the away side that is maintained throughout the failed attack.
This was a pattern of the second half for the home side, as they were unable to effectively spring a counterattack due to the inability of midfield runners to support the attacking phases of play. Sakala remained isolated for the majority of the second half, usually outnumbered by the Genk backline, as we see in the image below.
After going 3-1 down they returned to the press, but with extra intensity and including more midfielders. Joseph Akpala was brought on upfront, with Sakala as the second striker to apply more pressure to the Genk backline and provide more support.
This was also an attempt to force Genk to return to the long ball that the hosts were able to deal with more effectively in the first half. As we see below, Oostende are pressing with four players in order to force Genk into mistakes.
However, despite pulling a consolation back thanks to this tactical change, Genk were able to deal with this new press and even add a fourth goal to ensure the victory.
While the scoreline suggests that Genk were relatively comfortable, the first half showed that Oostende’s tactical game plan was working up until the red card. Without the red card, Oostende may have been able to maintain their disruptive situational press on Genk. The longer the game had gone on, the tactic of trying to spring Sakala into space behind the Genk backline may have proven more successful as the away side pushed for a win they would have been expecting against a weaker side.
However, the red card for Verstraete certainly changed the game in allowing Daehli to get on the ball more and create chances for the away side. Sakala became even more isolated, and as Genk went 3-1 up and with the returning press for the hosts, he was unable to get them back in the game.