KV Oostende have once again had a disappointing Belgian Pro League campaign in 2019/20. Following last years 14th place finish, they currently sit in 15th place, just two points above bottom side Waasland-Beveren. Despite having the second-worst defensive record in the league, one of their defenders garnered attention from Ligue 1.
Wout Faes, the 22-year-old Belgian centre back, was signed by Stade de Reims, one of the surprise packages in French football this season. He was loaned back to Oostende for the remainder of the season and will join his new side over the summer. Faes will go from a relegation battling side to a Reims side who will be featuring in Europe next season, and also managed to beat UEFA Champions League quarter-finalists PSG 2-0 at the beginning of the season. Furthermore, Reims have had the best defensive record in France, only conceding 21 goals, ahead of the likes of PSG who conceded 24.
For Oostende, they conceded 58 goals in 2019/20, well over the expected 50.77 according to xG against. This tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, will analyse the strengths of Wout Faes and what it is that attracted Reims to the young defender, despite the poor defensive form Oostende. This analysis will also attempt to investigate how Reims will utilise the Belgian next season within their own tactics.
Defending: on the deck
While they may have one of the leakiest defences in the league, Oostende sit second overall when it comes to interceptions per 90 with 45.82. Of these, Faes is averaging just under 8.5 per 90. In France, Reims sit down in 11th in terms of interceptions, with 38.56. This may be due to them having the ball more than their opponents, giving them less opportunity. However, in Faes they know they are getting a centre-back who is certainly capable of intercepting opposition attacks.
Faes is aggressive in pursuing interceptions and is willing to take risks. For example, against KV Kortrijk both Faes and his fellow centre half are man-marking Kortrijk’s attackers. Both have their responsibilities and are goal side, although from the image we can see that Faes’ defensive partner is vulnerable to being turned by the striker.
Faes clearly recognises this and has a split second to weigh up the risk of either staying with his man to ensure the striker cannot provide a layoff, or attempting to intercept the pass. If he had not made the interception, his man would be through on goal with a good chance of scoring. However, the anticipation of Faes means he is successful in this situation, despite the risk of leaving the highlighted striker open.
While not all of his interceptions play out in this way, this is an indicator of the confidence the young Belgian has in his own decision making, as well as his ability when it comes to reading and reacting to the play.
In terms of defensive duels, Faes averages 6.15 per 90 at an impressive 70.33% success rate. This is on par with highly rated Standard Liege defender Zinho Vandhuesden, previously of Inter Milan. From the data, we can be assured that Faes is comfortable defending on the deck, in that he reads the game well and wins his fair share of defensive duels.
Part of his approach is to look to get physical with attacking players. Faes likes to use his size and strength to push attackers around, especially when they are playing with their back to goal. For example, against KAS Eupen striker Jonathan Bolingi, Faes looked to disrupt the striker anytime he got the ball with his back to goal.
Here we see Faes sitting just off Bolingi, giving himself room to drop back if the striker decides to turn and run into the box if the ball doesn’t come his way. He could even drop off and let Bolingi drift back into midfield.
As soon as the pass comes into Bolingi, Faes is on him and putting in a physical challenge. Rather than sit off and allow the target man to drop back and receive the ball to feet, Faes wants to disrupt him and get physical with him. With the hair, he is almost akin to Brazilian David Luiz in that he is an aggressive defender who likes to dominate the physical battle. While in this instance he gives away a foul, the Belgian is letting Bolingi know that if he wants to hold the ball up, he will have to be stronger than Faes.
Again, we see below that Faes is all over Bolingi as soon as the ball is played towards his feet. This denies Eupen the chance to really build and attack through their target man. However, this is also risky for Faes, as if he is too aggressive in this tactic, he is risking giving away plenty of free-kicks. Yet his 70% success rate when it comes to defensive duels would suggest he is able to win the physical battle often.
In France, Reims sit ninth overall in aerial duels, with an average of 37.41 duels per 90 and a success rate of 46%. Across the border, Oostende sit seventh, averaging 38.15 with a success rate of 45%. The similarities between these numbers suggest that Faes will be experiencing a similar amount of aerial battles with Reims in Ligue 1 as he currently does in the Pro League.
On a personal level, Faes averages 3.71 aerial duels per 90, with a 53.64% success rate, putting him at a similar level to former Tottenham and Bundesliga defender Kevin Wimmer, who now plays for Royal Excel Mouscron. Of the current Reims defenders, Faes would be the third tallest and therefore expected to win his fair share of headers.
In Belgium, teams cross more on average than they do in France. Even the lowest ranked crossing side in the Pro League averages 10.34 per 90, while in Ligue 1 this is 10.09. Therefore, most of the aerial duels Faes is involved in are from crosses. Here we see his anticipation and footballing intelligence once again come through, as positioning is key.
In the game against Mouscron, a team averaging 12.30 crosses per 90, we see examples of this. During this clip, we see that Faes is floating instead of marking tightly, leaving a spare man and an overload on his fellow centre-back. Rather than moving inside to cover the striker and allow his defensive partner to pick up the other man, Faes holds his position.
Faes has judged this well and anticipated where the cross is going to come in. Rather than worrying about not having a man, he realises that the striker is going to move towards him, allowing him to be in a good position when the ball comes in. While the striker is in fact closer to the crosser when the ball comes in, Faes has given himself space to judge the flight of the ball and play the cross rather than the man, eventually being able to clear when the striker jumps too early.
In the same game we see another example of Faes giving himself space in the box. This time, instead of thinking the striker will come to him, Faes realises he will have to track the striker as the cross is likely to go to the front post.
This time, the striker and Faes are in the same position when the ball is delivered. However, Faes judges the ball better than the striker and is again able to clear. This ability to judge the cross and play it on its merit, rather than letting a striker dictate his decisions helps Faes to win more aerial duels than he loses.
Modern defenders are expected to do more than just break up play and win headers. They are utilised as initiators of attacks. In France, Reims average around 386 passes per 90, putting them in 12th overall. With an average pass meter of 20.62, it is clear they favour a more direct style of play compared to half the league. For example, they sit third in through passes and sixth in deep completions. Averaging 50.4% possession per match, Faes can be expected to be on the ball and contribute to their direct style of play often.
Faes current club sit bottom of average passes per match with 304.83 per 90. Average pass length is 21.24, so stylistically Faes should be able to operate in the passing system that Reims desire. However, Oostende are a counter-attacking side and average only 40.9% possession. They look to release their pacey striker Sakala at every opportunity, something which Faes tends to look for when in possession. Moving to Reims may force him to be more patient on the ball and get used to having it more often without looking for that long pass as often.
As a passer, Faes is averaging 31.51 passes per 90, with an 84.67 accuracy percentage. In terms of average pass length, the young defender is 32nd in the league with 22.27. This is above the 21.24 team average, suggesting Faes is the main supplier of long passes in the team. Over the past five matches, Faes has proven to be the most accurate long passer out of Oostende’s defenders. At 70% of 27 long passes, he is ahead of fellow centre back Goran Milovic when it comes to accurate long passes.
Furthermore, we know that Faes is looking long as the main target of his passes over the past five matches have been striker Fashion Sakala. Sakala, although a striker, is also used as a left-winger in certain formations. He likes to drift out wide, and Faes likes to look out wide with his long passing.
For example, the majority of his long passes against Royal Antwerp earlier this season were looking to go wide. Despite there being two targets in the central regions in this clip, Faes only ever looks to the right flank for the winger to go up against the full-back in the air. There are also other possibilities for Faes, such as a pass across to his fellow centre-back or even a longer pass to the right-back. However, Faes ignores all these in order to play a longer diagonal pass, which ends up being intercepted.
In this next clip, we again see Faes on the ball and with options in the middle. He could quite comfortably play a ball into the central player, who drops into the large gap in the midfield, from the position he is in. However, he sees Sakala on the wing and again wants to isolate the winger up against the full-back. Sakala is good in the air for a winger and Faes realises that there is an advantage for his side there.
For next season, Faes preference to look wide for his long passes may be something Reims will encourage. They currently sit in sixth place overall when it comes to crosses in Ligue 1. Faes willingness to spread the play wide will play into this tactical approach.
Reims will certainly be hoping that Faes will develop further when he moves to the French top tier. Despite Oostende’s relatively poor defensive season, he has certainly shown signs of being a good young defender who may well fit into their system straight away. With Reims having had such a successful season, they may see Faes as a good option to replace any of their players who may be wanted by bigger clubs in Europe during the summer transfer window.