In my latest tactical analysis piece on Belgian football, I take a look at one of the Jupiler Pro League’s most exciting talents – Yari Verschaeren. Last season’s Belgian Young Player of the Year has gone on to further establish himself in the Anderlecht first team this season and make his full international debut for the Red Devils.
Having made 11 league appearances during the 18/19 season, Verschaeren started all but two of the opening 19 fixtures of the 19/20 campaign. He was not able to build on these appearances, due to an ankle injury would rule him out until February and then COVID-19 saw the rest of the Belgian season suspended after he returned.
This scout report will examine Verscaeran’s role for Anderlecht. Specifically, it will assess his metrics, his role within the three main phases of play (attacking, defensive and transition) and evaluate his main strengths and weaknesses.
Verschaeren’s metrics aren’t spectacular. But this seems to be down to Anderlecht’s poor season and lack of creativity as a whole. They finished 8th when the Jupiler Pro League was eventually suspended and averaged just 1.55 goals per game. This reflects in Verschaern’s attacking output.
He averages 1.0 shots per 90 and 2.5 touches in the penalty area per 90, below average in terms of league and position. He doesn’t risk possession much either, with 87.6% of his passes going backwards or sideways. He does show glimpses of his talent in other areas, however. He averages 3.5 passes per 90 into the penalty area and 80% pass completion in the final third.
Yari Verschaeren is a versatile player. He is comfortable being deployed on either wing as well as flexible enough to play more centrally, in an ‘Advanced 8’. Anderlecht generally plays with a variation of a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 and the majority of Verschaeren’s appearances have come either on the right or left side of midfield. When operating on the wing he tends to stay high and wide to support play.
Maintaining width when his teammates have possession gives them multiple options but also causes defenders issues. Staying wide stretches the backline and gives the ball carrier more space to advance. Defenders then need to choose whether to stay stretched to mark the wide players, meaning gaps still present. Or they need to narrow up and close down the man in possession. Narrowing up leaves wide players in acres of space to exploit in behind.
Verschaeren is intelligent with is off the ball movement too. He recognises when to run in behind, come short or stay wide. In the build-up to his goal against Gent, he sees the full-back switch off and drifts out of position. He recognised this very early, given the ball wasn’t yet in a dangerous crossing position. This is a great attribute of his, his footballing intelligence, and is probably why he is trusted so much to play so many games.
Once he got beyond the full-back, he is ruthless in his running. He gives the defender no chance recovering and is clinical with his finish at the far post. Technical wide players like Verschaeren aren’t renowned for attacking the back post to get goals. But his footballing brain allows him to spot such situations.
When positioned wide, Verschaeren looks to stay narrow in Anderlecht’s compact shape, forcing play wide and allowing nothing through the middle. He will then aggressively press towards the touchline, making sure play isn’t switched back round. He is a very good team player, taking responsibility when defending and not neglecting his duty. This is a further reason why he can be trusted by his manager to carry out his tactics and instructions.
He is a very agile player and uses it to great effect when defending. His narrow starting position means mark central players, whilst also being ready to block off wide passing lanes. His good agility means he doesn’t have to commit to early, meaning opponents are enticed to play risky passes around. He is then able to intercept passes after the opponent commits to playing them. This ability is underlined with his stats, recording 2.9 interceptions per 90 and 4.6 ball recoveries per 90.
His game understanding carries over to the defensive phase of the game too. He excels in recognising when to hold his position, intercept or press. Here he recognises this pressing trigger, the defender receiving with his back to play. Without hesitation he puts pressure on the player, limiting his passing options. The defender tries to play round Verschaeren to the full-back. The angle he closed down though meant he had cut that passing lane off and blocked the pass.
Verschaeren will look to break forward when Anderlecht regain possession if he is playing wide. Their possession-based style means counter attacking isn’t their main priority. But it is nonetheless important for Verschaeren to get high and wide, to stretch the pitch and provide options for his teammates.
On the turnover, Verschaeren is tenacious in trying to win the ball back. Even being smaller than most of his opponents, he will aggressively close down opponents and try to win the ball back. When playing out wide, he will look to close down straight away, but this initial press doesn’t last very long. He will then look to regain his narrow and compact position within the organised defensive phase.
His game understanding and decision making have been already highlighted in both the attacking and defensive phases of the game. But another of his main strengths his is technical ability and close ball control. He isn’t blessed with great pace, but his close control allows him to effortlessly glide past players.
His talent has been compared to Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard and it is easy to see why. He possesses a similar ability to get his body in between the man and ball, allowing him to wriggle out of tight situations and ride challenges.
He is comfortable in receiving in tight areas and combining in the final third, with the stats backing up this ability. He averages 80% pass completion rate in the final third. He tries to make things happen when on the edge of the penalty area too, averaging 3.5 passes into the penalty area per 90.
For a young player, he shows great composure when in attacking situations in the final third. This goal against Charleroi showcased his tight control in 1v1 situations. He then had the calmness to beat the goalkeeper after getting past the defender.
For his high technical ability, he can be quite sloppy in possession. When he has time and space to execute simple passes, he is guilty of losing the ball. With his technical quality, this will most likely be down to his concentration level and something he will grow out of as he matures.
This can be frustrating for Anderlecht at times. He has a great ability to receive in space between the lines. But then conceding possession so easily means it’s hard for the team to progress through the thirds and create opportunities.
This analysis focused on Yari Verschaeren and took a closer look at his 19/20 statistics, his role with each phase of the game and his strengths and weaknesses.
He is a very intelligent player for his age and technically very gifted. He is a player that will catch the eye of Europe’s bigger clubs and will probably adopt a more central role as he gets older. He has the potential to play at the highest level and could follow in the footsteps of Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Leicester’s Youri Tielemans, in moving over to the Premier League.