Article by Ben Griffis. This is the third analysis of Café Tactiques’s season-long Belgian Jupiler Pro League project where we will analyze many matches before creating a tactical profile of teams at the end of the season.
RSC Anderlecht beat 10-man RFC Seraing in a game of two halves which saw Vincent Kompany earn his first win of Belgium’s Pro League season. Both clubs started the match well and had time to build up how they wanted to build up, but after Benjamin Boulenger’s second yellow in the 39th minute, Anderlecht were able to take control of the match.
Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht came into this match after losing their first to local rivals Union SG 1-3 at home and drawing with KAS Eupen 1-1 away in the next match. Three days prior to this game, Anderlecht were in Albania beating KF Laçi 0-3 in the 3rd round of Conference League qualifying. While still looking for their first win in the Pro League, Anderlecht were rebounding well after their first matchday loss.
Jordi Condom’s Seraing also came into this match off a win in their previous game, a 1-0 home victory against Mechelen. They also lost their opening match of the season, a 2-0 loss away at Kortrijk. The newly promoted side came into this match with confidence, and the ability to beat an Anderlecht side who had several defensive issues two weeks ago against the other promoted side, Union SG.
Here’s how both sides lined up and their substitutions.
Anderlecht Buildup and Attack
Anderlecht used their center backs for buildup, and Josh Cullen dropped back into the defensive line to form a back three for buildup play. Delcroix was central, Hoedt on the left, and Cullen acted as a ball-playing left center back throughout the match. Once Anderlecht either recycled possession or restarted play from deep, Cullen would move across the field to take up his position.
Below is a screenshot taken from the match which illustrates Cullen’s position.
From here, Cullen looked for a vertical pass to Olsson ahead of him or switched play to Hoedt once Seraing’s pressers got close and opened up space for Hoedt to make a dangerous pass up the lines.
Overall, Anderlecht’s buildup was medium-paced. Cullen never stayed in the defensive line too long, looking instead to pick the best pass before moving higher once Anderlecht’s attackers began their quick vertical passes. However, Kompany’s men didn’t make hasty decisions from the back line and waited for Seraing to press—or show they wouldn’t press this possession—before deciding what passing option to take.
After buildup, Anderlecht’s center backs pushed higher almost to midfield to compact space in Seraing’s half and allow Anderlecht to keep pressure on their opponents. This opened them up to a few counterattacks, however, but allowed them to recycle possession easier in the attacking third.
Verschaeren and Rafaelov were narrow, acting as attacking midfielders for much of the attack. This narrowing formed a 4-2-2-2 after buildup, with Murillo and Gómez providing the width in attack. Both players could make runs or drop deep, but Rafaelov typically dropped slightly deeper while Verschaeren made dangerous runs behind the defense. Both would act as pivot points for Anderlecht to hurry the ball around the pitch in the final third.
Quick passes were central to Anderlecht’s attacks. The high tempo passes tried to draw Seraing out of position and open up space for dangerous players like Raman, Zirkzee, Verschaeren, Rafaelov, and later Amuzu. These quick passes around the midfield switched to one-twos once Anderlecht were near the box. Anderlecht usually tried to connect one-twos to get a player free in the box before sending a dangerous cross across the face of goal or a cutback to a player near the middle of the box. With players like Rafaelov, Zirkzee, and Verschaeren, Seraing had difficulty defending these passes.
Another feature of Anderlecht’s attack—until Thelin came in—was Zirkzee’s unpredictability. Zirkzee took shots at a moment’s notice, often in situations when other Anderlecht players were passing. This proved difficult for Seraing to defend, as they had to be very wary of shots when Zirkzee got possession, but also needed to be wary of his passes to a runner as well.
Anderlecht’s corners were another part of the game they switched up regularly to keep Seraing guessing. Sometimes they took them long into the box, sometimes they took them short, and sometimes they took a short corner that looked like a routine from the training ground, with several planned passes. Anderlecht forced Seraing to commit players to guarding a short corner, which gave them even fewer people in the box after Boulenger’s red card early in the match.
Anderlecht’s first goal, from Thelin in the 69th minute, came after a smart series of movement and passing. Seraing gifts Olsson possession after a bad pass, and Olsson picks out Rafaelov who made a run into the middle of the pitch from the wing, drawing a defender with him. Raman notices the space and runs past Rafaelov into the half space as Rafaelov plays him in. Raman sends a well-weighted cross across the face of the goal to Thelin who has an easy finish past Dietsch.
Gómez’s goal in the 82nd minute came from a half-cleared cross. The Seraing player got his head to the ball but couldn’t clear it and it pops right to an open Sergio Gómez. Gómez does very well to set his feet and thread the ball between Sambu Mansoni and then past Dietsch inside the post.
The last goal of the match, Amuzu’s finish in the 1st minute of added time, results from a great ball from El Hadj to Murillo ad well as poor defending from Seraing. Cullen wins the ball in the final third, and El Hadj comes away with it. Two Seraing defenders are near him but don’t press, instead staying away from him, presumably trying to cut passing lanes. This opens up an angle—albeit a tight one—for El Hadj to pass to Murillo at the side of the box. Murillo then cuts it back to Amuzu, who hits it first time into the near post. This goal has the biggest defensive error of the match for Seraing—it’s confusing why they didn’t close El Hadj down, but it could be because of playing for over 50 minutes with 10 men against a better side.
Anderlecht, while building up with a back 3 and attacking in almost a 4-2-2-2, defended much in their 4-4-2 starting shape. Raman and Zirkzee didn’t drop into the midfield but pressed the center backs. Verschaeren and Rafaelov stayed on the wings but would venture centrally to track a runner they were pressing. Finally, Cullen and Olsson didn’t drop into the back line even when Seraing had the ball deep in Anderlecht’s half.
Kompany instructed his players to close down quickly and with intensity. We saw this more in the first half, when Seraing spent time in possession building up. Raman and Zirkzee both pressed the defenders and goalkeeper, while Rafaelov and Verschaeren pressed the fullbacks, who remained deep in possession.
When not actively pressing, Anderlecht were quite narrow, aiming to compact the space in the midfield, where five of Seraing’s players were in their 4-3-2-1 attacking shape. Verschaeren and Rafaelov allowed Seraing’s fullbacks, Faye and Poaty, space on the wings to receive passes. Anderlecht noticed the fullbacks were too deep to make an instant impact, so they allowed Seraing to use them in their buildup and pressed once they moved up the pitch with the ball.
Anderlecht further compacted space in midfield by defending—as well as attacking—with a high defensive line. Again, this opened them up to the occasional counter, but it was effective at making Seraing play up the wings if they wanted time on the ball and less risky passes—which was a big part of Seraing’s buildup tactic.
Once winning the ball back, Anderlecht played on the counter, but not with long, direct passes at a high tempo. Instead, they looked to play fluid, shorter passes and didn’t have a problem with recycling the ball to the back line, building up from the defenders. In the second half, when Seraing only committed one or two players forward, Anderlecht were able to win the ball back faster and higher up, so they maintained possession with the midfielders more often than recycling back to their own half or Van Crombrugge.
Overall, Anderlecht’s defense was solid throughout the match, but opened themselves up for a direct pass or counter several times. The first third of the match was the only time Anderlecht’s shape and communication were really tested by Seraing.
Seraing’s Buildup and Attack
Seraing, while nominally a 4-3-3, built up and attacked in what was more of a 4-3-2-1. Kilota and Maziz both sat narrow and operated as attacking midfielders who moved out wide occasionally rather than as wingers who sometimes moved centrally. They stayed wide sometimes, but were usually much more central.
Seraing mainly looked to play on the counter after winning possession or a loose ball. They used Mouandilmadji’s combination of strength and pace to try to move up the pitch, with the fullbacks pushing up the wings for options out wide. Maziz and Kilota stayed central behind Mouandilmadji to pick up any second balls.
When not countering, Seraing built up from the back at a very low tempo. Both fullbacks remained deep and Cisse dropped behind Jallow and Bernier in front of the defensive line. Since Faye and Poaty were deep, Seraing often had 5 men in front of Anderlecht’s pressing front line. The players used such a low tempo in order to keep possession, preferring very low risk passes over higher-risk/higher-reward passes. Seraing tended to use high risk passes only on the counter or when put in a difficult situation.
In the second half, after several substitutions and a red card to Boulenger, Seraing saw just 21% of the possession. They mainly attacked with long balls to the one or two players up the pitch and hardly sent any supporting players. Until Anderlecht’s opener in the 69th minute, this plan worked to keep them strong at the back, but after the opening goal they seemed to concede to the loss and still sent just one or two players. They had a decent chance shortly after the first goal, but not much more.
Seraing defended in a 4-3-2-1 when they had 11 players on the pitch, with Maziz and Kilota sitting in front of the three midfielders. This allowed Seraing to press the center backs and midfielders with three players, as Anderlecht built up centrally through Cullen, Hoedt, and Olsson.
Seraing pressed Anderlecht in the first half more than the second half. Jordi Condom elected to have his players maintain a relatively sturdy shape at the back. When they pressed, Anderlecht were usually able to quickly pass around the pressers to find an open man or a runner in space. Part of Anderlecht’s game plan in buildup was to wait for Seraing to press Cullen before having him pass across to Hoedt, breaking Seraing’s press. Seraing countered this threat by having Maziz and Cisse cheat a little to the right half space so as not to be overrun on that side if Hoedt makes a run or passes to Rafaelov or Gómez.
Part of Seraing’s defensive tactic involved fouling Anderlecht players in the first half. Several times, a Seraing player made an unnecessary challenge to halt Anderlecht’s progression. While Seraing only received two total yellow cards, both of them were shown to Benjamin Boulenger—in the 31st and 39th minute.
With Boulenger out, Jordi Condom had to make changes at halftime to address the defensive gap at the back. Sambu Mansoni came on for Bernier and slotted in at right back while Faye shifted to center back. Poaty stayed at left back, but often he moved into a center back position while Kilota dropped to left back to form a back five.
As the match went on and Seraing tired physically and mentally, they kept more players behind the ball and shifted to a back five full-time. Until the first goal, Seraing remained strong in defense, but seemed to lose a little defensive motivation once Anderlecht scored. However, there were few major defensive errors, rather a couple in the lead up to two goals.
The biggest issue in the first goal was Faye not tracking Raman’s run. It looks like Faye notices Raman running past Rafaelov, but delays his tracking of Raman until it’s too late. Because of this, Raman has enough space to pick the perfect pass for Thelin.
The second goal didn’t have any major issues, as Seraing made it difficult for Gómez to get his shot off. The defenders were in a good position to defend the initial cross that popped to Gómez.
For the third goal, as mentioned above, both Seraing defenders stood back from El Hadj and elected not to press him. This allowed a dangerous player to have time and space to pick a great pass between these two defenders to Murillo.
Anderlecht beat 10-man Seraing in an entertaining match—the first one between these sides in the Pro League since 1996—which saw multiple goals disallowed, a red card, three goals, and attacking intent from both sides. Vincent Kompany will be happy with his first victory of the season and strong linkup between his attackers, but disappointed that his team couldn’t finish their chances against a Seraing side several levels below them until a while after they were down to 10 men.
Jordi Condom should be disappointed in Boulenger picking up two yellow cards in quick succession, but proud of how his team defended for much of the second half with 10 men. His squad could remain strong at the back for most of the match without many major defensive errors that can occur easily after red cards. Seraing were perhaps too slow in buildup and risk averse in the first half, spending lots of time looking for a safe pass instead of taking a risk. Anderlecht opened themselves up with a narrow shape and high line, but Seraing didn’t test them enough.
Anderlect’s next match is the second leg against KF Laçi in Brussels. A few days after that match they will travel to Brugges to face Cercle Brugge, who are currently undefeated with one win and two draws. They have not scored more than one goal each game, but have also not conceded more than one goal in the two games they’ve conceded in, so Anderlecht will need to maintain their strong connection between attackers for that trip. Seraing will host Oostende, who are currently in third with two wins and one draw. Oostende have scored 5 goals and conceded 6 in their first three matches—they are able to score a lot but also concede a lot, as their match against Genk showed. Seraing will need to attack with more intensity while staying cautious at the back to have a chance.
Lotto Park, Anderlecht’s home stadium where the match was played.