STVV 1-1 Oostende: Analysis of a Stalemate at Stayen

Article by Ben Griffis. This post is part of our Belgian league 21/22 project, where we will analyze many Pro League matches with the goal of creating a tactical profile of several teams at the end of the season.

Sint-Truidense VV hosted KV Oostende in the 10th round of the 2021/22 First Division A season. Both teams came into this match with the same 4-1-4 record and relatively similar form. Five teams were on 13 points to start the match, separated only by goal difference. STVV were in 9th with -2 goal difference, while KV Oostende sat 11th with -4.

Little separated these two sides coming into the match (they even both have German managers), but STVV have been great in the past while hosting Oostende.

However, this match was different, as little separated the sides on the pitch. Alexander Blessin’s Oostende were the better team in the first half, but couldn’t capitalize on their possession. Bernd Hollerbach’s halftime talk must have worked, as STVV took control of the match after the interval, but also couldn’t capitalize on their attacks. Both sides scored a goal in a match where STVV looked the better team going forward while Oostende looked better in defense. A stalemate was fitting of two teams with the same results after 10 matches now, and Sint-Truidense move down to 10th while Oostende remain 11th.

Here’s how the managers lined their teams up.

Sint-Truidense’s Buildup and Attack

Sint-Truidense built up in their 3-5-2 shape, with wingbacks Hashioka and Cacace pushing high up the pitch to offer wing support to the midfielders. De Ridder had freedom to roam around, popping up on both flanks. Taichi Hara also roamed around the attack while Yuma Suzuki stayed higher up and on the left.

STVV frequently used the right side of the pitch to attack, looking to use Hashioka’s pace, dribbling, and movement to exploit Oostende’s left back Ndicka Matam. While both teams only had their fullbacks on the wings, Hara and De Ridder’s movement allowed STVV to isolate Ndicka Matam and overload that side of the pitch. A stat given in the 26th minute illustrates this well: at that point, 68% of STVV’s possession was on their right flank, compared to 22% on the left and 10% up the middle.

Long passes and passes into space were a key way STVV moved the ball forward. Cacace and Hashioka were major targets of long passes, but players also made runs into space when they could—including defensive midfielder Mory Konate. One particular chance came after Konate passes back to his defense and then runs into space behind Ndicka Matam, who was high up the pitch and didn’t pick up his run. Konate runs all the way into the box but misses his one-on-one with Hubert because the keeper closed down the angle well.

However, STVV had difficulty keeping possession for long periods of time because of these long balls and passes into space. Even without playing at a high tempo in the first half, many of their passes went out of play or were cut out. Completion percentages of 65% and 67% in the first and second halves respectively show their inability to chain passes.

In the second half, STVV played with greater intensity in both attack and defense. Sint-Truidense won the ball back better and faster, which allowed them to keep their attacking pressure on Oostende. Their passes were smarter as well, so their play became more fluid, as showcased in the video below.

While their goal came in the 52nd minute, STVV dominated possession for most of the 60-70th minutes in the final third, creating lots of crosses and shots. Had Guillaume Hubert had a worse match, STVV would have had at least one more goal.

Taichi Hara’s first goal for The Canaries came in the 52’ after a wonderful possession-winning challenge by Toni Leistner. Hashioka then passes into the box where Suzuki backed into and out-muscled Medley before shooting. Hubert’s save fell right to Hara, who didn’t miss the open net. While Hara was in a great position for the rebound, Leistner’s tackle is probably the best part of this goal, and Suzuki’s strength to hold off a bigger defender has to be noted as well.

Sint-Truidense’s Defense

Sint-Truidense’s shape in defense was their 5-3-2 starting formation, but one of the wing backs sat between the rest of the back line and the midfield three when the ball was on their flank. In the image below, Liberato Cacace is between the midfield and defensive lines while the ball is on his flank (in the image, he’s just coming back to the back line after Oostende recycled possession to the center of the pitch).

The image also shows how flat the rest of the STVV back line is. Typically, while one wing back pushed up the other would stay back, allowing the team to almost create a 4-4-2.

As the image shows as well, the strikers and midfielders remained in their positions, only leaving them to press or pick up a teammate’s position in transition.

In defensive transition, STVV players would counter-press initially, but then form up into their shape if they didn’t win the ball before a few Oostende passes. After that, Hollerbach’s pressing goal was to restrict space rather than dive in to win the ball. STVV players would mark their opponents with the ball, but once the ball carrier came near, they would put in a challenge. In the first half, these challenges were fairly heavy and frequent, leading to a half punctuated by stoppages.

Overall, STVV defenders played well enough to cut out most of Oostende’s passes in the final third or force mistakes. Even in the first half, they were not heavily tested in their ability to constantly defend their box. There were some mistakes, however, and one major error led to Makhtar Gueye’s equalizer.

Gueye’s goal begins with a free kick from deep by D’Arpino. Two STVV players managed to win the ball over an Oostende player, but it popped straight into the air. As the ball is in the air and Gueye moves to get into position, Daiki Hashioka steps back—into an area with no opponent around besides Gueye. Gueye then has a relatively free header after Teixeira, who tries to recover, is blocked off by Jäkel.

Hashioka needed to have challenged Gueye for the ball in this instance. With nobody behind him, there was no need to back up and cover that space. None of his teammates were in a better position to challenge for the ball or put a hand on Gueye, so Hollerbach should be disappointed that Hashioka’s mistake led to a draw rather than a victory.

Another instance of a defender making a mistake during a set piece into the box happened much earlier in the match. In the 28’, Liberato Cacace runs out of the box after his team half-clear a corner. The ball hits D’Arpino and bounces to an Oostende player, and Cacace keeps pushing out. This leaves Ambrose wide open at the far post for a cross, which STVV and Cacace are lucky that his volley goes wide.

Both major errors occurred at the far post while STVV were defending a set piece—and both mistakes were on the right side. If Bernd Hollerbach’s looking for something to address first in training, this would be my suggestion.

Oostende’s Buildup and Attack

Oostende also attacked much in their starting 4-3-1-2 shape, but at times it became a 4-3-2-1 as Ambrose dropped with Rocha Santos while Gueye stayed up top. When the ball was closer to Oostende’s net, Gueye stayed high up the pitch with STVV’s center backs and acted as a target man to relieve pressure or bypass the midfield.

In keeping with the theme of few things separating STVV and Oostende in the table, their styles of play were also relatively similar. Oostende looked to play long balls throughout the match, but instead of attacking the right flank, they seemed to have no preference—as long as Gueye was the target. This style also led to a low pass completion percentage, with 66% in the first half and 65% in the second.

Oostende were able to win the possession battle in the first half mainly by winning second balls from both teams. Oostende players looked to be more aware of where second balls would fall than STVV, allowing them to win possession back or keep the ball.

In the second half, Oostende played similar to the first but were less able to win second balls, which was a key factor that allowed STVV to have more possession. Oostende still played long passes and played at a high tempo, and their passing didn’t become more fluid like Sint-Truidense’s did.

Given the lack of passing changes, Oostende’s equalizer in the 56’ naturally came from a set piece. D’Arpino delivered a great free kick from deep that STVV couldn’t clear. As the ball pops up, Gueye gets into position—aided by Hashioka retreating—and is allowed time and space to pick his spot. Gueye, of course, doesn’t miss and loops the ball over Daniel Schmidt. Frederik Jäkel also helps make this goal by blocking off (and maybe pushing) Jorge Teixeira as he is trying to challenge Gueye for the ball.

Oostende’s Defense

Oostende defended in more of a 4-3-2-1, with Ambrose dropping in line with Rocha Santos. Much of Oostende’s defense revolved around cutting out long passes or through balls shortly after transitioning to defense, so they were rarely in their defensive shape for long. When STVV had prolonged possession in their own third, however, Rocha Santos pushed up with Gueye and Ambrose to form a 4-3-3.

When Oostende were forced to defend constantly in the 60’ to 70’ they defended very well. In this passage of play, STVV were crossing and shooting frequently, but Oostende defenders and Hubert were able to deny all attempts or force the opponent into missing the target. The main defensive issue for Oostende was their defending out wide of Cacace and Hashioka: STVV’s wing backs got many crosses off and Hashioka beat Ndicka Matam often.

STVV’s goal didn’t come from any of the prolonged pressure in the 60’-70’, however, but from a rebounded save. Suzuki beat Medley to get the initial shot off after Medley shifted his weight too soon. Suzuki then feinted and backed into Medley to beat him. Given that Suzuki is right-footed, Medley should have been prepared for that move toward the goal rather than preparing for him to cut back onto his left. Regardless, Hubert saves Suzuki’s shot, but the ball falls to Hara who reacts much faster than Jäkel, the nearest defender to the ball.

Overall, Oostende can be happy they defended well, and especially thrilled with Guillaume Hubert’s performance between the posts. If they were unable to clear crosses and block shots during the only sustained pressure of the match, they would have returned to the Belgian coast with no points instead of a hard-fought draw.

Final Thoughts

This was a game with lots of chances and half-chances, but only two goals. Frequent stops in play punctuated the first half, as both teams couldn’t string many passes together. STVV completed just 65% of their passes in the first half, and Oostende weren’t much better with 66%.

In the second half, STVV took control of the match and were able to create many more chances and get shots off, illustrated by 11 shots in the second half compared to three in the first. Their crosses were more dangerous and their attackers found more space, but their finishing wasn’t clinical enough to earn the 3 points their attacking performance arguably deserved.

Oostende were the better side in the first half, having the most possession and getting off seven shots, but were second-best after halftime. Their back line—especially goalkeeper Guillaume Hubert—held strong for most of the half and did well to only concede one goal.

Bernd Hollerbach’s subtle halftime tweaks helped his side take control of the game, but he will be left wondering what might have been had his team been slightly more clinical—or had Alexander Blessin’s defense not been as strong. The draw leaves both clubs on 14 points after round 10 of the 21/22 Pro League, with The Canaries in 9th ahead of Oostende on goal difference. After an international break, Oostende will host a struggling Cercle Brugge while Sint-Truidense will host Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht, who are unbeaten in their last five league matches.

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