While this website has made its name focusing on the lesser known youth of this beautiful sport, and combined it with a tinge of tactical flavour meant for the football enthusiast, we found a large gap to be exploited in terms of combining the two. This mini-series thus focuses on young managers (below the age of 45) and their tactical philosophies, deriving what got them here and where they could go. In this piece, Albin Sheqiri gives an in-depth insight into Besnik Hasi.
Born in Gjakovë, Kosovo on 25th December 1971, Besnik Hasi started his football career at Liria Prizren (then a team playing in the Superliga of Kosovo), before moving to many different clubs in Balkan leagues, and then in 1994, found as he recalls his 2nd home: Belgium. In 1994 he signed for the KRC Genk, where he played 141 games, winning the Belgian Pro League and Belgian Cup once each.
In 2000 Hasi signed for the Belgium powerhouse RSC Anderlecht where he played for 6 seasons, playing 107 games in total and was also the captain in the 2005/06 season. He was also the captain of the Albanian national team, before retiring in 2007. Besnik retired from all football in 2008, lastly at Cercle Brugge, to then instead focus on his career as a manager.
Due to his fine performances when playing for his former club Anderlecht, Hasi was named at first, as the assistant manager of the club. From 2008 onwards, he worked hard to complete his coaching-courses and after the former Anderlecht head coach: John van den Brom moved to AZ in March 2014, Hasi was then named as the new head-coach of Anderlecht.
The Albanian continued the strong form of Anderlecht by securing his first titles ever as a manager winning the Belgian Pro League 2013-14 and also the Belgian Super Cup in 2014, at the age of 40. He received one special offer, this according to Hasi himself, from the Basque, San Sebastian based club: Real Sociedad, but signed an extension as the head-coach of Anderlecht, and has also expressed that his biggest dream is to one day manage the Albanian national team.
Belgian Pro League (1) – 2013/2014 – winner
Belgian Super Cup (1) – 2014 – winner
It is apparent when analyzing and understanding the way of football which Besnik Hasi wants his Anderlecht to play, that he is a young coach with modern ideas. So how can you explain the word modern in football? The game has developed into a much faster transitional game from defense to attack, but more important has been the prevalence of possession based football. This is exactly what Besnik Hasi is trying to employ with a 4-2-3-1 formation, at times can switch to a 2-4-4 or even a 4-3-3.
The ‘’new’’ Anderlecht plays a 4-2-3-1 formation, with great focus on attacking the flanks with pace.
This has been the most used formation of Anderlecht throughout the 2014/15 season, with many top-class players injured: Marko Marin, Rolando, and Denis Suarez.
What Besnik Hasi is trying to implement is a great attacking side, with many different combinations, and ways of attacks. This makes his side hard to defend against as they can use many different variations during different zones of the pitch. This is for me a very modern way of playing the game which also makes Anderlecht a very flexible team.
A great use of reference to compare with Anderlecht’s style of play, is how Barcelona are able to easily switch positions between Rakitic and Messi as they do depending on the situations.
The same system is implemented by Hasi but on many different zones/areas/positions of the pitch. To paint a more clear and vivid picture and understanding of the system, let’s start with the 1st phase of the attack: Build-up.
Hasi plays with a 4-man back-line, where he has Van den Borre as the right back and Sakala as the left-back. Deschacht and Mbemba are the central-defenders. As seen in many clubs, Anderlecht’s full-backs have much more technical ability than the central-defenders, and are used higher up the pitch. What Hasi wants are his full-backs to occupy positions higher up the pitch to be able to advance to more advanced areas/zones, but also to push the defending wingers (of the opponent) further back, to create space for the link-up players.
During the build-ups though, Anderlecht has many different ways of solving the 1st press of the team, as it all depends on how the opposing team is defending, for example: with 1 striker or 2 strikers, are they trying to press the team higher up the pitch and force Anderlecht for a long ball and so on. Now, during the build-up a very important player (if not the most important of this team) is Steven Defour, who is the one seen dropping deep and helping the team to advance to more attacking zones, but also to keep the ball in possession, and playing through balls.
What Hasi wants essentially is possession-based football, but with many variations, so the main focus is to keep the ball.
The easiest and maybe most-known way of build-up can be the long ball. This long ball is also seen during Anderlecht games and these are most often played by the central defenders or the goalkeeper, as the focus is to find the target player of the team: Alexander Mitrovic, but also to bypass the press of the opposing team. From there on he is able to keep the ball or pass it to a player, but now in a more advanced area/higher up the pitch.
Here we can see how the opposing team is defending in a 4-1-4-1 system, where the central-defenders of Anderlecht already have an overload with 2v1 during the 1st phase of the build-up. The hard part is to get the ball to the more advanced areas.
So what they do is (notice the high positions of Vanden Borre and Sakala, who are pushing higher up the field) give the central-defenders the responsibility to try and find a free player, playing the through-pass, meaning that there is no need for Defour or Tielemans to drop deep but instead try and get the central midfielders more involved with the game in more attractive zones (between the defending lines).
Now, as the opposing team is playing a man-marking defense on the central midfielders, the use of Mitrovic is worth a lot. Mitrovic and Praet switch positions to drag opponents out from the space which Anderlecht could then exploit (half-space). Now the movement of Praet drags his marker away from the space which leaves Mitrovic free, as the central defender is not sure to follow his movements as it can leave space behind.
Now they have advanced into a much more dangerous zone, with 7 players in the opposing team’s half.
Use of Central-Midfielders
As mentioned earlier, Defour is the engine of this Anderlecht side, if not the most important player. He not only makes clever runs but joins the attack and defense, meaning that his transitional play is highly valuable. With great close control and good passing ability, Defour can be used as a deep-lying playmaker with the speed and agility of a winger.
As Hasi wants his full-backs to penetrate the flanks, the play at first should go through the center, to then exploit and explode through the flanks where they can create numerical advantages, due to the attacking-positions of the full-backs. Now when the situations calls for Defour to drop deep, he does so and has the ability to easily get past his man or just basically advance further with the ball. As he is the engine of the team he is also the one to try and find the through-balls to find the players occupying the attacking third. (There are of course also situations where the need for Tielemans to drop instead, for example when Defour is man marked).
Vanden Borre starts to push up, and so does Sakala (not seen here), while Defour is the one dropping deep creating a 3v2 in this situation. During this game vs Standard Liege, Standard were pressing with 3 men upfront as they know the Anderlecht way of playing out from the back, which was intended to force Anderlecht to play long.
Notice how the right-winger of Standard has started his rushing towards the left central-defender of Anderlecht, as he thinks that he is the one receiving the pass.
After a nice diagonal ball from Proto (GK) to Sakala (left-back) as you can now see that Tielemans has penetrated in a much higher zone than that of Defour, also all free to receive the pass.
Now the two central-midfielders are connected, they work together and read each other’s movements all the time, if not then Anderlecht would have lost every game.
The flexibility part which I mentioned before, comes from the way that Hasi uses his players. Every player has a position, and they play in a 4-2-3-1 system, but players are able to switch positions to always maintain this formation, simply to not lose balance in the attack. Switching positions during an attack is an extremely hard task for the opponent to try and defend. Now when attacking, Anderlecht wants to have many men occupying/penetrating in the opponent’s half, so this means that one of the central midfielders has to join the attack, to provide balance for the team while in attack but also play freely in the attacking third.
Before this situation above, Defour was dropping deep to create a 3v2 during the build-up, he gets the ball but plays it back to Proto who plays a long ball. Mitrovic (Target-Striker) receives the ball. Now because of how Mitrovic has dropped slightly deeper than his #9 position, the winger Achaempong has positioned himself more centrally to still have a player centrally, and also drag a defender with him. He does this knowing that the space he has left will be occupied by new player, as seen in this situation. Behind Mitrovic is a player starting his overlap and that is Tielemans, who has joined the attack due to Defour dropping deep and is not playing a central midfielder’s role but actually joining the attack penetrating the flank.
Now when doing this, the central-midfielder that is left (in this situation Defour) plays the pivot’s role. The player that will of course help during the attacking play but also the player to provide help if Standard were to counter-attack, so as to not leave too much space to be exploited.
The exact situation, but from a different view as you can see where Defour would position himself during the attacking play of Anderlecht. The roles are reversed if Defour is the one penetrating higher up the field and Tielemans acting as the pivot.
Tielemans recovers the ball and finds a direct pass to Defour.
Now instead of both joining the attack, Tielemans starts to position deeper to provide balance, with balance I mean the link-up to switch sides.
Tielemans is positioned deeper (not seen in this situation but as the pivot) and Defour joins the attack playing a through ball to Praet.
Defour loses the ball due to a bad pass, and starts his pressing to win the ball back with an aggressive approach, with Tielemans still positioned as the pivot.
Attacks through the Flanks
As mentioned above, the full-backs are used to join the attack through the flanks to have more men attacking, which gives the team more depth and width, thus providing more opportunities in attack. To provide space for the full-backs to penetrate, Hasi uses his wingers in a very special way. A player such as Archaempong does not have the same technical abilities such as Marko Marin, which means that Archaempong is used as a player running down the flanks especially in transitions from defense to attack, as he did against Arsenal when he was used as a full-back (just for the transitions). Playing as a winger, Achaempong is often seen cutting inside into more attacking-areas, than Marko Marin would.
During the build-ups of Anderlecht, we know that the central midfielders are able to drop deep and also how the (depending on the situation) central defenders are able to be the ones to play the advanced pass through the defending lines finding a pass through the channel into the player penetrating the half-space (such as the example of Mitrovic dropping deep).
Once again Defour and Tielemans are higher up the pitch as there are no real pressure from the Charleroi team, and the central defenders can easily keep the possession of the ball and find passes. In these situations, the central midfielders will of course be harder to find, as they will be man-marked as seen above. So to find a solution to this and give another dimension/opportunity to the build-up, Hasi uses his wingers by having the winger positioning himself more centrally (cutting inside). This means that he is basically dragging an opponent with him, to provide more space for the full-back to penetrate into or if not being marked, he can then get the ball and attack, now through the 1st defending-line + pressing of Charleroi. The wingers are used as inverted wingers.
Defour starts one of his clever runs (personally prefer calling them dummy runs) as he drags the player with him and Tielemans positions himself behind the midfield line of Charleroi. Najar, the right-winger of Anderlecht drops deeper to get away from his position. This leaves a huge gap if, say the full-back is to follow Najar and mark him, if not then Mbemba (player passing the ball in the graphic) is able to passto Najar who is subsequently able to penetrate the opposition’s defence.
Andy Najar is now the one building-up the attack as he advances with the ball to the more attacking spaces. What he has done with this move is create time and space, but also drag not 1 but 2 players focusing on his move, as you can see Defour is the one filling the pivot position.
Anderlecht usually uses the full-backs as much as possible in the attacking zones, as the essential attacking roles of the full-backs are to penetrate higher up the pitch. But if say Najar has dropped deep and the full-back has not penetrated the flank (as the space has opened up) then Denis Praet the #10 of the team is seen positioning himself in this area to receive the eventual pass, if not then he also drags a player with him, leaving a much more threatening space for Anderlecht to exploit.
This is precisely what has happened in the situation above.
The situation leads to Najar continuing his run to the #10 position, as he has played the pass to Praet, who is now positioned out wide. Praet plays the pass back to Defour who can then switch sides.
As Tielemans is to receive the ball, the left-fullback has started his run on the flank with Archeampong (left-winger) penetrating the half-space of the left-flank. Notice how Praet has started his run now on the flank and Najar staying more centrally, with Mitrovic as the target.
Tielemans plays it to Sakala, who drags the left midfielder towards him, leaving a huge gap between the defending lines of Charleroi. Tielemans plays a give and go and receives it in the space shown in the picture above. Meaning that Anderlecht are now attacking in the attacking 3rd with 5v5 players.
Another use of the full-backs is that they have the freedom to penetrate and threaten the opponent defense with the ball, if say the right-winger is positioned as a winger or still as the winger’s position but a bit further down the flank. This makes it harder for the defending team as they have to defend against large amount of players that can dribble and keep the ball to threaten a player or space, or to open up a space for another player, as the players are able to switch positions during the attack.
Here is a very clever run made from Najar as he first ran towards the space (towards Arsenal’s goal) then does a quick move to get away from his defender.
Vanden Borre sees the opputrunity to play past the situation as they have created a 2v2, with a give-and-go pass he is now penetrating the half-space channel of Arsenal.
These are many of the ways in which Anderlecht uses the different players to advance into more threatening spaces. They have many different variations as they can keep possession, play direct or play a long-ball. With many ways of playing through and advancing to new spaces, Anderlecht are a very flexible team. At times you have Sakala (left-back) positioned as the winger while Marko Marin is seen deep in own half providing options to advance the ball further. Having Marin down the pitch helps the team to keep the ball in possession as he has great technical ability, and could easily advance with the ball in possession, which adds extra dimension to the attacks. The connections between the full-backs and wingers are exceptional as they read each other movements all the time. If the winger is seen penetrating in the half-space, then the full-back immediately penetrates as the winger and vice-versa.
Transitions: Attack + Defense
In the attacking third, Anderlecht tries to play fast attacking football. With no real intention of circulating the ball, as a side like Barcelona like to do, but prefer a more direct style of play instead. With direct I mean, playing the cross or trying to find through-balls, or shooting towards the goal. At times this is the main problem of the team as they waste too many opportunities, basically throwing away possession too easily. This is something that has to be developed for the next season, as Anderlecht needs to be more dangerous in the attacking third, especially from the central areas.
Anderlecht has won the ball back from Arsenal and starts the counter-attack. Denis Praet stops his run to position himself more deep in the space behind the ball watching Flamini.
Praet shoots directly and has no intention of keeping possession or continuing the play but shoots directly towards the goal = loss of possession. Not saying this is wrong but they have to be more clinical and not waste such situations.
The strength of Anderlecht is the use of the flanks. With the attacking full-backs, they can easily create overloads on the flanks, as the fullbacks are often seen being the ones to play the cut in pass or the cross, which gives the wingers more freedom to penetrate in the half-spaces (more centrally positioned).
Against more dangerous teams such as Arsenal, Anderlecht takes every opportunity they can to punish the opposing team on the counter-attack. Here is Proto with the ball, right after an Arsenal attack. Now instead of playing possession based football, he looks for the direct-play, and you can also see the same in the movement of the players: the left back already is on his way to start the transition.
Proto throws a great ball to Tielemans, as they now are more players in a flank, Najar keeps the width during this transition to open up spaces.
Tielemans plays the diagonal ball which leaves Najar in a 1v1 with the full-back, but more importantly the running Vanden Borre (full-back) to create a 2v1 or 2v2 situation. Najar cuts-inside and Vanden Borre continues his run towards the flank to play an eventual cross.
Now, within these attacks, comes great responsibilities from the wingers, as if say Najar is to lose the ball in a situation like this, where Anderlecht has the full-back penetrating in a very attacking-space/zone, then they will of course leave huge spaces behind. This is exactly the main weakness of the Besnik Hasi philosophy. The transitions from attack to defense.
This is right after the attack as you can now see how Najar is still on the ground, and Vanden Borre starting to rush back to his position. Now who is the one to cover up for Vanden Borre? Yes, Steven Defour, as you see has a lot of running to do, there is nothing wrong in that he is pressing the player in possession of the ball, but by leaving his more central position he opens up huge spaces in the middle and a huge gap, between him and Tielemans, which better teams exploit very well, making Anderlecht very vulnerable.
So what Hasi has done is to create a counter-attacking system if these situations occur, to not let the opposing team transition from defense to attack. This is also a reason why Defour immediately starts his pressing into this area. I will show you an example of the counter-press, but this is at times not well executed, and the attacking teams can easily punish Anderlecht, as I think this is something that Hasi will try and develop for the next season.
Cazorla tries to find the player free in the middle (Ramsey) but due to the good pressing of Anderlecht team, Tielemans is close enough to his teammates/the situation to block the pass = Anderlechts counter-pressing succeeded.
Defour receives the ball.
Plays the ball back to the central-defender and the build-up to the attack is on again.
In defense Anderlecht defends in a 4-2-3-1 with the focus on the wingers blocking the channels, and Defour+Tielemans playing a man-marking system, basically following their marker all the way up to a position in line with the central defenders. This is also a big issue as it leaves a huge-gap behind, if playing against better teams, that can circulate the ball with more pace, then this gap is a very great way to punish Anderlecht, if say when defending Tielemans does not cover up this space for Defour.
4-5-1 system in defense
The main weakness in defense system of Anderlecht, leaving a huge gap in the half-space or at times between the lines of defending and midfield-line.
Three Career Defining Games
1) Pro League Play-offs 13/14
All the Play-offs games during the 2013/14 season. Anderlecht finished 3rd in the regular season. But with the Play-offs system in Belgian football, these games were crucial for Anderlecht and Besnik Hasi, as it was these matches that would eventually crown Anderlecht as the champions.
2) Arsenal 3-3 Anderlecht – Champions’ League
Arsenal were leading 3-0 in half-time, Anderlecht draw the game to 3-3. A game that caught much attention in the media around the world, with a great team display from Anderlecht.
3) Anderlecht 2-1 Lokeren – Super Cup 2014
Besnik Hasi’s first ever Super Cup title with RSC Anderlecht.
Three Key Players Developed
Belgium’s healthy pool of great and talented football players is only growing, as we see more and more Belgian footballers playing in the top leagues of Europe. The culture of the club Anderlecht itself has no exceptions of producing world-class players such as: Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens. Products from Anderlecht also include Adnan Januzaj, as well as current players Denis Praet and Yuri Tielemans.
Denis Praet is a player that has developed a lot in recent years, not only by playing regularly but becoming one of the most important players of the team playing as the #10. Praet has been given a lot of responsibilities of the tactical philosophy of Besnik Hasi, as he is the playmaker of this team, displaying great performances during the entire season.
Another player who is shockingly mature despite his young age, is the young central midfielder Yuri Tielemans (born in 1997!) who fulfills every role of the midfield. The duo are 2 of the more important figures of this Anderlecht side as they together with the well-known Steven Defour, are the ones to win the midfield battles.
With Tielemans as the central-midfielder, Praet as the playmaker, we have the Serbian ‘’target-player’’ Alexander Mitrovic left. A player that Hasi has had many conflicts with (not due to the nationalities) due to the physical form of Mitrovic. The 1,89m long striker, has despite the issues been the main striker of Anderlecht, and even though he has still much room left for development, such as the technical abilities (first touch in particular), one cannot see past his terrific campaign this season, as he was the top-scorer with 14 goals.
Albin is a UEFA B licensed coach with great passion for football and a big curiosity about the tactics. Plays football for a team in the 4th tier of Sweden.
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