Karan Tejwani provides a detailed scout report about Leander Dendoncker, Belgium’s composed midfielder
Belgium’s impressive talent development lines have brought forward another great midfielder to add to their ranks in the form of Anderlecht’s Leander Dendoncker. The Belgian Champions have enjoyed yet another title success and Dendoncker’s presence in midfield has been crucial to that. Most of the attention provided to Anderlecht has fallen towards new Monaco star Youri Tielemans, but over the past season, Dendoncker has shown his worth to the club and is tipped to be at the heart of the midfield for club and country.
Attacking wise, Belgium look astute with the likes of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku firing domestically, and in defence, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are providing the stability they require. However, it is the midfield that is facing the most problems with as Moussa Dembele, Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini have failed to replicate their domestic form for their countries and that has cost them at the two major international tournaments they have played in over the years. With the arrival of Dendoncker on the international scene, that fact could easily change.
Who is Leander Dendoncker?
Born in Passendale, Belgium, a city famous for its cheese, Dendoncker is one of three children and his younger brother, Lars, is a footballer himself at Anderlecht’s Belgian rivals Club Brugge. He moved to Brussels at the age of 14 to join Anderlecht and faced a tough time at the start, where he struggled to settle in the capital and convinced the Anderlecht staff to release him. They didn’t go all the way, however, and kept him at the club, later flourishing along with the help of Wanda and Paul Steegen, the parents of the club’s media officer, David Steegen, who often house players and provide support in order to make them feel more comfortable in the city.
The care and understanding was beneficial for Dendoncker, who would later become a star at the academy and get promoted to the first team in 2014 at the age of 19. Arsenal fans may recognise him when he played against him in the UEFA Champions League group game and led the Anderlecht fight back as they came from three goals down to tie 3-3. Now 22, his progress has gone exactly as expected since, and he’s become an ever-present figure in the team this season, playing 57 times as Anderlecht won the league and reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League. He has also become a more regular feature in the Belgian national team setup.
What is his Style of Play?
Standing at 1.88 metres (6 feet 1 inch), he has been a mainstay in the Anderlecht midfield this season, but has also played at centre-half previously, including the aforementioned Arsenal game, when he came on in the second-half to solidify the back-line. His height gives him an advantage over opponents and he possesses the necessary ability to maraud forward with the ball as well as keep it in control.
Dendoncker’s passing ability is impressive and he can play them short and long. He has flourished this season at the heart of midfield, most commonly in a 4-3-3 formation. Non-stop in midfield, he averages more than 11 kilometres covered per 90 minutes in league football and shows great composure in winning challenges, both on the ground as well as off it.
What are his Strengths?
It’s clear that Leander Dendoncker’s main strengths come with his physical stature with his marking in set-piece situations and aerial superiority coming to good use at both ends of the pitch. An imposing figure in midfield, he reads situations in the air very well and times his challenges to perfection. Check out his late goal against Manchester United in the first-leg of the Europa League quarter-finals where his bullet header levelled scores going into the second leg at Old Trafford.
Another one of his key attributes is his versatility. He’s become a regular in defensive midfield this season, playing at the heart of a 4-3-3 or along with a partner in a 4-2-3-1, but he’s also featured at centre-half from time to time or in a more advanced role in midfield where he has greater access to his creative side and passing range. He also has the potential to become a box-to-box player, with his fine dribbling qualities on the ball and endless stamina off it being central to his playing style and key traits.
Despite being shy as a child, he’s shown none of that as a professional footballer, with his command on the pitch being vital to Anderlecht’s success. He is often seen communicating instructions with the backline he is protecting and his composure on the pitch is second to none. He barely ever loses the ball and rarely commits fouls. In his 57 games across all competitions this season, he has earned just seven yellow cards – a statistic that is decent for a defensive midfielder aged just 22. Also, his ability to read passes and intercept opposition play has been lauded over the course of the season.
When usually deployed in the defensive third of the pitch, his long passes have been more than influential to the attack. Further contributing to his defensive astuteness, Dendoncker likes to play the ball out of defence and would make a great ball-playing centre-half, suited to many leagues in Europe. Finally, he has brilliant hold-up play, using his strength to keep the ball in the most complicated situations.
What are his Weaknesses?
Dendoncker’s weaknesses have rarely been exposed in a less-competitive Belgian league, but he still does have a few that need to be worked on. He isn’t exactly the fastest midfielder, and despite not being exposed too often domestically, it can catch him out in much faster leagues where counter-attacks are more likely to come by and stretch his side.
Also, most of his style revolves around defensive work and it will be difficult for him to adapt to a formation other than a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 where he would be more exposed. He does lack creativity when higher up the pitch, despite being an efficient passer, which is only evident when he is around his own half or the centre-circle. Also, there can be doubts about his finishing while not in the air, although these shouldn’t be major concerns considering his position on the pitch.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that he will be able to make the cut in midfield in a top league. He has done all he can domestically, and next season will be crucial to determine his future prospects.
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