Being a football hipster is serious business with knowledge about the young starlet making waves for a non-mainstream mid table side often a prerequisite rather than a feather in the cap. To further enhance your, perhaps, burgeoning reputation as a true hipster, Outside of the Boot is on hand to provide an in-depth guide to some of the less celebrated teams around Europe. In this edition of the series, Andrew Thompson has a look at Belgium’s Anderlecht.
THE PREVIOUS CAMPAIGN
Without question the biggest and most successful club in Belgium, Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht has been at the forefront of the Belgian youth revolution for nearly the past decade. With a plethora of youngsters routinely coming through the youth ranks and going on to perform at club level either at home or abroad, Anderlecht’s dominance in the Jupiler League can be compared to Ajax in the Netherlands.
They’ve been crowned champions thirty-three times, finished runner-up on twenty-one occasions, and have navigated European competitions to become champions three times (UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup 1975-76, 1977-78, and UEFA Cup 1982-83), while lifting the UEFA Super Cup twice (1976, 1978) and winning twenty-two combined domestic cup competitions. All told, their trophy cabinet contains sixty-two pieces of silverware…quite an achievement. But much like Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam, the last few seasons at the Constant Vanden Stock haven’t been happy-go-lucky.
Paars-wit finished second and third respectively over the last two seasons, being beaten to the title by Club Brugge KV and KRC Genk. Even though they only tasted defeat on five occasions (the second-fewest in the league), their ten draws were joint highest with KSC Lokeren. Patchy form in the final six weeks of the league campaign doomed the club to their third-place finish, with unacceptable losses away from home against Waasland-Beveren and Royal Excel Mouscron-Peruwelz, as well as draws with KV Mechelen and rivals Standard Liege would see Les Mauves et Blancs into the qualifying stages for this seasons Champions League (where their third-round 1st leg match against FK Rostov ended 2-2 away from home).
Despite likely getting European football this coming term, last season undoubtedly was seen as a failure, which saw manager Besnik Hasi replaced with Swiss headmaster Rene Weiler. Needless to say, the pressure on the former Swiss international to help Anderlecht recapture their domestic crown will be immense.
Born in the town of Winterthur, in the Zurich canton in northern Switzerland, Rene Weiler cannot boast a glorious playing career. Capped just once by Switzerland in 1997 (against Russia) and only featuring at club level a total of 183 times in a career that spanned eleven seasons, Weiler began his managerial journey for his hometown club FC Winterthur in 2001 when he became the assistant. One year later he would take up the position of manager. A further five years later, a two-year stint at the helm of FC St. Gallen would find its way onto his CV, before additional time served at FC Schaffhausen (2009-11) and FC Aarau (2011-14) would lead him to his most credible posting, two years at FC Nurnberg (2014-16).
Under his stewardship, the Bavarian side finished ninth in 2014-15 after failing to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga in the prior season, and followed up with an impressive third place finish last season (while netting the second most goals in Bundesliga 2 with 68 in 34 matches), but losing out to Eintracht Frankfurt in the relegation/promotion playoff at the end of last season. It was a large step in the right direction to restore a storied German side back to the top flight, and it was his body of work there that prompted Anderlecht to approach him. Though his tactics employed at Nurnberg are in stark contrast to the footballing way of life in the Belgian capital, it stands to reason that Weiler could bring some fresh ideas to help Anderlecht take their brilliant domestic platform back to the top.
Weiler’s tactical approach at Nurnberg put a rather strong emphasis on goal scoring – as stated before, Der Altmeister recorded a very impressive two goals per match tally last campaign, but with a defensive record of 41 goals conceded, it wasn’t quite the notion of “we’ll just always try to outscore you” but rather more to the tune of “we put more faith in our attack” …which in truth is a rather fine line.
Nurnberg used two set-ups last season in the vast majority of their matches; a 4-2-2-2 with two deeper central midfielders, or a more attacking 4-2-3-1. In both of these systems, the emphasis of the approach was to go through center forward Niclas Fullkrug and left winger Guido Burgstaller – the attacking pair netted 14 and 13 goals respectively, combining to be one of the most efficient attacking tandems in the German second tier last season.
Anderlecht, however, unsurprisingly rely on a tactically flexible 4-3-3, and it is this set up that Weiler naturally opted for in their recent match against Rostov; it should be expected that he will succumb to this approach, but placing a larger emphasis on a second source of goals must be emphasized. Center forward Stefano Okaka registered a credible 13 goals in 27 appearances in the league last season, and even though Anderlecht had fourteen different goal scorers last term, too much of a reliance was placed on Okaka to find the goals. Immediately, Weiler’s first task must be to get better goal returns from the likes of Frank Acheampong and summer signings Sofiane Hanni and Alexandru Chipciu. To do this, reliance must be placed on wunderkind Youri Tielemans and Dennis Praet to be the creative engine that springs Anderlecht forward.
Within a flexible 4-3-3, with Tielemans and Praet usually alongside each other in midfield ahead of the now first-team regular Leander Dendoncker who will likely slot in at holding midfield, Praet and Tielemans will continue to rely on their movement both on and off the ball to slot into spaces left behind by Anderlecht’s wide players who so often like to get forward or make diagonal runs. With Praet’s quality left foot and technical ability on the ball, and Tielemans willingness to get forward, eye for a long pass, and ability to shoot from range, the midfield duo are the well-balanced attacking fulcrum whose task will be to supply Chipciu, Hanni and Acheampong directly, or to link up with Okaka or other center forwards Idrissa Sylla and Nathan Kabasele, who will then look to bring others into play through the middle. Positional understanding and exchanges in both possession and movement into spaces are crucial to the way Anderlecht play when on the ball, and if Weiler can increase the goal tally from other areas on the pitch, they’ll already be in a much better place than they were last campaign.
On the defensive front, RSC certainly put stock in their wing-backs to get forward to influence proceedings further up the pitch, and in recent seasons we’ve seen the likes of Fabrice N’Sakala be effective in that role, so there should be no shortage of passing options or players to provide service into the final third. What Weiler will have to stress from a tactical standpoint, however, is the balance needed when it comes to the forward runs. Both N’Sakala and new signing Dennis Appiah will like to get forward, but the understanding that both cannot press on simultaneously will have to be stressed. Additional defensive help does come from the aforementioned Dendoncker and Tielemans, providing a mobile shield for the back four should either wing-back get caught up the pitch.
All-in-all, while Weiler should not look to change much by way of Anderlecht’s overall approach, his task, as stated before, will be to get the best out of the incredible amount of creative potential the side possesses to yield a much better goal return this season.
TRANSFER MARKET ACTIVITY
It was a busy summer in the market for the Brussels-based club, bringing in Dennis Appiah from SM Caen, Romanian international Alexandru Chipciu from giants Steaua Bucharest, Sebastian De Maio from Genoa and Mahmoud Hassan-Trezeguet from Egyptian Champions El Ahly Cairo in moves that combined for 11.2m Euro in expenditures. Sofiane Hanni (KV Mechelen), and African youngsters Emmanuel Sowah Adjei (Dreams FC) and Idrissa Doumbia (ES Bingerville) were also brought in for undisclosed fees. Additionally, three youngsters earned promotion to the first-team, with Wout Faes (18), Jorn Vancamp (17) and Mile Svilar (16) all being brought into the side from the reserves, while Samuel Bastien, Andy Kawaya, Nathan Kabasele, Fede Vico and Thomas Kaminski all returned from loan spells abroad.
As for the departures gate at Bruxelles-National, Matias Suarez would be seen leaving for Belgrano de Cordoba in Argentina and Silvio Proto moving to KV Oostende. Rafael Galhardo, Anthony Vanden Borre and Aaron Leya Iseka have been loaned out to Atletico Paranaense, Montpellier and Marseille respectively, with Thomas Kaminski also leaving the club on for an undisclosed fee to KV Kortrijk.
Overall, it’s very solid business – the defensive options at the club have been buffed and given added depth, a capable left-sided attacking player was added as well as a proven Jupiler Pro League attacking midfielder. The promotions of young players to the first team as well as the two signings from the Ivory Coast and Ghana also signify a continued reliance and trust in the youth program, something with Weiler will be happy to put faith in.
THREE KEY PLAYERS
Youri Tielemans – The highly-touted central midfielder is one of the most sought after young players in Europe, and for good reason. Still just 19-years old and projected to become one of the most outstanding central players over the next five seasons, his intelligence on and off the ball, range of passing with both feet, thunderous drive from range and work-rate in a box-to-box roll puts him at the very top when it comes to players who will be tasked with carrying a great deal on their shoulders to get Anderlecht back to the top of the domestic food chain.
Leander Dendoncker – Another gifted central player to come through the youth ranks at the club, Dendoncker’s stock has risen quite quickly over the last season. The versatile 21-year old can slot in effectively at center back or in the center of midfield, but is at his best at the holding role. Praised for his intelligence, positional awareness and ability to read the opposition’s passing lanes, it comes as no surprise that he’s already made his full debut for the national team. Much like his compatriot Tielemans, his role in the middle of the park, though far more defensive, remains a vital piece of the puzzle.
Frank Acheampong – Under Weiler, emphasis will surely be put on Stefano Okaka, Idrissa Sylla and Sofiane Hanni to provide goals through the center channel, but Frank Acheampong remains an important component to the Anderlecht attack on the flanks. Blessed with blistering pace, his direct approach, willingness to run at players out wide or tuck in centrally to make a diagonal run via service from the middle or playing off the shoulder from a layoff via the center forward, further goals added to his tally of just four in 20 appearances could end up being key to further attacking success this season for the club.
TALENT RADAR KEY YOUNG PLAYER
Idrissa Doumbia – At the time of writing, he made his full debut for the club in their 2-1 win away from home against Mouscron-Peruwelz, starting in midfield alongside Leander Dendoncker and completing 64-minutes before being removed for Steven Defour. Still only 18-years old, and having just moved from ES Bingerville in the Ivorian Premier Division, it’s a testament to his ready-made ability to make the massive jump in quality and already earn a start coming out of pre-season, especially ahead of the likes of Defour. It could very well be that he continues to develop ahead of schedule this season if he’s been given this much responsibility early.
Note: Do not think I forgot about Samuel Bastien – he’s the more well-known of the two young central players, and Bastien certainly has the eye of quite a few clubs around Europe after his strong showings for Avellino in Serie B last season.
CONCLUSIONS AND EXPECTATIONS
As mentioned before, Anderlecht have just finished running out 2-1 winners away in their opening Jupiler Pro fixture of the 2016-17 season. Goals from Frank Acheampong and Idrissa Sylla cancelled out Mouscron’s opener by Filip Markovic.
Three points in his first league match at the helm is exactly what Rene Weiler would have deemed the requirement. Using a 4-3-3, with two holding midfielders (Leander Dendoncker and Idrissa Doumbia), Anderlecht effectively utilized both their center forward on the day (Sofiane Hanni) and their other wide player Alexandru Chipciu (both of whom registered assists) to good effect with Acheampong and Youri Tielemans. In a tricky away fixture, Weiler’s troops passed the test and five players made their league debuts.
The expectations placed on Weiler’s shoulders this season are rather simple – win the league and be competitive in Europe. With their second-leg fixture against Rostov on the horizon and three points from three already in the bag domestically, it’s all going well for the new manager.
Written by Andrew Thompson
Read all our 2016-17 Hipster Guide articles here.