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A closer look at Genk

By: Stats Perform

Key takeaways

– Genk’s full-backs rank first and third for their respective positions in the league for passes made in the final third.

– In midfield, Ruslan Malinovskiy ranks top in First Division A for attempted passes, sequence involvement and shot-ending sequences.

– Leandro Trossard is a key attacking threat, ranking 10th in the league for expected assists and scoring 11 goals – overperforming on his xG for the third time in four seasons.


Kevin De Bruyne, Kalidou Koulibaly, Christian Benteke, Thibault Courtois, Yannick Carrasco, Wilfred Ndidi, Leon Bailey and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

The players listed here all share one thing in common: Genk. Whether it was developing through the academy or playing there at an early stage in their career, the Belgian club has had a significant impact on all these players’ careers.

With Genk currently leading the Belgian First Division A, we take a closer look at the side’s performances, focusing on a few players who may well feature on the above list in the future.

Genk at a glance

It is no secret that a player’s output can be influenced by their team’s tactical set-up, so let’s first provide some additional context on Genk’s style.

Lining up in a 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1 formation and attacking with progressive full-backs, Genk’s left and right back rank first and third in the league for passes made in the final third from this position. The full backs also rank first and third for involvement in shot-ending sequences per 90. Interestingly, this drops down to seventh and 24th when exploring volume of crosses from full backs. Perhaps unsurprising given Pozuelo, their main chance creator with 103 (51 chances clear of the next highest Genk player) played in the central attacking midfield role until his recent departure to Toronto FC.

A possession-based side (ranking second in this statistic behind only Anderlecht), no other team in the competition enjoys more than Genk’s 3.5 passes per sequence (for additional context, Manchester City average 5.1 and Cardiff City average two), and no side in Belgium has had more sequences involving over six passes than the current league leaders.

Interestingly, Genk have only trailed for 377 minutes this season, which may lend an explanation as to why they’ve enjoyed longer periods of possession compared to other sides.

Without the ball, Genk adopt a high press, with their average sequence starting higher up the pitch than any other side. In terms of sequences that begin in the final third, Genk sit behind only Gent.

Once these sequences begin, Genk are in no rush to progress the ball, ranking 12/16 in regards to speed of ball progression.

With only 13% of their shots coming from headers (the second lowest in the league), Genk take 43% of their shots from outside the box (ranking them fourth in the league), which is perhaps a little surprising for a side that ranks first for expected goals, although they have taken the most shots in the league this season.

From that quick snapshot we can learn what the team are trying to do and apply this to evaluate some of the Genk’s players.

In midfield

A sensible place to start given Genk’s on-the-ball dominance, defensive midfielder Ruslan Malinovskiy (24), Bryan Heynen (22) and Sander Berge (21) have featured frequently with all clocking up over 1000 minutes this season. Of the 12 defensive midfielders in Belgium to have played this many minutes, Berge is the only player under 21 to feature.

With the most minutes of the three, Malinovskiy is undoubtedly a core player at Genk, often sitting in front of the defence to orchestrate the tempo.

Includes players with 1000 minutes this season.

A highly technical player and left footed, Malinovskiy’s involvement in build-up is clear to see. Often playing short passes and receiving the ball from defence toward the left hand side of the pitch, Malinovskiy is also able to progress the ball into the final third, getting it out to Genk’s attacking full backs.

Location of Ruslan Malinovskiy’s passes. 2018/19 First Division A season.

Without the ball, Mailinovskiy’s partners Berge and Heynen are the two more influential players, particularly when it comes to the actions you’d expect to see closer to goal.

All data shown ‘per 90’.

While often going with Malinovskiy ‘plus one’ in the midfield positions, manager Philippe Clement has found a balance that is able to contribute at both ends of the pitch.

Genk’s left side

With Jere Uronen at left back and Leandro Trossard playing further forward in an inverted role, Genk boast an attacking threat down this side. The two combine well both inside and outside, allowing Trossard to drive inside with the ball while Uronen runs beyond stretching the pitch and taking the full back with him.

Trossard’s understudy Joseph Paintsil also makes for interesting reading. Despite only featuring for 840 minutes this season, Paintsil has made an impact during his relatively modest playing time, totting up 35 shots (that’s one every 24 minutes), for a total xG of 3.1.

Joseph Paintsil shot map. 2018/19 First Division A season.

On closer inspection we can see that Paintstil favours that Coutinho-style pocket where he’s yet to have much luck, but has still not neglected moving further forward and getting into dangerous spaces.

Trossard, slightly older at 24, has been a regular this season. A creative spark, Trossard ranks 10th in the league for his expected assist output, with only one team mate featuring higher (the now-sold Pozuelo). There are team mates who create more chances than Trossard (one of which is Malinovskiy), but one area where the forward stands out is in his ability to get into high quality shooting positions. His 11 goals from an xG of 9 is a slight overperformance but isn’t overly unusual for the player either, who’s overperformed against the metric in three of his four seasons as a professional.

With Genk performing well at the top of the league and with no signs of them slowing down any time soon, Philippe Clement could look to have a side that could either compete in European competition next season, or potentially risk losing key players when those with bigger budgets come calling.