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Focusing on Genk’s Joakim Mæhle

By: Stats Perform

Following an earlier OptaPro article focusing on the performances of Genk and some of their more influential players this season, this latest analysis focuses on 21 year old Danish right back Joakim Mæhle, another at the Belgian side who has significantly contributed to the team’s excellent performances this year.

Key takeways

– Mæhle has recorded the most passes per 90 in the final third of any First Division A right back this season, but ranks 14th for crosses.

– In build-up play he has been involved in over five shot-ending sequences per 90 this season.

– He ranks top in the division for all full backs for winning back possession in the attacking third.

Yet to be capped at senior level, Mæhle joined Genk in 2017/8 from Danish side Aaborg.

In his first season in Belgium, Mæhle featured in 42% of the club’s minutes, however this season that has jumped to 95% – no other player has featured more frequently.

What type of right back is Mæhle?

From our previous analysis we know that Genk play with progressive full backs, and Mæhle fits this style well. Often hugging the touchline, Mæhle carefully considers his passing options, rather than aimlessly looking to play the ball into the box.

Joakim Mæhle pass zone map, attacking left to right. 2018/19 First Division A season.

Focusing on right backs in the Belgian First Division, Mæhle ranks first for passes made in the final third (15.6 per 90), and 14/20 when assessing the number of crosses made per game. Interestingly, Mæhle is making more passes in the attacking third than his debut season in Belgium, and is crossing less often than he did in 2017/18, which is perhaps not only an lllustration of the player’s progression, but also his tactical awareness, and better understanding of the team’s playing style. Mæhle’s low crossing output may be a consequence of Genk’s tactical approach, as only 14% of Genk’s shots this season have come from crosses, with only Cercle Brugge having a lower percentage.

From the crosses that Mæhle’s does make, video analysis further illustrates that rarely does he cross from deep, instead getting in line with the penalty area (and beyond) and looking to whip the ball, rather than drill or float it.

Despite crossing less frequently than his league peers, Mæhle still ranks second in the competition for chances created. The map of Mæhle’s 37 chances created this season can be seen below, showing his ability to get into the final third and pick out a team mate in a good position.

Joakim Mæhle chances created. 2018/19 First Division A season.

His high expected assist output is testament to this.

Right backs that have played a minimum of 500 minutes. 2018/19 First Division A season.

Involvement in build-up

Using the sequence framework, we can learn more about Mæhle’s involvement in Genk’s overall playing style.

Mæhle is involved in over five shot-ending sequences per 90 this season – the most in the league for right backs by some distance. This amounts to just over a quarter of Genk’s total sequences that end in a shot, which is almost identical to Genk left back Jere Uronen.

Mæhle’s frequent involvement in Genk’s attacks is further illustrated by him ranking first in the league for involvement in sequences that end in the final third.

Mæhle without the ball

During the 30-game regular season, Genk boasted the strongest defence in the league, conceding 31 times from an xG of 29.6 – also the lowest in the league. While not solely responsible, Mæhle featuring in 95% of available minutes shows his importance to the side and contributing to the defensive unit.

Mæhle has shown to be key in winning the ball back for Genk across the pitch, winning possession in his own third 3.3 times per 90 this season (left back Uronen sits at 2.3), with only Genk’s centre backs regaining possession in this area of the pitch more frequently.

In terms of winning possession in the attacking third, Mæhle (0.5 p/90) towers above left back Uronen (0.1). Extending this to full backs in the league for players with more than 1000 minutes, Mæhle ranks first.

Active or reactive?

Applying data, we can begin to learn whether a player defends in a reactive or proactive way. Defensive statistics can be categorised as ‘active’ (such as tackles and interceptions) or ‘reactive’ (such as blocks and clearances).

80% of Mæhle’s defensive actions can be classified as ‘active’, which would rank him fourth in the competition amongst defenders.

Genk’s high pressing style will of course contribute to Mæhle’s output – both in an attacking and defensive sense, but the young Danish right back has shown a consistent ability throughout the season to contribute with and without the ball, and his consistent presence in the starting 11 further illustrates his manager is also happy with him.