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KV Kortrijk 2023/24: Analysing their poor start to the season - tactical analysis tactics

KV Kortrijk 2023/24: Where Edward Still must improve his struggling squad – tactical analysis

Six matches into the new Belgian Pro League season, and Kortrijk are still yet to get a win. In fact, they have been arguably the worst side in the division this season, with their 17 goals conceded the most. They also have only scored four goals this season, one of the lowest tallies, with their -13 goal difference the worst in the top flight in Belgium. 

The turmoil for Kortrijk started at the end of last season when Bernd Storck decided to depart after saving them from relegation. The German was replaced by former Charleroi and Eupen manager Edward Still, who then had to deal with crucial squad departures and a potential takeover falling through after payments from the prospective new owners failed to be made. 

Regarding squad turnover, key players departed this summer, with the likes of Tsuyoshi Watanabe, Faïz Selemani, Marko Ilić, and 17-year-old Lars Montegnies all moving on. While the Belgian side did bring in plenty of players on loan, as well as a few on free transfers, there did not seem to be much of a bigger-picture idea in the transfer market this summer. While a few of the new signings have been able to get settled in the squad, most have so far failed to do so, with Kortrijk unable to replace the holes left by notable departures Selemani and Watanabe.  

While failing to replace key departures has played its part in this situation, most of it goes down to tactics and poor decision-making. This tactical analysis will look at a few things that have gone wrong for Ed Still and Kortrijk so far this season. While Still likely has time on his side in order to try and fix what has gone wrong this season, it won’t be long before the fans start to get unsettled with what is happening on the pitch.

Defensive set piece vulnerabilities 

The first deficiency this analysis will look at is Kortrijk’s vulnerabilities at defensive set pieces so far this season, with their lack of marking and poor defensive awareness on set pieces leading to chances and goals for opposition sides. Kortrijk have faced an average of 7.09 corners per 90 minutes this season, the highest total in the Belgian Pro League. Naturally, this would mean that Kortrijk would likely give up more chances from corners, but many of the mistakes come from poor marking or not being set properly. 

KV Kortrijk 2023/24: Analysing their poor start to the season - tactical analysis tactics

The image above shows an example of a defensive corner from Kortrijk where poor marking leads to a goal for Leuven. In this phase of play above, the home side got a corner five minutes from halftime, with Leuven taking their time over the set piece. Initially, the defensive setup from Kortrijk is good, with them using a mixture of a zonal and man-marking defensive setup. Three defenders looked to frame the six-yard box zonally, while one covered a potential short option, and the rest man marked the Leuven runners. 

However, the player to watch is the one near the edge of the penalty box. This defender gets caught ball-watching and drifts too far over from his zone, which plays a part in the breakdown that leads to the headed goal for Leuven. 

KV Kortrijk 2023/24: Analysing their poor start to the season - tactical analysis tactics

The image above shows after the ball is played into the box and the poor marking that leads to the Leuven goal. In this next phase of play from the corner, the defender finds himself with a free header, and due to the lack of pressure around him, his header is able to loop past the goalkeeper and into the far corner. 

As we can see from the image, the three Kortrijk defenders around the player are not close enough to put him off his jump or put him under enough pressure to divert his header away from goal. The player in front is not close enough to win the header in front of the player, while the defender on his back is not close enough to put any pressure on him. The third player is the one who was caught ball-watching, and if he was in a better position, he could have likely positively impacted this corner for Kortrijk. 

While you can not take any credit away from the corner delivery or subsequent header from the Leuven players, better marking and defensive awareness from Kortrijk on this defensive set piece would have likely resulted in them winning first contact or at least putting the attacker off enough not to allow him to get as much power or accuracy on his header. At the very least, it would have made the chance harder to come by for the opposition side. 

KV Kortrijk 2023/24: Analysing their poor start to the season - tactical analysis tactics

The image above shows another defensive corner for Kortrijk, another opposition goal resulting from poor marking and defensive awareness. Again, the initial corner setup is quite similar to the previous example for Kortrijk, with a mixture of zonal and man marking. This time, the defensive lapse comes from the defender to the right of the penalty spot, who gets caught in a 2v1 against an opposition runner and the player he is marking. 

KV Kortrijk 2023/24: Analysing their poor start to the season - tactical analysis tactics

Pictured above is after the corner is played in and how it leads to an equalising goal from Standard Liège due to poor defensive positioning and marking. As the previous image showed, former Inter player Zinho Vanheusden had made a run from the direct left of the Standard player who scored the goal from this corner, Hayao Kawabe. Initially, Kawabe is marked by the Kortrijk player in black, who is circled in the image. However, when Vanheusden makes the run from a similar area towards the zonal players of Kortrijk, the defender opts to follow him, leaving the Japanese international unmarked. 

As a result, the ball comes straight to Kawabe, who gets a shot off first-time and past the Kortrijk keeper, something that should not have happened. Due to poor defensive awareness and a lack of marking, Kortrijk conceded a goal from another corner they could have easily prevented. Unless Still can fix the defensive problems that Kortrijk are facing on set pieces, it may be another long season for the Belgian side this campaign, especially at the rate they have given away corners to opposition sides so far this season. 

Slow in defensive transition and struggles with defensive marking in open play

Another thing that Kortrijk have struggled with this season is their reactions in defensive transition, as well as their lack of cover in defensive moments and how they react at times to loose balls when the opposition are in possession in their defensive half of the pitch. Statistically, Kortrijk have been the worst side in the Belgian Pro League this season from a defensive standpoint, with this section taking a more detailed look at Ed Still’s side’s struggles from a defensive perspective this campaign. 

KV Kortrijk 2023/24: Analysing their poor start to the season - tactical analysis tactics

The image above shows a transitional defensive moment for Kortrijk and the defensive shape they find themselves in transition. The first thing to note immediately is that Kortrijk find themselves very stretched centrally and not in a position to defend that zone adequately. The right-back, Nayel Mehssatou, finds himself tucked in and inverted, almost in the same channel as the centre-back João Silva.

It’s a similar situation on the opposite flank, with Martin Wasinski and Dion de Neve playing very tight, leaving them stretched centrally. With the attacker driving towards the backline, Wasinski does well to step out and put a foot in, winning the ball from the Leuven attacker. However, what results next is shown in the following image, and why the lack of defensive cover and poor defensive transition still leads to a goal for Leuven. 

KV Kortrijk 2023/24: Analysing their poor start to the season - tactical analysis tactics

The image above shows Kortrijk’s next phase of this defensive transition moment and how the lack of organised defensive shape and cover allows Leuven to regain possession and score. As the previous image of this phase showed, Wasinski did well to step out of the defensive line and put a tackle in on the attacker, knocking the ball loose as a result. 

However, the Belgian defender is slow to get back into his position, with none of the other defenders in a position to cover for him due to their stretched central positioning. This allows the Leuven player to get behind the Kortrijk defence unmarked, with the ensuing pass playing into the space behind for him to run onto. His ensuing shot goes past the goalkeeper and into the back of the net, putting Kortrijk in a position that they were unable to come back from. 

This stretched defensive shape led to the goal for Leuven, with a tighter and more narrow shape preventing the ball from being played into the channel in the first place. Also, with better positioning, it would have been possible for Silva to slide over and cover that space left by Wasinski, with Mehssatou then tucking inside to continue blocking the passing lane to the Leuven striker on his back. 

KV Kortrijk 2023/24: Analysing their poor start to the season - tactical analysis tactics

The image above is able to illustrate the trouble that Kortrijk have with defensive marking from open play. While the Belgian side have struggled with marking from defensive set pieces, specifically corners, they also seem to have a tendency not to track runners at times, which leads to open goal chances for opposition sides. Leuven’s third goal shows an example of this. 

In this phase of play above, the Leuven wide player is in possession and drives towards the end line before sending a ball across the box. The majority of the Kortrijk backline are in an excellent position to defend against the ball across the box, except for the fullback on the far post. The Leuven attacker is able to get the goal side of the defender, with the fullback caught ball-watching. This allows the attacker to have an easy tap-in and is the finishing touch for Leuven’s 3-0 win. 

This section has shown that it is not just from set pieces where Kortrijk has defensive vulnerabilities. Both phases of play show that the Belgian side have been poor at marking runners, with it playing a large part in the reason they are where they are in the table. From just an open play perspective, Kortrijk have been relatively poor in defensive transition at times, with their shape making them stretched and allowing opposition sides to play through them relatively easily. This is something else that Still needs to fix if Kortrijk wants any hope of avoiding the danger of relegation, especially with the lack of end product they currently possess in the final third. 

Lack of end product in the final third (finish and/or final pass)

Last season was a lacklustre season for the Belgian side in front of goal, with only 37 goals scored as a team throughout the whole of the last league campaign. Their top scorer last season was Faïz Selemani, who finished with four of those goals. This summer, he was sold to Saudi Arabian side Al-Hazem, with Kortrijk left with a void in the forward position. To attempt to replace this production, Kortrijk brought in a few signings to try and split the responsibility. In came former Manchester City youth player Thierry Ambrose from second division side Oostende, former Liverpool attacker Sheyi Ojo in on loan from Cardiff City, and Isaak Davies from the Welsh club. 

However, these signings have not yet gone to plan for Kortrijk, with only Davies scoring a goal so far this season. Ojo has shown flashes this campaign, while Ambrose is out for the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon. Other than those new signings, the players already at the club have not really been able to contribute much from an attacking perspective, with Kortrijk lacking true goalscoring quality in front of goal. Also, at times, it has been the final pass that has let the Belgian side down, with there being moments where a bit of better execution would lead to an excellent goalscoring chance.

KV Kortrijk 2023/24: Analysing their poor start to the season - tactical analysis tactics

The data viz graphic above shows the goals that Kortrijk have scored this season and the locations on the pitch where they were taken from. As the graphic shows, the Belgian side are underperforming their xG so far, scoring four goals on an xG of 6.57. The shot map also shows that they are taking their shots from locations considered high-success areas in front of goal, but due to a combination of a lack of clinical edge and good goalkeeping, they have struggled.

KV Kortrijk 2023/24: Analysing their poor start to the season - tactical analysis tactics

The image above shows an example of this quality in the final third that has sometimes evaded Kortrijk this season. In this phase of play above from their match against Standard, this example shows a prime opportunity for them to put the match out of reach. Club captain Abdelkahar Kadri is in possession in space, with forward Isaak Davies looking to make a run beyond the central defender and into the space. 

Kadri spots him and looks to play a ball in his path, but the pass is slightly underhit, allowing the centre-back to get in the passing lane and intercept the pass, clearing the ball away from danger. In this situation, if the ball was hit with a little more pace or if Davies tried to make a run in front of the defender, it could have ended very differently. It also seemed like the two players were not necessarily on the same page, with Davies appearing not to react quickly enough to where the midfielder was looking to play the pass. With a match that ended 1-1, better quality in this area could have made a big difference. 

KV Kortrijk 2023/24: Analysing their poor start to the season - tactical analysis tactics

This example above shows another opportunity that Kortrijk had a bit later in the match to seal proceedings and walk away with their first win of the season. In this phase of play above, Ojo does well to beat the defender and make space to get a shot off at a relatively tight angle. At the same time, Kadri does well to make a run into the six-yard box in case the goalkeeper spills it, which he does. 

The ensuing save from Arnaud Bodart is parried right into the path of the Kortrijk captain, who essentially has an empty net from less than six yards out to score from. Unfortunately, he overruns the ball slightly, with his shot going wide of the post. Though this is not entirely his fault, it is more unlucky than anything; it shows the lack of composure that the Belgian side have demonstrated in front of goal six matches into the new season. 

As this section has illustrated, Kortrijk have also been struggling on the attacking side of the game. With the transfer window now officially closed in Belgium for all teams, Kortrijk have brought in plenty of attacking reinforcements for Edward Still to work with. The question remains: Will he be able to press the right buttons to get this Kortrijk attack firing on all cylinders soon? 


As this tactical analysis and tactics piece has shown, Edward Still has his work cut out for him this season at Kortrijk. The Belgian side have begun the season struggling in all phases of the game and Still must find an answer quickly before the season starts to really unravel for Kortrijk.