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Bilal El-Khannouss at KRC Genk 2022/23: The 18-year old on his way to the FIFA World Cup with Morocco - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Bilal El-Khannouss at KRC Genk: The 18-year old on his way to the FIFA World Cup with Morocco – scout report

At just 18 years old, Bilal El-Khannouss has had a meteoric rise at the start of his senior football career. At the end of the 2021/22 season, El-Khannouss made his debut in the Genk first team after being handed his debut by former manager Bernd Storck. This season, however, he has become a regular starter for the top-of-the-table side, with the midfielder starting 15 of the 16 matches so far this season. 

It does not stop there though, with the 18-year-old being named in Walid Regragui’s Morocco squad for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar. This demonstrates the level of performance that the Belgian-born Moroccan has displayed this season, with El-Khannouss not having a cap at senior international level yet.

This tactical analysis and scout report will take a look at Bilal El-Khannous’s strengths, and illustrate why he has been fast-tracked into both the Genk first team and the Moroccan senior national team setup.

Player profile 

Since making his first start for Genk at the beginning of the season, El-Khannouss has become one of the first names on the team sheet for Wouter Vrancken. In the Belgian manager’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system, the Moroccan midfielder has been deployed as the central attacking midfielder but has been given the freedom to roam, as displayed below. 

Bilal El-Khannouss at KRC Genk 2022/23: The 18-year old on his way to the FIFA World Cup with Morocco - scout report tactical analysis tactics

As the heat map shows above, El-Khannous does not just play as a central attacking midfielder. The 18-year-old has the freedom to roam throughout the attacking half of the pitch, looking for spaces to receive possession and help facilitate attacking moves. 

What is interesting that is illustrated by the heat map is that El-Khannouss does not frequently occupy positions inside the penalty box. This lack of penalty box presence can be further seen through the midfielder’s goal involvements this season, with only 1 assist in all competitions for Genk so far this season. However, even though the Moroccan has not yet made the biggest impact in regards to being involved with goals and assists, he has made up for it with his ability to link up play and create chances from deeper positions when he has been allowed to roam throughout the attacking half. 

Vision on the ball and passing in the attacking half 

When watching Bilal El-Khannous play, one of the first attributes that stand out is the vision on the ball and range of passing in the attacking half that the 18-year-old possesses. So far in the Belgian Pro League this season, the attacking midfielder has averaged 47.25 passes per 90 minutes, with a success rate of 81.6%. He also attempts a fairly decent number of long passes per match (4.01), with a decent success rate (70.8%). 

Bilal El-Khannouss at KRC Genk 2022/23: The 18-year old on his way to the FIFA World Cup with Morocco - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The data viz above shows Bilal El-Khannouss’s successful passes so far this season. As we can see, the young Moroccan midfielder is involved in all areas of the pitch for Genk when they are in possession. This illustrates the influence the 18-year-old has had on the Belgian side since being in the starting lineup and shows one reason why Walid Regragui has handed the 18-year-old midfielder a spot in his Moroccan World Cup squad. 

Bilal El-Khannouss at KRC Genk 2022/23: The 18-year old on his way to the FIFA World Cup with Morocco - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The image above shows a good example of the vision and range of passing that the 18-year-old possesses. In the phase of play above, El-Khannouss has dropped deep into midfield to be able to find a pocket of space to get on the ball. After receiving possession, the Moroccan is able to use his vision to scan the play ahead of him, and as a result, see the overlapping run of the fullback down the far side. 

As the Anderlecht fullback steps up to close down the possible passing option in midfield, the channel opens up for El-Khannouss to play a perfectly weighted through ball in behind the Anderlecht defence and into the path of the overlapping fullback. The pass breaks both the midfield and defensive line for Anderlecht and does not allow time for the defenders to recover. After receiving the pass from El-Khannouss, the ensuing cross by the fullback is tapped in for an easy goal by the Genk forward. Though he did not get the assist, El-Khannouss was influential in this goal for Genk as a result of his vision and range of passing. 

Bilal El-Khannouss at KRC Genk 2022/23: The 18-year old on his way to the FIFA World Cup with Morocco - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The image above once again is able to illustrate the vision, as well as knowledge of the play developing around him, that Bilal El-Khannouss possesses. In Genk’s recent match against Zulte-Waregem, the young Moroccan is again able to play a difficult pass that eventually leads to a goal for Genk. What is special about this chance created by El-Khannouss is his innate ability to be able to watch what is going on off the ball and recognise possible openings before they occur, not just focusing on what he wants to do with the ball.  

After receiving the ball in this phase of play, the Moroccan midfielder has his back to goal and is going away from goal. However, he was able to spot the overlapping run of the fullback by scanning his surroundings before gathering possession. As a result of spotting this opening, El-Khannouss played a perfectly weighted backheel pass into the path of the fullback, which caught the opposition defensive line out. The fullback was then able to play a cross into the box, which was headed in by the Genk forward. 

Even though he once again did not directly contribute with an assist, due to his vision and constant scanning before gathering possession, the young midfielder was able to create a chance that led to a goal for Genk. 

Bilal El-Khannouss at KRC Genk 2022/23: The 18-year old on his way to the FIFA World Cup with Morocco - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The above shows another example of the midfielder’s vision and passing ability to break the opposition’s lines, creating a chance as a result. In the phase of play above against Anderlecht, after scanning for possible passing options, El-Khannouss is able to play a line-breaking through ball in behind the opposition’s defence, sending the Genk winger in behind and on goal. Unfortunately, the ensuing shot is saved by the Anderlecht goalkeeper, but once again, operating from a deeper position, Bilal El-Khannouss was able to demonstrate his playmaking ability from these deeper-lying midfield positions.

Though he likely will not be a starter in Morocco’s squad in the World Cup, Bilal El-Khannouss’s vision and range of passing will be a valuable asset for Walid Regragui’s side. Because of this, there is a good chance that the 18-year-old will get some minutes off the bench in Qatar, and may create a few chances as well.

Pressing ability and work rate when defending 

When watching Bilal El-Khannous play, another strength that emerges is his ability when pressing and defending from the front, along with his work rate when having to track back in defensive moments. This season in the Belgian Pro League, the 18-year-old Moroccan midfielder has attempted 5.68 recoveries per 90 minutes, with 61.8% of them occurring in the opposition’s half. 

Bilal El-Khannouss at KRC Genk 2022/23: The 18-year old on his way to the FIFA World Cup with Morocco - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The data viz above shows the pressing ability that El-Khannouss possesses, with him being one of the first lines of defence for Genk this season. As we can see by the graphic, the Moroccan has been a reliable presser for the top-of-the-table side this season, with 22 counter-pressing recoveries in total for the young midfielder. 

El-Khannouss is also very tenacious when it comes to tracking back to defend as well. He has a great work rate, with him consistently tracking back into the defensive half and putting in a shift defensively. The pass map from the first part of this scout report also illustrated this, with a lot of the Moroccan’s successful passes occurring in the defensive half of the pitch. This section will highlight these actions in more detail in the following examples.

Bilal El-Khannouss at KRC Genk 2022/23: The 18-year old on his way to the FIFA World Cup with Morocco - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The image above shows an example of the work rate that El-Khannouss demonstrates in the attacking third for Genk. In the phase of play above against Antwerp, the Moroccan had just lost possession in the final third. Instead of taking his time to get back up and track back, the young midfielder quickly was able to counter-press, with him putting in an attempted challenge on the Antwerp defender. 

Unfortunately, the attempt to win back possession was unsuccessful for El-Khannouss. However, it was still able to demonstrate the young attacking midfielder’s work rate, as well as tenacity when it comes to pressing and attempting to win the ball back in the attacking half. 

Bilal El-Khannouss at KRC Genk 2022/23: The 18-year old on his way to the FIFA World Cup with Morocco - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The above example is able to demonstrate the work rate that Bilal El-Khannouss possesses, as well as his urgency to track back and help out defensively. In this phase of play above against Leuven, the home side have escaped the Genk pressure, with plenty of space in midfield for the player in possession to drive forward into. This is noticed by the 18-year-old Moroccan, who was able to get on his horse and track back and attempt to slow down the attacker. 

The Leuven attacker ends up playing the ball out wide to the fullback on the near touchline, but El-Khannouss continues to track back, catching up to the player as a result. This puts the midfielder in a good defensive position, allowing Genk to have an extra number back defensively. 

Bilal El-Khannouss at KRC Genk 2022/23: The 18-year old on his way to the FIFA World Cup with Morocco - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The final image above again shows a situation where El-Khannouss had to use his work rate to track back and assist in a defensive phase of play. After being able to play through the Genk press, the Antwerp player was able to drive through the midfield, forcing Genk’s defensive line to quickly drop off. The Moroccan midfielder noticed the space and made up ground quickly, closing the attacker down and forcing him into an errant pass. 

This urgency that Bilal El-Khannouss shows to track back quickly when Genk find themselves in a precarious position defensively is another key strength that has developed in the young midfielder’s game. Along with tracking back, the Moroccan midfielder has also become a crucial part of Genk’s pressing and counter-pressing moments under Wouter Vrancken and his tactics. These are both traits that will continue to develop over time but can already be classified as strengths for Genk’s number ’10’. 

Conclusion 

As this scout report and tactical analysis have shown, these are a couple of Bilal El-Khannouss’s strengths that likely played a part in his call-up to the Morocco senior squad for the World Cup in Qatar. The 18-year-old midfielder will also have a chance to play with some of the very best Moroccan talents, with the likes of Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech, Bayern Munich defender Noussair Mazraoui, and PSG wingback Achraf Hakimi all included in Walid Regragui’s squad.

After the World Cup, El-Khannouss will likely return to becoming a key player for Genk during the second half of the Belgian Pro League season, as the club look to win the league for the first time since the 2018/19 season.