Challenger Pro League 2023/24: Three players you need to track from Belgium’s second-tier – scout report
While only a few weeks into the 2023/24 Challenger Pro League season, or Belgian football’s second division, there are a few players that should have an eye kept on them throughout this season. Like many football leagues worldwide, many young and talented players ply their trade below the first division, proving their worth on a lesser stage before being put on the grandest.
This tactical analysis will look at some players to watch this season, highlighting some of their strengths and incorporating some data viz graphics to understand each player’s skill set better.
Romeo Vermant – CF – Club Brugge Nxt – 19 years old
The first player to be included on this list is 19-year-old Romeo Vermant for Club Brugge Nxt. The Belgian U21 international has had a great start to the current season, with the German-born Belgian scoring four goals and contributing one assist through the first three matches of this new campaign. The 19-year-old leads the Challenger Pro League in combined goal contributions at the beginning of this season.
As already mentioned, the 19-year-old forward has had an excellent start in front of goal, but just how good has he been? When looking at the underlying metrics and statistics, we can see just how impactful he has been for Club Nxt this season. Vermant is averaging 2.49 shots per 90 minutes, one of the league’s highest totals, and an on-target rate of 49.6%. The forward has also created an xG of 0.49, a relatively high total. While it is still early in the season, and all of this should be taken with a pinch of salt, it would be unsurprising to see Vermant keep up this early form throughout the entire season.
The data viz graphic above goes into more detail about how good the Belgian U21 international has been in front of goal this season. While this is a small sample size, it can give a more general image of the type of forward the 19-year-old is. As the shot map shows, Vermant has been relatively consistent in his shot selection this season, with the majority of his shots coming from in and around the penalty spot and six-yard box. This demonstrates that the young forward has begun to find consistency in front of goal, which he can hopefully grow on.
The image above shows a little snippet of what the Belgian U21 international forward is capable of when given a goalscoring opportunity in front of goal. In this phase of play above, the ball was in possession of the wide player on the far touchline. As the ball is played into the central area, Vermant makes a late movement from the edge of the penalty box into the six-yard box, with the intelligent movement catching the opposition defenders out and allowing him to sneak through unmarked.
While this is only a little glimpse into the capabilities of Romeo Vermant in front of goal, it shows what Club Brugge have in the pipeline in the striker position. It remains to be seen whether Vermant will get a more extended run out with the senior side this season or if he will move on at the end of this season. One thing is for sure, Romeo Vermant is a player to watch in the Challenger Pro League this season.
Nilson Angulo – AM/Winger – RSCA Futures – 20-years old
Nilson Angulo is another young talent for fans to watch out for this season. The 20-year-old Ecuadorian U20 international joined the Belgian side in the summer of 2022 from Ecuadorian side LDU Quito for a fee of over one million euros. In his first campaign in Belgium, the attacking midfielder/winger only logged nine appearances, contributing two goals in only 599 minutes of action.
So far this campaign, the Ecuadorian youth international has already almost halved his minutes from last season, with 280 minutes across four appearances this season. The 20-year-old also has a goal to show for his start to the season, with his early performances indicating that he is beginning to settle into life in European football.
One outstanding trait the 20-year-old Ecuadorian brings to the table is his very positive dribbling ability. Throughout his career in both Belgium and his native Ecuador, the Ecuador U20 international has averaged 8.36 dribbles per 90 minutes, with a success rate of 46.6%. The data viz graphic above shows the ball progression via dribbling of Nilson Angulo throughout his first season and a bit in Belgium.
As we can see from the data viz graphic above, the 20-year-old prefers to play on the wing rather than through the middle, where he has also played at times. When in possession, Angulo is a rather tricky player, which allows him to showcase his biggest strength for this RCSA Futures side and play a vital role in the attack.
The image above shows an example of the dribbling capabilities of Nilson Angulo, especially when he is isolated 1v1 against the opposition fullback. In this phase of play above from a match against the Genk reserve team, the Ecuadorian found himself isolated 1v1 against the fullback on this near side. This allowed the 20-year-old to show his true dribbling capabilities, with him keeping the ball essentially stuck to his feet.
He is able to show the defender to the inside before making a sharp turn and redirecting to the outside, catching the defender off-balance and allowing him to gain a step on the defender. Angulo then is able to send a sensational rabona cross into the box, where it is almost tucked away by the RCSA Futures forward.
Nilson Angulo offers more than just flair to this RCSA Futures and senior Anderlecht side, whom he already has played for. With this outstanding dribbling ability, the young Ecuadorian attacker can easily beat opponents, especially when he is isolated 1v1 in the wide areas against opposition fullbacks. Undoubtedly, Angulo is the second player on this list who should be watched closely as this Challenger Pro League season continues to develop.
Lukas Willen – CB – Zulte-Waregem – 20-years old
It would not be fair to finish this list without taking a quick look at a defensive player, and it is hard to look past Zulte-Waregem’s 20-year-old centre-back Lukas Willen. The Belgian U20 international has played every single minute for the Belgian side this season since their relegation from the Belgian Pro League at the end of last season. He has also been a consistent performer for them this season, one that has involved a lot of personnel transitioning since last season. Willen also started 19 matches for the Belgian side last season when they were in the Belgian Pro League, so he also possesses top-flight experience.
One outstanding strength that the 6’2″ centre-back possesses is his quality in defensive duels, with the 20-year-old averaging 8.55 defensive duels per 90 minutes across his footballing career and a 69.1% success rate to go along with it.
The data viz graphic above shows the defensive territory of Lukas Willen from both this season and last season with Zulte-Waregem. As we can see by the graphic, the Belgian U20 international usually plays rather deep, with Zulte sitting in a lower block often last season with the poor season they had and the superior opposition they faced. However, we can also see just the amount of defensive actions and interceptions the Belgian defender has had for Zulte and the limited number of fouls he has committed.
The image above shows an example of Willen’s ability in defensive duels and his tendency to step up into midfield to challenge opposition players receiving possession. In this phase of play above from a recent Challenger Pro League match against Seraing, the Belgian U20 international can demonstrate his strength in defensive duels.
In this phase of play above, the ball is played from the Seraing defender into the midfielder, breaking one of Zulte’s lines into a vacant channel. With the player’s back to goal and Willen realising that no other Seraing players are making runs beyond him, he steps into midfield and quickly engages the attacker from behind, preventing him from turning and driving into the space towards him and the rest of the Zulte-Waregem backline.
The step from the 20-year-old into the vacant space prevents the attacker from turning and playing forward, meaning his only pass is backwards to a teammate. After this back pass, the ensuing long ball from the received target is blocked by Willen, with the Belgian defender showing how vital he is in the Zulte defensive setup, as well as the third young player to watch this season in the Challenger Pro League.
As this tactical analysis, scout report, and tactics piece has shown, while the Challenger Pro League is unlike watching teams on the level of Liverpool, Manchester City, and Bayern Munich play, the level is still extremely high. There are plenty of young players and talents to watch, as a lot of these players will likely make the jump to the Belgian Pro League or a bigger European league over the course of the next couple of years. While this article did not go over that many young, talented players in the second division in Belgium, it did give a little look at some of the attractive young talents to keep an eye on this season.