Dennis Eckert 2023/24: The on-form goalscorer’s resurgence under Alexander Blessin at Union Saint-Gilloise – tactical analysis
After an excellent 2022/23 campaign, where he scored 17 goals in all competitions for Union Saint-Gilloise, Victor Boniface was sold to German Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen for a fee of just over €20 million. This left new manager Alexander Blessin with a big question: who would be the player to potentially replace the Nigerian? Three games into the new season, this question seems to have been answered, with Blessin trusting fellow German Dennis Eckert with this responsibility.
So far, Eckert has delivered, with the 26-year-old scoring four goals in USG’s first three matches of the new campaign. The German did not have the most remarkable first campaign in Belgium after joining last summer on a free transfer from FC Ingolstadt but has had a great start this time around. This tactical analysis and scout report will look at the German forward’s strengths, as well as what he can provide to Alexander Blessin in his tactical setup.
Player positioning and style of play
The heat map above shows the positions that Dennis Eckert has taken up around the pitch since he arrived at Union Saint-Gilloise in the summer of 2022. As we can see from the graphic, the 26-year-old German is most prevalent in and around the 18-yard box, though he will also drop into midfield to be involved in link play at times. He does not get on the ball often, however, in deeper positions, with the German instead averaging just over five touches in the penalty box per 90 minutes during his career in Belgium.
Standing at 6 ‘0’, the German forward has the most success when he is allowed to make off-the-ball runs into the penalty box, using his ability to recognise space to find areas where he will have success creating chances and also allow him to have such a large amount of touches in the box per match.
The 26-year-old is also a two-footed player in front of goal, with him equally good with either his left or right foot when he is in front of goal. In short, most of Eckert’s strengths come when he is not in possession, with one of the biggest being his positional awareness when making off-the-ball runs into the penalty box.
This tactical analysis will analyse Eckert’s strengths in more detail as it progresses.
Recognition of space and off-the-ball movement
One of the primary strengths that Dennis Eckert possesses is his innate ability to recognise space and his off-the-ball movements in and around the penalty area. The German forward’s ability to recognise this space in the box allows him to have the number of touches per match in these dangerous areas that he gets.
The image above shows an excellent example of Dennis Eckert’s spatial awareness and off-the-ball movement creating an opportunity. In this phase of play above, USG are in possession, with the midfielder driving towards the Antwerp goal. Preceding this screenshot, Eckert found himself in a central position, operating in the same channel and hurting this advancing movement more than helping it.
The 26-year-old noticed this and was able to use his spatial awareness and quick thinking off the ball to be a potential option instead. As the midfielder drove forward centrally towards the opposition backline, Eckert made a run across the full-back, forcing the Antwerp defender to decide who he should mark.
As the play progresses, the ball is played to Eckert around the edge of the penalty area, with the full-back committed to closing him down. This allows the midfielder to continue his run into the box from a deeper position, creating an overload against the Antwerp full-back before the rest of the backline can shift over.
While nothing of note results from this attacking move, the movement off the ball by Dennis Eckert allowed the capability for a potential chance to be created.
The following example is a two-part one, with the image above showing the first phase of play and Dennis Eckert’s positioning. In this phase of play above, the ball is in the midfield area, with a pass played between the lines to the USG wide player, positioned between the opposition’s midfield and defensive lines.
However, the main thing to notice is the positioning of Eckert, with the German forward able to position himself between the lines as well, splitting the gap between the wing-back and centre-back, as well as sitting in the blind spot of the defensive midfielder. Another thing to note is that the German striker is also positioned on the blind side of the centre-back, allowing him to make a run between the defenders without being picked up by this defender.
The image above shows the second phase of this attacking move by USG and the off-the-ball movement of Dennis Eckert that leads to a goal for him. Now, the ball is in possession of the Union Saint-Gilloise wide midfielder, with his sole intention of crossing the ball into the penalty box looking for the run of the German striker.
As we can see, the central defender in front of Eckert does not know he is there, with the German being behind him, even though the defender is goal side. It should have the advantage, the combination of ball watching and Eckert’s superb movement, meaning it is tipped in the German forward’s favour.
Behind Eckert, the wing-back is too far away to close him down quickly enough, meaning once the ball gets past the defender, Eckert can tap the ball past the diving Arnaud Bodart.
While credit also needs to go to the service from the wide player, the ability for Dennis Eckert to get himself in position before the ball even makes it to the wide channel shows how the forward can use his spatial awareness and movement off the ball to create favourable situations for himself.
Physicality and hold-up play
Another facet of Dennis Eckert’s game where he excels is his hold-up play, making the German forward a perfect fit in Alexander Blessin’s tactics and style of play. Eckert plays well with his back to goal, and while he does not look to drop deep to link the play with the midfielders, he will play with his back to goal and hold the ball up to allow deeper runners to make runs beyond him.
The image above shows an example of Eckert’s ability to hold the ball up, showing his physicality and ability to hold off defenders on his back. In this phase of play above, the 26-year-old German forward is played the ball from the wing-back on the near touchline.
The striker can get his body in the correct position, allowing him to shield the ball away from the defender on his back while also letting the other players around him make runs beyond him.
After a few seconds, Eckert is able to turn away from the defender with the ball still at his feet, facing the near touchline. His resulting pass is played back to where it came, where Loïc Lapoussin has advanced slightly and gotten past his marker. While the rest of the attacking phase does not result in anything, it can still illustrate the German forward’s hold-up ability.
The image above shows another example of the German forward’s back-to-goal ability and hold-up play. In this phase of play above, USG have a throw-in on the far touchline. The ball is played to Eckert, who has dropped into midfield from a deeper position to show as an option.
The ball bounces in front of the striker, but he is still able to take a decent touch with his chest, even with the defender closing him down from behind.
The touch from Eckert can take him away from the defender, who is closing him down from behind, allowing him some time to assess the nearby passing options. One of the USG midfielders can move into a pocket of space between the opposition’s lines, with Eckert able to play a nicely weighted path into the midfielder’s path.
As this section has highlighted, Dennis Eckert also displays physicality with his back to goal and is not just a striker sitting in the penalty area waiting for the ball to come to him. Also, while he does not find himself overly involved in link play, the striker does have the ability to hold the ball up and allow deeper runners the space to go beyond him and get into advanced positions.
Goalscoring ability beginning to shine through
Last season was tough for Dennis Eckert, with the 26-year-old striker not featuring much for the Belgian side. Most of the absence was caused by two separate muscle injuries, though at the end of the season, he did not feature in the squad at all under Karel Geraerts.
Though he is only in his second season at the club, he has been given a new lease of life under Alexander Blessin, and this has paid off so far, with the German netting four goals in his first three appearances this season for the Brussels-based club.
The data viz graphic above shows the shot maps for Dennis Eckert for both this current season and last season at Union Saint-Gilloise. So far this season, Eckert has already taken just about the same amount of shots as last season and has already scored double the amount of goals, and it is only three match days into the new season. It is not really a concern that he is underperforming his xG and xG per shot from last season, as those numbers will drop throughout an entire season.
The image above shows an example of the goalscoring ability that is beginning to shine through for Dennis Eckert this season. In the phase of play above from the first match of the new league campaign, the German forward finds himself in a superior position to the defender due to his off-the-ball movement. As the ball is played across the box, Eckert can take a first-time shot, sending the ball past the goalkeeper with relative ease.
This goal from Eckert comes from a few different things, with one of the main ones being his sweet ability to take a shot on first time. Another thing that plays a part in this goal is the off-the-ball movement and positioning of Eckert, something that was already covered previously in this scout report. In general, this example is able to show the type of talent Dennis Eckert can display in front of goal and illustrate how he could finally be finding his scoring form.
The image above shows another example of Dennis Eckert’s ability in front of goal. In this phase of play above, the 26-year-old striker has possession on the edge of the penalty area and drives towards the end line, but at an angle that allows him to get a shot off and attempt to catch the goalkeeper out.
As the shooting angle began to get tighter, Eckert attempted a shot from a tight angle, with the ensuing shot grazing the crossbar before going out of play. This example shows that Dennis Eckert is beginning to gather more confidence in front of goal, something that will be a massive advantage to Alexander Blessin’s side as the season continues and when European competitions get back underway in about a month.
This tactical analysis and scout report has shown that Dennis Eckert has had a superb start to the season at USG under Alexander Blessin. With Victor Boniface now in Germany under the tutelage of former Real Madrid, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich player Xabi Alonso, the Belgian club’s fans will be hoping that Dennis Eckert can have a similar impact that the Nigerian had during the last campaign.