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Nabil Kouki at CR Belouizdad 22/23 - scout report

CR Belouizdad: The fluid and possession-based Algerian team who are unbeaten at the top of the league – scout report

After 19 years of wait, CR Belouizdad finally won again the Algerian league championship. Their last trophy was at the 2000/01 season in that competition, with a long drought that ended in the 2019/20 campaign. From there, the success has been fantastic for them, achieving three consecutive leagues and everything seems to indicate that they are going for the fourth in a row.

Nabil Kouki, after being able to manage in his career more than 14 football teams, has seemingly found his place in the world. With 15 games played, they have won 11, only drawn 4 and lost none. They are even undefeated. Not only that, but they have managed to be the side that scores the most goals and concedes the fewest, with 27 celebrated and 8 against.

In addition, the very fluid way of playing with a possession style, in addition to adapting to the fact that opponents constantly play them with a more reactive and pragmatic idea, waiting for their build-ups in a mid to low-block, Kouki’s team has achieved tremendous stability offensive and defensively. Kouki has achieved the best start in the history of Belouizdad in Ligue 1. If we compare with the previous season where they were also champions, at that time over 15 games played they recorded 22 goals for and 10 against in 10 wins, 3 draws and 2 losses.

We are going to do a tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, of the tactics deployed by Kouki in Belouizdad, in addition to offering an analysis of various phases of his game.

Aggressive defending

Since their first post-drought league title in 2020, CR Belouizdad have created a status as an extremely powerful and dangerous team to play against. A squad full of good, high-level players who also, under Nabil Kouki’s mandate, have fitted in quite well and have integrated with positive chemistry between them.

One of the first things to review within their tactics is how aggressive they tend to defend. Normally throughout the game, they seek to defend in the last third or almost step on it if the intensity of the match begins to drop. The form is a 4-4-2 where the midfielders and wingers go out to mark the rival with man-marking responsibilities. This is how they block their rivals’ options and force them to hit the ball long, where the defensive back-four have been quite solid to clear balls and then the midfield to win second balls.

As we can see in the viz below, it shows the defensive actions of Kouki’s Belouizdad and how high they have been doing these. Many of them are in the last third of the rival, where they look to win the ball back to transition direct and rapidly later.

Nabil Kouki at CR Belouizdad 22/23 - scout report

The first thing in this 4-4-2 is that the jump is from the two forwards. None of them covers a midfielder from behind, but rather the idea of the Algerian leader is to go and block both the pass of the one with the ball and the one that could be an option to turn the game around. If one wants to go back to the other, they won’t be able to because he is marked and vice versa.

It can be somewhat risky but after all, with two players so close to those responsible for the first rival pass, stress will load them and they will look to execute long balls. In fact, many teams have transformed their game against Belouizdad like this, defending lower and hitting the ball into space or to the weak side to attack their backs. However, the improvement this year in the team’s block and in their defensive responsibilities has been big.

As we can see, the jumps from the forwards are clear in the first defensive idea. They have allowed the opponent to take a few steps outside their penalty area but are still very close to their goal nonetheless. There, Belouizdad knows that the trigger must be pulled as soon as the central defenders make the first passes between themselves trying to move the block and attract to send long balls. A striker goes to press with a circular run forcing him to pass it to the other CB, and then the one receiving has the other striker close to annoy his postures and passing angles, forcing him to make bad or badly executed decisions that end up stealing a ball.

Nabil Kouki at CR Belouizdad 22/23 - scout report

But let’s take a deeper look at what Belouizdad is really trying to do when they place the block so high in the opposition’s third to press their build-ups and try to generate chances after possession is stolen.

The idea behind everything is that wherever the ball moves, the midfielders go close with their peers who will want to move to that side to create a space where they can receive, but the Belouizdad players are extremely attentive to follow them in their marking so they can’t create these kinds of passing options. There, the winger of that side is already marking very tightly the rival full-back.

Few surprise triggers are made, and the idea is stricter, trying not to have a single passing option. While the winger on the weak side tries to get closer in case they win the ball, to be a short combination pass option, but he must be attentive if a change of side arises from the opponent to where he is, to go there and block the full-back who’s going to receive the pass.

Let’s look at a perfect example. First, we can see that the two strikers have done their job. One already jumped with a rival, forced him to play with his teammate and so the other striker went to press. With the options so blocked, the pass to the right full-back is a risk and also to one of the midfielders, so he decides to throw a long ball. The goal has been met, Belouizdad forced them to do this and they will recover the ball after an aerial duel success from one of their CBs.

Nabil Kouki at CR Belouizdad 22/23 - scout report

Nabil Kouki has found fantastic and solid defensive solvency, not to be passive and defend lower, but to force their opponents to play meaningless passes, with unclear vision and hard work by the back four to clear these types of long-ball executions that are constantly taken during the 90 minutes of the matches against them, with two fairly powerful centre-backs on the air, and good coverings from each of the four players there to go back or go to the front and clear the ball proactively.

Fluid and narrow build-ups

Outside of Europe, Pep Guardiola, the Premier League, Barcelona or anything else, great football exists. The build-ups of Naabil Kouki’s Belouizdad are extremely interesting and an example of it. In modern football, where more width and stretching rivals are sought, the Algerian champion seeks to generate superiority from within with quick combinations between the double pivot and the players in front of him who are normally two wingers more inverted in the half-space and a mobile attacking-midfielder. A narrow shape is regularly seen in the possessions of the team.

The thing that makes it fluid is that these three players in front don’t have channels assigned to them. They are generating movements for their double pivot that has time to think because of the low/mid blocks they have to face. The idea is that, against these teams that want to make it extremely difficult, the movements in and out, constant exchanges between channels, and receptions between the lines make it very hard to defend Kouki’s men.

The first thing we can see in his build-ups is the use of his goalkeeper as the first pass and sometimes if his rival presses high, a wild card generates superiority due to his good control and footwork. After that, the central defenders look for the first contact with the double pivot, who are the ones that manage the tempo of possession. Another really interesting thing is that quite a lot of their progressions are over on the right, uniting many players in that sector.

Nabil Kouki at CR Belouizdad 22/23 - scout report

This example shows what we are explaining in the best way, with a double pivot that has the field in front after turning very easily since they do not receive pressure. In front of them, they have three players who seek to be close to them in order to be up to five near to the ball and for it to circulate quickly through the central channels with link-up plays of one or two touches.

Another of the details of this figure is to notice the player wide open on the outside, who seeks to be that pass to start looking to finish plays after progression, as well as support if they want to play outside to then return to the inside. All the same, trying to be with one or two touches.

The movements are very fast and this completely moves a block that, despite being quite compact in a zonal search as many seek to nullify Kouki’s team in this way, it is difficult for of them not to block a reception between the lines. In addition, very easy and fast passing options are made due to the proximity of these five players to the ball, including a fairly wide one that acts as an even faster support in case you want to build a play.

Sometimes, the weak-side full-back can even come close to them to be another option, as he’s looking to stay behind with the centre-backs on occasion. But he has the speed and physical attributes to make long runs to attack wide as well.

All of this has a purpose. If the first progression between the middle lane goes well, the quick combinations just flow by themselves, for the constant movements that all the players make. Even at the edge of the area they are executed and it is something that we will talk about later in this article.

The search after the quick combinations of opening the ball completely to the wing, both on the weak side and on his own side, the latter being the most constant within the attack, is one of the principles of the team after breaking down the solid and pragmatic defensive blocks that they take precedence over Belouizdad and his offensive ideas.

However, when the first control between the lines appears and the first quick combination ends, it is always sought to play with the winger or full-back in a fairly open position, since these two are changing channels on a regular basis.

Although due to what they want to do with the proximity of players in the inner channels, it is the full-back that occupies this wide space the most. The idea, always after this will be a pass there, where the cross is almost automatic. But the ball-carrying into the penalty area is also allowed, to be aggressive and direct to then look for a cut-back.

Belouizdad build-ups may seem a bit simple but when you already play in such a powerful team status, meaning you’re going to play against teams that put little pressure on you close to your box, and you have players with a high technical level who can constantly break and receive in pockets of spaces between the lines, it becomes very easy to generate that chemistry and synergy in the team, with the off-the-ball movements of the players, being the most vital thing in Kouki’s team and even at football.

End-product

CR Belouizdad has generated 27 goals in these first 15 games, which is surprising being almost 2 goals on average in each match played this season. The Algerian champions have shown elite offensive prowess on the continent, but what’s exciting about it all is that they generate high-scoring chances every moment. For example, their goals are scored always in opportunities that -should be scored and do not require great technique.

The back pass to shoot at an empty goal, crosses with different types like to the far post, the penalty point being the more regular, or the combinations at the edge of the box are the most important for the team, to generate those 1v1 or situations that are easy for their attackers to go and score a goal and that it is not required to look for long shots or plays of too much physical/technical effort.

In this shot map, we can find what Kouki’s team did in the first eleven matchweeks of the Algerian championship. Where smaller points mean fewer possibilities to score. Only two like this were executed outside the penalty box. The number of high-scoring chances that should and were scored is big.

As we mentioned in what the team was looking for after their first progressions, it is that of a cross to the area or a carry by the widest player going towards the penalty area. But it’s not just that that makes Belouizdad’s attack really brilliant, but also because of what his players do to attack the box.

Some of them carry out decoy movements attracting players feinting to wait for the pass and they are really creating spaces for the attacking midfielders to arrive from behind to take shots first-time to the cut-back crosses executed. Adding surprise with the player making the movement and letting it pass so that the one who enters behind is the one who scores.

One really good thing is that a lot of these players get inside the box. One of the wingers, the striker, the attacking midfielder and even one of the full-backs at the back-post if they are located as high as wingers through the wide channel. And that is why they score so many goals. They are aggressive to go surprise or fill the box and have many options to pass and score, plus a structure of 2-3/3-2 behind to contain counterattacks. They attack with safety so that little things can happen.

Nabil Kouki at CR Belouizdad 22/23 - scout report

The quick combinations are also of great vitality for the team when they want to score, also accompanied by dragging movements of one of the players, so that another appears from behind.

Normally these movements are executed between forward and attacking-midfielder, the latter being the one who attacks the space generated and finishes off in 1v1 situations against the goalkeeper. The idea is to generate quick touches in front of the last defensive line and break with unbalancing and frenetic movements into space, with decoys that cause one of the defenders to leave his zone and leave space behind his back.

Conclusion

Belouizdad is, in his three consecutive years as champion, probably playing his best version – solid and aggressive without the ball, fluid and creative with the ball, scoring goals and conceding few. They are first in the table, undefeated in their best historical start and many eyes point to the CAF Champions League, a competition in which they have only reached the quarterfinals in their history.

However, Nabil Kouki knows that his work has started in the best possible way and much will continue to be so for them, with the high-talented squad they have and the synergy between their players.