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Karel Geraerts Tactics: The man behind the hope

Schalke have a new manager, Karel Geraerts. Wait who? He is the man behind Royale Union Saint-Gilloise's Cinderella story last season. We’re going to go over what tactics he’s implemented before and how that will line up for us.

But first, a quick recap of why we are here. Just over a week ago, Schalke relieved Thomas Reis of his duties. After a poor start to the season and a seemingly disgruntled locker room, board room, and fan base put it over the edge. Enough was enough, tensions boiled over and something had to be done.

Enter Mattias Kreutzer, Schalke savior once again? Not so much. Turns out he was only a stop gap until a new manager was found. His A-license would only allow him to manage the club for 15 days.

It just so happens his 15-day stint would end conveniently during the international break. The same international break Alex Hefer proclaimed a new CEO and manager would begin. Enter Karel Geraerts and what is likely his first friendly match against Heracles, followed by his first official match against Karlsruhe.

Union's new head coach Karel Geraerts pictured during a press conference of Belgian first division team Royal Union Saint-Gilloise to present their new coach, Thursday 09 June 2022 in Brussels. BELGA PHOTO NOE ZIMMER (Photo(Photo by NOE ZIMMER/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

So what can we expect from Geraerts tactics? We will look at what he used at Royale Union Saint-Gilloise.


Geraerts, the coach of the Belgian side, wisely decided to retain the successful formation that brought USG so much triumph under Felice Mazzù the season prior. By sticking with what worked before, they set themselves up for continued success in the future with a 3-5-2 formation, which they used the majority of the time last season.

Schalke's best form was during their previous time in the 2.Bundesliga. During that run to the 2.Bundesliga title, the Royal Blues used a 3-5-2 formation a majority of their matches. This would tell you this team should be able to duplicate those efforts by adapting to this new style. Especially with a wingback like Thomas Ouwejan at their disposal.

Creating attacks from the wide positions

Last season, under Geraerts' guidance, Union Saint-Gilloise exhibited a style of play that heavily relied on creating opportunities from the wide areas. Their wingbacks were instrumental in providing crosses into the box and actively supporting the team's offensive movements. This strategic approach was proven effective in generating numerous scoring chances for the team.

The visualization above sheds light on the precise origins of Union Saint-Gilloise's crosses, both from the left and right sides. This valuable information offers a comprehensive understanding of their strategic approach to delivering crosses during matches.

By examining the distinct coloring of the frequently targeted zones, it becomes evident that a significant number of crosses were being delivered from the strategic areas situated between the midfield and defensive lines. These crosses are commonly directed towards and distributed around the crucial penalty spot region.

When it comes to delivering accurate services from wide positions, the Belgian side truly excelled. Their success rate of 32.9% from the left and 30% from the right was impressive. With approximately one in every three crosses finding its intended target, it led to quality goal-scoring opportunities for USG.

Aggressive combination passing to breakdown defenses

Union Saint-Gilloise showcased an impressive attacking strategy that focused on utilizing the wide areas of the field. They didn't rely solely on crosses to create scoring opportunities; they employed various tactics to penetrate and convert chances from these wide channels. This versatile approach kept their opponents guessing and increased their chances of finding the back of the net.

Geraerts' team employed a strategic approach that involved utilizing one-touch and combination passing. This style of play aimed to create opportunities by breaking through the opposition's defensive line, thus enabling them to make decisive plays towards the goal.

In order to gain a competitive edge, his teams strategically utilized wide areas on the field. They aimed to create overloads in these regions, forming passing triangles and utilizing well-coordinated movements to swiftly penetrate the opposing team's defense. This tactical approach proved highly effective in breaking down their opposition and achieving scoring opportunities.

The captivating image above showcases a brilliant combination of movement that completely outsmarted the Club Brugge defense. It highlights the strategic prowess and clever tactics employed by Geraerts' team.

In this particular phase of play, USG cleverly formed a triangle on the near-side wide channel. By utilizing the wing-back's pass to the central player, they managed to grab the attention of Club Brugge defenders who were in close proximity.

With the defenders drawn towards the ball, the player in possession had excellent opportunities with both a central run and an outside run. A quick, one-touch pass could effortlessly connect with either of the options, adding a dynamic element to the game.

The subsequent pass was cleverly played through the center, enabling the USG player to swiftly chase after it and make an ambitious attempt to find a teammate. Positioned as the most advanced player in this specific attacking maneuver, the USG player awaited the ball in the box with anticipation, ready to make a significant impact.

The game intensified as the players attempted a quick and skillful one-two, but alas, the action was halted just outside the penalty box. The anticipation built as the teams vied for a scoring opportunity.

The example above perfectly demonstrates the effectiveness of Union Saint-Gilloise's strategic passing style. They skillfully executed quick one-touch combination passes, particularly in wide areas, aiming to exploit and disrupt opposing defenses with precision and speed.

In the above action, USG strategically positioned four, and perhaps even five, players in the wide channel. This clever tactic enabled them to create a powerful numerical advantage over the Zulte-Waregem defense.

The attacking phase demonstrated Karel Geraerts' strategic approach of incorporating verticality into his team's play when they entered the attacking third. This tactic not only added dynamism to their attacks but also created more scoring opportunities.

USG prided itself on playing a strategic game, always looking for available passing options in advanced positions. However, when those options were not presented, the team seamlessly transitioned to playing the ball horizontally. The skillful use of one-touch passing combinations by the Belgian side enabled them to effortlessly dismantle their opponents' defense and create scoring opportunities in no time.

During the exhilarating match against Zulte, it was evident that all the USG players strategically positioned themselves ahead of their opponents. This smart move opened up multiple passing options, giving them the freedom to choose who to involve in the play. They seamlessly executed a vertical pass to their tallest player, who skillfully attempted a first-time pass into the path of a teammate poised behind the opponent's fullback. Such precise gameplay showcased their exceptional teamwork and ability to create scoring opportunities.

This impressive move may have ultimately broken down, but it highlights the clinical quickness that Union Saint-Gilloise possessed when launching their attacks. It's a testament to their ability to swiftly and efficiently make their way towards the goal.

Once again, the image above beautifully captured the intricate passing combinations that Geraerts' Union Saint-Gilloise team strived to create in the advanced wide areas. This strategic approach not only showcased their tactical prowess but also reflected their relentless pursuit of excellence on the pitch.

During this particular phase of play, USG’s center-back boldly advanced with the ball to form a strategic triangle alongside his two teammates. This seamless coordination between the three players resulted in a temporary numerical advantage of 3v2 in the wide channel, allowing for greater offensive opportunities.

USG displayed exceptional agility by swiftly adapting to the situation and neutralizing the overwhelming pressure they faced. Although this attacking move may not have been the fastest or most precise, it exemplifies Karel Geraerts’ offensive strategy, which has proven to be highly effective throughout last year’s successful season.

Whether it's a perfectly executed cross into the box or swift passing with verticality in the wide channels, attacking moves are crucial for quickly advancing the ball on the field. Under the guidance of Karel Geraerts, USG has effectively utilized space creation, overloads, and passing triangles in wide areas. This tactical approach has yielded remarkable success for them last season. By implementing these strategic techniques, they were able to thrive in their attacking play and create numerous goal-scoring opportunities.

One of Schalke's biggest weaknesses this season has been creating scoring chances. Though they have had some success creating down the left flank, what they have shown is they have no plan B in moments those options get cut off. Breaking down opponents through quick combination play is not something Schalke can say they had any success this season. The addition of Geraerts should improve this immensely, providing numerous opportunities for Polter and Terodde.

Defensive structure and discipline

When it comes to defensive prowess, Union Saint-Gilloise stood out as one of the top teams in the Belgian league when it came to preventing goals from being scored against them. They have a remarkable ability to keep the ball out of their own net, showcasing their strength and expertise on the defensive end.

USG performed exceptionally well in the Belgian Pro League last season. They only conceded 49 goals, placing them among the top five teams with the best defensive record. Moreover, their impressive goal differential of plus 29 further highlighted their strong performance on both ends of the field.

The defensive strength of the team can largely be attributed to the strategic formation chosen by Karel Geraerts, which was a 3-5-2. In moments when they lost possession, this formation seamlessly transitioned into a solid 5-3-2, with the wing backs adapting and reinforcing the defensive line. That tactical approach ensured greater stability and minimized chances for opponents to exploit any weaknesses in their defense.

The Belgian side displayed exceptional discipline in their defensive formation. They maintained a tight and compact shape, leaving no room for opposing teams to exploit any gaps between their lines. Their steadfastness ensured that they rarely deviated from this defensive structure, making it difficult for opponents to break through their lines.

The defensive strategy of Union Saint-Gilloise was commendable as their backline positioned themselves deep within their own 18-yard box. This smart tactic highlighted the solidity and compactness of their defense, even though they allowed their opponents to have more possession on average.

Their ability to transition play quickly and efficiently made them a threat to both teams involved, as illustrated in the previous section. Their clinical execution adds another level of danger, making them a formidable force on the field.

The above image perfectly illustrates the defensive strategy employed by Union Saint-Gilloise. By maintaining a solid shape, with five players at the back and three in midfield, they effectively limited the space available to opposition attackers. This organized and compact structure makes it challenging for the opposing team to find gaps or exploit spaces between their lines.

The front two players typically maintained a slightly more advanced position, giving them the advantage of pressuring the opposing center-backs near the halfway line. This strategic positioning forced the opposition to push up when in possession, creating opportunities for disruption and counterattacks.

Typically, the space on the field falls between the forward and midfield lines. However, when facing strong opposition teams, they often had no option but to pass the ball out wide to their wingers or fullbacks in order to advance. This strategic move allowed the defensive shape of the team to shift accordingly and apply pressure by trapping the ball on one side of the field.

When the opposing team tried to play through the midfield, the forwards and midfielders of Union Saint-Gilloise swiftly moved in to shut them down. Their objective was to regain possession quickly and smoothly transition into their own attacking play. This effective strategy is exemplified in a specific instance against Antwerp.

As the game progressed, players often grew frustrated with constant back-and-forth passing. Seeking a breakthrough, they might opt to play the ball into the gaps between opposing lines. However, this risky move frequently led to instant defensive pressure and loss of possession. Capitalizing on these opportunities, USG swiftly transitioned and tried to exploit any vulnerabilities in the Antwerp defense.

In the image provided, we observed a defensive scenario where the opposing team positioned themselves more aggressively. Once again, the defensive formation maintained its solid structure with five defenders and three midfielders. Additionally, one of the forwards cleverly dropped back to provide additional support from a deeper position. This strategic move showcased their tactical awareness and reinforced their defensive prowess.

USG’s defensive shape was exceptionally adaptable, effortlessly shifting and maintaining a compact structure as they swiftly moved the ball toward the near touchline. This tactical strength enabled them to effectively counter their opponents' advances while remaining steadfast in their defensive strategies.

When the player with the ball reaches this strategic position, the defenders from the opposing team make a decisive move by stepping out of their formation to confront and contain them. This clever tactic effectively limited the options for switching play and forced the ball to remain on one side of the field.

Unable to break through the solid defensive line of Union Saint-Gilloise, Club Brugge was left with no choice but to attempt a ball in behind. However, their efforts fell short as the opposition's defense remained resolute, denying them any progress. Nevertheless, this strong defensive display allowed the Belgian side to swiftly regain possession and initiate a rapid transition play.

Without a doubt, Karel Geraerts implemented a defensive structure at Union Saint-Gilloise that has proven to be highly effective. The results speak for themselves, as the team experienced great success under his leadership.

By adopting a structured and condensed 5-3-2 formation, effectively eliminated any gaps that the opposing team may have exploited between the defensive lines. This strategic approach compelled them to play on the flanks, which then enabled USG to quickly close down the recipient of the ball and tightly contain them on one side of the field.

Creating a strategic gap between the midfield and forward defensive lines can be a clever tactic. It confuses opposition defenders, luring them into thinking they have an opportunity to play passes through the seemingly open space. Little do they know, this is just a deceptive ploy, giving Geraerts’ team an advantage by enticing them into making mistakes.

The proficient use of this strategy prompted the players from the USG team to swiftly close down the available space, enabling them to regain possession and smoothly transition into their attacking phase. This tactical move greatly contributed to their success on the field.

Schalke has had zero defensive structure this season. This alone should keep Schalke in matches with an opportunity to gain valuable points for the remainder of the season.

Pressing? No, gegenpressing!

USG was a team that may not have prioritized defensive play, but as mentioned earlier, they posed a real threat when it came to regaining possession in the attacking third. Their strong inclination towards counterpressing made them a force to be reckoned with in those situations.

The graphic above showcased the remarkable achievements of Union Saint-Gilloise last season. They executed a series of impressive victories, reaching new heights in their performances.

The graphic clearly illustrates their impressive performance with 401 counterpressing recoveries, which was the second highest in the Belgian league. What's even more remarkable is that 100 of these recoveries were dangerous and resulted in a shot within just 20 seconds. Their ability to swiftly capitalize on these opportunities set them apart from other teams in the league.

The initial five seconds following a loss of possession were absolutely crucial for USG. This short period strongly influenced their strategy, as it determined whether they maintained an aggressive offensive stance or quickly transitioned into a defensive formation that was both rigid and compact.

The image showcased above demonstrated the remarkable counterpressing tactics employed by Union Saint-Gilloise, which effectively aided them in regaining possession of the ball within threatening regions of their opponent's defensive third. This aggressive approach proved instrumental in their pursuit of securing advantageous opportunities to score goals.

After losing possession in the given play, USG wasted no time in switching gears to regain control and launch a relentless and strategic pressing attack in a crucial area of the field. Their swift response demonstrated their determination to dominate the game and seize every opportunity.

The Union Saint-Gilloise players displayed exceptional positioning skills during the counterpressing phase. They effectively limited the Zulte player's passing options by marking every potential receiver closely, leaving them with very few, if any, free options to pass to.

With the opponent closing in from behind, the Zulte player on the wing found himself in a tight spot. Under pressure, he tried to make a quick pass toward the center but unfortunately missed his intended teammate.

The USG player demonstrated exceptional positioning skills by cleverly placing himself on the blind shoulder of the opponent in possession. With this strategic move, he successfully intercepted a crucial pass, swiftly triggering a counterattack for USG. The team then showcased their remarkable teamwork with a series of quick and precise passes, ultimately resulting in an impressive goal for Union Saint-Gilloise.

The image above is a perfect illustration of Union Saint-Gilloise's impressive counterpressing recoveries. This particular example showcased their agility and skill in shutting down Royal Antwerp, even with experienced players like Mark van Bommel from Barcelona and Bayern Munich on the opposing team. It's clear that Union Saint-Gilloise possessed the ability to tactically outmaneuver formidable opponents in a style that demanded attention and admiration.

USG unfortunately lost possession in the highlighted phase of play, as they turned the ball over near the edge of the penalty box. USG’s quick reaction on the field was impressive. The moment Antwerp gained possession of the ball, their three closest Union players swiftly closed in on the ball receiver, applying intense pressure and compelling him to pass it to a USG player positioned further back. This strategic move effectively disrupted Antwerp and showcased USG’s ability to create opportunities under pressure.

The Union Saint-Gilloise attack benefitted greatly from the pressure and turnover, allowing them to maintain a strong position in the advanced area. This strategic advantage kept their offensive momentum going and put more pressure on the opposition.

Though not typically known for their aggressive defensive style under Karel Geraerts, Union Saint-Gilloise adopted a clever strategy of counterpressing in advanced areas. This approach enabled them to maintain control of the game and keep their opponents on the back foot, especially when the ball is still in dangerous positions.

Schalke have employed a press this season but not on a consistent basis. More often than not, what we found were moments when Schalke countered but lost possession. This left them in terrible shape defensively, in turn exposing themselves to easy counterattacks where more goals were scored against them than not.


Under the leadership of Karel Geraerts, Union Saint-Gilloise had undeniably showcased remarkable progress compared to their performance under Felice Mazzü the previous season. Despite coming close to winning the title in their inaugural season back in the top flight, last season's achievements surpassed expectations.

Geraerts truly mastered the art of balancing European competition alongside domestic success. Remarkably, his Belgian side finished as the leaders of their Europa League group, showcasing their exceptional skills on a continental stage. Moreover, they finished in a strong second position in the highly competitive Belgian top flight.

Geraerts will be determined to surpass his predecessor and take Schalke to great heights, not only in the 2.Bundesliga, but in the Bundesliga next season as well. The anti-Schalke appointment by the Supervisory Board has the fan base buzzing again that they took a chance with a talented manager from outside Germany. Hopefully, he can stabilize our ship and get us back on track. Glück auf!


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