Every year football sees a fairytale story. Last season it was the Belgian side Royale Union Saint-Gilloise who won the regular season. Their rise was the stuff dreams are made of, as the club had only been promoted to the top league the year before after 49 years. However, winning the league meant that the big boys started to sniff around, and the first man to leave was Felice Mazzu, their manager of two years, had masterminded their promotion and the regular season win. So, in came Karel Geraerts, a former Belgian international who also played for Club Brugge and Standard Liege who had served as Union SG’s assistant manager for the last three years.
Any club like Union SG, which witness such a dramatic rise, usually faster in the next season. The club, though, was determined to ensure their consistency. And it is here that the incredible tactics of Karel Geraerts have helped them launch another for the title.
As of writing this article, Union SG are second in the regular season league, three points shy of Genk. In addition, they are also in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, where they will face German giants Bayer Leverkusen. So, who is Karel Geraerts, and how good is he?
Who is Karel Geraerts
Karel Geraerts is a product of Club Brugge, where he played for four years but could only make a handful of appearances. He was then sent on loan to Lokeren before being sold to Standard Liege. Playing as a central midfielder, Geraerts impressed, scoring five goals and providing as many assists in 32 matches in the league. This earned him a call-up to the national squad.
His form dropped the following season massively as he only scored two goals and provided two assists, but he came back strongly the year after with eight strikes and three assists to his name.
This earned him a transfer back to his previous club Club Brugge where he stayed for the next four years scoring 18 goals and providing 15 assists. However, before the start of the 2011-12 season, Geraerts was told that the club were ready to move beyond him.
And thus, he would join Oud-Heverlee Leuven, a side which has just won promotion to the league. His playing career would go on for another five years before ending at Charleroi.
Following retirement, Geraerts immediately started his managerial career. After serving as a sports coordinator for KV Oostende, he joined Union SG, where he served as an assistant manager to Thomas Christiansen and Felice Mazzu before getting the job before the start of the 2022-23 season.
Union Saint-Gilloise have closed the gap at the top to three points
Their title challenge has been driven by shot volumes: they take the most shots in the league, and concede the fewest
They also lead the Pro League for shots created following a High Press (104)
— StatsBomb (@StatsBomb) March 22, 2023
Karel Geraerts tactics and style of play
Since Geraerts has been at the club for such a long time, he decided not to alter too much the tactics of Felice Mazzu to ensure a smooth transition to the new era. And with the majority of players of the last season at the club, the change has been smooth.
However, there have been changes, including an emphasis on creating chances from the wings as well. This has given Union SG another dimension and has made their attack more potent.
Using central midfielders and wingbacks to create overloads, the team has managed to dominate the wings as well as the inside channels. Playing one-touch quick passes, they have managed to create lots of chances, with midfielder Teddy Teuma being the best creating nine goals.
One of the simple but effective techniques they have deployed is using triangles and quick passing to ensure the opposition have no chance to win the ball back.
Playing with a three-man defence also has allowed the club to be solid defensively as they can quickly alternate between a 5-3-2 and 3-5-2 formation, depending on the match situation. Geraerts also stresses the importance of building from the back and using long balls, especially down the wings. It is one of the reasons why centre-back Christian Burgess ranks as the third most accurate long ball passer in the league with an impressive 70 per cent accuracy.
Another weapon in Geraerts’ armour is the use of intense counter-press to win the ball back. And Union SG have been pretty brilliant at it. With three defenders playing at the back, the players above the pitch are more confident of leaving their positions, stepping forward to Gegenpress and squeezing down the opposition’s field of play.
Congratulations @karel_geraerts on winning the Raymond Goethals Trophy! Keep up the good work! 🏆🔥 #SportPlus pic.twitter.com/wutWgS5ur7
— SportPlus (@SportPlusFM) March 27, 2023
Karel Geraerts Union SG analysis
Rather than relying on an individual, Union SG have multiple goalscorers to their name. Their top-scorer is Dante Venzier, who scored ten goals but left the club in January to join MLS side New York Red Bulls. However, in his absence, the brilliant Simon Adingra has taken over.
While Union SG had a season to remember last season, what they have managed to do in the current one is a bigger achievement. It is because football sees many fairy tales, but only a few can keep their momentum the following season, which makes Union SG such a well-run club.
Not only have the club managed to do well in the league, but they have also managed to go on a dream run in the Europa League, which shows that their players and tactics are on a level where they can compete with teams that are far better equipped than them.
And it has been Karel Geraerts who has ensured that the club continues their momentum and become not only a force to reckon with in Belgium but also across Europe,
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