The inside track: Genk

With a chance to make it three wins from three in the Europa League, West Ham take on Belgian outfit Genk next. Callum Goodall and Jack Elderton got together to take a closer look at the opposition.

This Europa League lark is rather easy isn’t it? After two wins from two against Dinamo Zagreb and Rapid Vienna, Genk are the final obstacle for this West Ham team to overcome.

The Belgian side come into Thursday’s fixture in hopeless form after conceding 12 goals in four losses from their last five games. Genk have consistently dominated these games, accumulating more xG than their opponents in all four of those recent domestic defeats, but have been frankly embarrassing at defending set-pieces and counter-attacks.

West Ham of last season would’ve loved playing this lot. And given the recent return of set-piece winners with Angelo Ogbonna’s headed goal against Everton on Sunday, West Ham of this season might just love playing them too.

Prior to the Rapid Vienna game we identified Marco Grull as one of their key threats and when the youngster came off the bench, limited to just a substitute appearance as he was protected for their following league game – a six-pointer against WSG Tirol which Rapid went on to win – his pace, directness and authority on the ball caused us some genuine consternation and nearly won his side a penalty in the 70th minute only for VAR to correctly overturn the referee’s initial decision.

So who do Genk have that we should be worried about?


Paul Onuachu, ST, 27

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Now this is a name you may already have heard. We spent most of last summer being linked with Onuachu and you’ll still find articles popping up almost daily that link the Nigerian striker with a possible move to East London. Though Moyes did address these rumours in his pre-match press conference saying Onuachu “wasn’t someone who we really considered”.

The first thing to know here is that Onuachu is massive. And I don’t mean the Chris Wood kind of massive... Or the Andy Caroll kind of massive… Or even the Peter Crouch kind of massive… Well, thankfully he isn’t any taller than Crouchy but he is about twice as broad. At 6’ 7” this guy is abnormally large. It doesn’t matter whether Moyes chooses Dawson, Zouma, Diop or Ogbonna in defence on Thursday, they would all have their work cut out marshalling this man-mountain.

Though his height is a threat in and of itself, it would be both negligent and incorrect to assume that that’s all he’s got in his locker. And unfortunately for us Onuachu is coming into this game in red-hot form. 35 goals in 2020/21 saw him win the Belgian League’s Golden Boot and Player of the Season Award, and the Nigerian has picked up where he left off having already scored 11 goals this season. “How many of those goals were headers?”, I hear you ask. The answer? Just two. Surprising, I know. Admittedly, three of them have been penalties, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that Onuachu is averaging 3.66 shots per 90 and is hitting the target 54% of the time. For reference, Michail Antonio is managing slightly less shots (3.12) per 90 and hits the target less frequently (38%).

So, Onuachu has proven that he’s more than just a target man, burying goals with both feet from in and outside the box. That said, he’s certainly still tailored his game to those natural strengths, mastering the art of using his body to make and occupy pockets of space in the box averaging 4.5 touches in the penalty area per 90. Once he’s in these advanced positions though, there’s only one thing Onuachu is looking for and that’s the goal. He’s yet to register a single assist this season, whereas Antonio has provided four goals for his teammates alongside the six he’s scored himself. That leaves Antonio with 10 non-penalty goal contributions this season compared to Onuachu’s eight.

We couldn’t finish this section without mentioning that Onuachu also recently scored one of the funniest hat-tricks you'll ever see in a 3-0 win against RFC Seraing. His first was a miscontrol in the six-yard-box in front of an empty net where he took so long trying to get hold of the ball, virtually on the goalline, that he was almost tackled and dispossessed by a recovering defender. The second was another miscontrol when through one-on-one before scuffing his shot straight into the keeper only for the ball to rebound straight back to him for a tap-in. And the third a penalty which he half-scuffed down the middle along the deck. Honestly, go and watch it online, you won’t regret it.


Junya Ito, RW, 28

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If Onuachu is the finisher then Ito is the provider. Having laid on seven assists already this season, six of which have been for Onuachu, Ito is clearly the main creative outlet of this Genk side.

Ito is averaging 6.41 crosses per 90 which is more than Coufal (5.34), and almost double that of Benrahma (3.47) and Cresswell (3.42). What’s most impressive is the accuracy of his crosses though, with 33% of them finding their target - only 8% of Cresswell’s crosses have been accurate this season. Of course, that success is helped in part by having a 6’7” CF to aim for, but Ito often fizzes low balls into the box too, so it would be unfair to downplay the quality that Ito possesses on those grounds. Just to add a little bit of extra context, Coufal also boasts a 33% crossing accuracy this season – evidence of both his and Ito’s exquisite delivery.

What makes Ito an even trickier customer is his ambidexterity. He has a brilliant delivery on his right foot, often bombing down the right flank or through the gap between the fullback and centre half, before delivering a dangerous ball into the box. And his left foot is equally threatening as he scored his only goal of the season with it – a lovely curled first-touch effort from outside the box. As tidy a finish as this was, Ito’s goal conversion rate is only 3.7%, so we’d be wise to worry more about his crossing than his shooting.

Perhaps the biggest threat posed by Ito, however, is his pace and trickery on that right flank. Assuming that it’s Cresswell that he’s up against, then we can expect to see Ito get in behind his man at least once on Thursday night. This isn’t a dig at Cresswell, who has actually been in inspired form recently, it is just an observable fact that he is getting slower as he enters the later stages of his career. With this in mind, there’s no doubt that an explosive winger who is averaging 3.57 progressive runs and 5.86 dribbles per 90 could cause us problems. Chuck Ito’s 60% dribble success rate into the mix and it suddenly becomes the most interesting battle between a Japanese man and a Brit since McDonnell vs Inoue in 2018. Hopefully Cresswell fares better than McDonnell did, I’m not sure I want to witness the footballing equivalent of a brutal Round One knockout.


Kristian Thorstvedt, AM, 22

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There’s almost certainly a pun to be made here about Thor and the Hammer(s) but I’ve already had three lemsips today and I’m not sure my brain is working well enough to put it together. What I can put together though is a brief overview of Genk’s young Norwegian playmaker.

Some of you might recognise the name and that’s because Kristian is the son of former Spurs goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt. Interestingly, the Norwegian international recently told Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen that he is dreaming of a move to Tottenham.

Given his love for Spurs it’s fair to assume that he might also be dreaming of scoring against us on Thursday night, and for a midfielder that finished last season with nine goals that isn’t an unrealistic ambition. He’s already found a decent vein of form this season with two goals and two assists, though none of those have come in the Europa League.

Thorsvedt’s biggest threat is his knack of arriving late in the box, unmarked, and putting the ball in the back of the net after receiving a dragged back pass. His tendency to pop up in and around the box and score goals has seen pundits and fans compare him to the likes of Frank Lampard and Thomas Müller. Whilst this praise is probably a little high at this stage in his career, it’s still a facet of his game that we really ought to pay close attention to in order to avoid a repeat of the Conor Gallagher brace earlier this season.

Another of Thorstvedt’s strengths is his ability to read the game, which of course explains why he’s so capable of breaking into the box to such great effect. It does also mean that he’s got a pretty good eye for a pass, particularly penetrative passes that attempt to break the opposition's defensive lines, otherwise known as “smart passes”. So far this season Thorsvedt has attempted 1.31 smart passes per 90, more than any of Genk’s regular starters, suggesting that he will likely be the player that John van den Brom tasks with unlocking our defence. To put that figure into context, West Ham’s leading smart pass maker is Fornals (2.09), though his success rate of 39% is inferior to Thorstvedt’s 61%.

Whilst the Norwegian tends to be more involved in starting attacks with passes from deep, his tendency to burst into the final third means that he’s often in a position to poke a deft ball through to a nearby attacker too. Both of his club assists in 2021/22 have come in this fashion, receiving a pass as he bounds towards the goal before placing a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Onuachu. He also proved his playmaking ability on the international stage too, drawing in a defender before playing a delicate through ball to Haaland in Norway’s 5-1 demolition of Gibraltar.


Thorstvedt’s ability to make, identify, and exploit holes in opposition defences is something to be aware of going into Thursday’s game, particularly if Moyes decides to start a defender that tends to get sucked towards the ball...

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Before wrapping this article up, we thought it would be wrong to not to at least draw some attention to their two centre halves, Jhon Lucumi and Carlos Cuesta. Ordinarily we wouldn’t think twice about praising the pair, but given that Genk have conceded 16 goals in their last six games it felt wrong to include either of them as one of our three players to watch.

Nonetheless, it’s worth noting their frightening recovery pace, as well as the fact that they have both won more than 65% of their defensive duels this season, and have each averaged more than eight progressive passes per 90 with a 75% success rate. These metrics are impressive and, given that neither of them have turned 24 yet, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the two of them make a move away from Belgium in the next few transfer windows.

For all their strengths, however, Genk’s preference to play a high line with marauding full-backs and two ball-playing centre-halves often leaves the backline a mess when defending against counters. With that in mind, assuming they play a similar style of football at the London Stadium, this is something we should look to exploit with our threat on the break.

Coming off the back of an outstanding away performance at Goodison Park, we should be full of confidence going into this one with the main concern perhaps being the squeeze on rotation. Coufal and Noble remain fitness doubts here while Soucek may also be rested after the facial injury he sustained during the win against Everton. Kral and Fredericks both continue to be unavailable for selection.

West Ham Predicted Lineup: Areola; Johnson, Dawson, Diop, Cresswell; Noble, Rice; Yarmolenko, Lanzini, Vlasic; Antonio

Callum’s Prediction: 3-1

Jack’s Prediction: 2-0

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