The emergence of Anderlecht’s Leander Dendoncker doesn’t only add to the ranks of Belgium’s rising soccer talents, but also to the club’s hopes of maintaining their position as champions this season.
The Belgian side have every reason to celebrate after winning another title thanks to the domineering presence of Leander Dendoncker in the midfield.
Even though Youri Tielemans made most of the storylines during the club’s successful campaign, there is no denying that the Belgian star was instrumental as he showed why he’s such a destructive weapon in midfield.
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With the likes of Eden Hazard in front, Romelu Lukaku occupying the backline, and the introduction of Leander Dendoncker in the midfield, there is no doubt Belgium will look formidable again at international level.
This improvement comes after some years of struggle in major competitions due to an underperforming midfield.
Although Dendoncker had an impressive season with Anderlecht, it was the new Monaco star, Youri Tielemans, who seems to be getting all the attention as his stats look better.
But this doesn’t necessarily make Tielemans a better player, except, of course, to the media.
Actually, it’s Dendoncker who has been impressive all along considering how he has performed both for the club and country, and it won’t be out of point to suggest that the 22-year-old was probably coach Rene Weiler’s most important player last season considering how he ruled the midfield.
Apart from one Cup game which he missed after receiving two yellow cards, Dendoncker featured in all of his club’s competitive games, never missing any minute of action.
This is definitely an incredible feat for such a young player.
Birth and early childhood
Leander Dendoncker is a native of Passendale, Belgium, where he was born to a family of five.
Interestingly, he has a younger brother called Lars who also plays in Belgium at a rival club, Brugge.
Dendoncker joined his current club Anderlecht when he was still a teenager at 14 and, like many players at that time, he had some problems settling in when he first arrived at the club.
However, he soon became comfortable with the help of the Wanda and Paul Steegen, parents of the club’s press officer David Steegen, who was fond of assisting new players who were facing such challenges.
After impressing everyone at the club’s academy, Dendoncker was able to break into the first team after five years.
The Gunners were leading the game with three goals ahead but the team impressively fought back to claim a draw at full time.
Although Dendoncker is 22 now, he has been able to maintain an impressive performance in the last three years and looks to have earned a permanent spot in Weiler’s team after Tielemans departure.
He was instrumental in the Anderlecht league victory last season playing all 40 league games and a total of 57 in all competition.
He also impressed at the Europa League. Unfortunately, the team was knocked out in the first round of the knockout stages.
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Position and playing style
Dendoncker has dominated the midfield for Anderlecht since moving up the ranks in 2014 but recently he has also been used in the centre-half, including during the UEFA Champions League game against Arsenal when he came in as a substitute to strengthen the back line.
With a height of 1.88 metres, he often has the upper hand over the opponents and is good at winning the ball both in the air and on the floor.
Due to his remarkable ability to deliver both long and short passes, Dendoncker has excelled at playing from the depth of midfield, most times in a defensive set up.
However, his greatest strength is his stamina. Thanks to his sturdy body frame and tenacity, the Belgian can run tirelessly throughout the game.
He is a great team player with a remarkable ability to remain composed even when his side is losing, and this is the reason why he has become the nucleus of the team.
Dendoncker plays predominantly from the heart of midfield, in a 4-3-3 formation, but sometimes he is also used in defensive midfield with a partner in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
This is why he is the most valuable player to Weiler as he plans to build a more formidable team.
Admittedly, Tielemans has been luckier and that could be down to his ability to deliver powerful shots from outside the box, however this is not to say that Dendoncker doesn’t shoot well from the same position.
In addition to the long range shooting, Dendoncker is also strong in front of goal with his head; just remember how his bullet header brought the game against Manchester United level in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-finals last season.
At his age, Dendoncker is remarkably intelligent in reading passes and intercepting play from the opposition.
He seems to always be in the right position to receive the ball, deliver long range passes, intercept an attack, or send in a powerful header.
He is creative in his half and can play from box to box, dribbling and marauding his opponents and holding on to the ball even in tight situations.
It is hard to really point out any weakness in the young midfielder, although there are certain areas we would like him to improve.
Most notably, it is his speed and creativity when exposed in the other half of the pitch.
He seems like a player who is too comfortable with defensive play and often lacks options when exposed deep outside his half.
However, considering his position and the less competitive nature of the Belgian league, he seems to be doing very well notwithstanding these shortcomings.
Although he hasn’t talked about leaving Anderlecht yet, we would definitely like to see him play in a top league.
Meanwhile, he looks set to play another season and the club’s sporting director, Herman Van Holsbeeck, will be hoping to capitalize on his domineering presence in midfield.