Exclusive interview with Brian Priske

We had the opportunity to chat with  Brian Priske, currently manager of Royal Antwerp in the Jupiler Pro League. We talked about tactics, drills, his journey and his experience with the data-driven FC Midtjylland of Denmark.

Hope you enjoy this interview! If this is it, you can offer a coffee at the end of the interview.

Thank you coach and thanks to mr. Erwin Van den Sande, Marketing & Communication Manager and Press Officer at Royal Antwerp, to have made this interview possible.

Which is your favorite system and why? Which are your principles of play? 

In general, then I don’t think formation is the most important thing but more the expression of the players and team on the pitch. But I prefer to play with 4 defenders in the back and then it can be a 4-3-3 or like in the moment in Antwerp a 4-4-2 in a diamond. I like to have possession to create chances against the opponent and to find some good triangles in the team to create overload against the opponent. The team needs to play with intensity both with and without the ball, so we quickly get the ball back if we lose. High press as much and often as we can.

 Looking at Antwerp players’ average positions against Mechelen.

Which drills do you like to implement in your system with a new team?

Different kinds of possession games – small and big areas and with and without the big goals. Also different transition games where we can get some intensity in the game.

In 2019 you became Midtjylland manager…what can you say about that experience?

It was a good experience for me – the first time as a head coach in my career. I had a good staff around me and good players in the squad, so we pushed to become champions and also succeeded with some good football in a difficult time with covid 19.

You started your stint over there as set piece and defensive coach…what were your duties in that role?

Yes. I was responsible for the defensive work and also set pieces. And over the years we became some of the best in Europe on set pieces. We created a good set piece culture in the club together with players, the chairman and also owner in the club who has a good eye for set pieces.

In general, what is your thought about an ideal coaching staff? How many people and tasks should be employed within?

I think the staff is very important for the success of the coach and team. Today the players need more attention than 10-15 years ago, so it’s very important that assistants and analytical departement are at a high level and understand the philosophy of the coach.But I think it is difficult to say how many is needed, it also depends of the club and fx the youth work of the club. But at Royal Antwerp we have 2 assistants, 1 set piece coach, 2 physical coaches, 1 GK coach, 1 mental coach and an analytical departement of 3 persons. And it is very important that everybody works well together and has a good working mentality and also likes to spend many hours together.

Midtjylland is a well known club as they started football’s data revolution. Which was the club approach to Big Data and how you used them over there?

Yes, we started to work more with data when the new owner Matthew Benham took over. He came with a new way of looking at football when it came to analyzing the games but also involving data before making some big decisions when scouting and buying a new player. And now I think data is a big tool for a lot of clubs in Europe.

Still about Midtjylland: how much time you spent working on set-pieces?

On the pitch we maybe had 2-3 small sessions per week but also worked on an individual level with the players. Of course, a meeting every week. And then as a coach I spend a lot of hours analyzing our own and opponents set-pieces every week.

In 2020 you faced Atalanta in the Champions League. How were you prepared to face their particular, man-oriented defensive system?

We tried to prepare as we always did, but of course we were aware of their tactical approach and their individual quality as well. And at the same time taking in consideration that it was our first CL game ever. But we knew they were an amazing team with a great tactical approach from their coach Gasperini.

How is your current approach to analytics? Do you utilize them in Antwerp? Which data do you prioritize or which you pay more attention to?

The analytical departement for me is very important. Not just when it comes to the opponent but also our own style of play. We record every training we have and use the clips towards the players.

Of course, I look at XG and other stats, but like to look at box entries per game both offensively and defensively.

Jupiter League data tell us that your Antwerp side look to retain ball possession and, despite the fact they aren’t between the first league sides in terms of shots on target (124) they have a very high shot accuracy (the third at 37.8%). How do you explain this data?

We tried to change the expression from last year where the team did not have the most possession so we have worked a lot on that, but beginning of the season especially we were not direct enough in our play. So, we may have kept possession, but did not attack enough when we had to. But we were very efficient in our finishing due to the good quality of the individual players. Last 15 games we have been better in being more direct while at the same time trying to have possession. And also it took us some time to find good relations between the players, due to the fact that we bought 16 new players in the summer window.

Your opinion about Radja Nainggolan?

He is a great football player with very high technical skills and also a good tactical understanding. And, of course, a lot of experience in football.

Nainggolan’s goal in Antwerp – Eupen. Sketch by Luciano Scorza.

In the last seasons Serie A imported notable players from Jupiter League such as Koulibaly or Timothy Castagne (now with Leicester) and, recently, also a coach as Alexander Blessin (Genoa). What’s your opinion about the level of competitiveness of the Jupiter League?

The Jupiler league is a highly competitive league with a lot of good teams and individual quality. It is a league where you as a player can compete at a very high level and maybe develop into a bigger league in Europe.

Can you tell us your thoughts about coach Blessin?

I don’t know him that well – only saw his work from a distance. But only heard good things about him and also like his style of play and approach to the game. I hope he will do well in Genoa.

Which other coaches should we pay attention to (Mr. Priske aside, of course)?

I think there are a lot of different coaches in the Belgian league that are very interesting to follow, but it all depends on what you like to watch and which expression you prefere. But I think there are some very good coaches in Belgium who are very dedicated to their work and work very professionally every day.

(data source: soccerment)

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