Image from https://theworldnews.net/gy-news/67-days-to-go-2018-world-cup-is-best-chance-for-belgium-s-golden-generation-to-win-it-all
Belgium find themselves facing Japan tonight in the round-of-16 having finished top of England’s Group G with a maximum of 9 points, 9 goals scored and only two conceded. For years Belgium have had talent within their ranks but have always failed to gel on the grandest stage (much like England of days gone by). But their golden generation appear to finally be clicking under Roberto Martinez and with many nations faltering, Belgium look to have excelled and their fans have every right to dream about lifting the trophy in Moscow.
It’s unlikely that Belgium will vary from this starting XI (excluding the England match), consistency is key and it’s hard the argue against Belgium’s results thus far and suggest that any changes are warranted. Tielemans has certainly staked a claim for a spot ahead of Witsel with the latter hardly lighting up the tournament but Martinez will more likely look to his more experienced players for their future World Cup clashes. There are undoubtedly stars littered around the Belgian side, but one of the largest criticisms is probably their lack of holding midfielder, as will be viewed, it can cause issues.
Belgium possess talent in abundance in the final third, the trio of Hazard, Mertens and spearhead Lukaku, have a combined 64 goals over the 2017/18 season and have currently scored 6 out of 9 of Belgium’s goals this tournament.
When advancing, they generally try to operate out wide, preferably on the right, and create overloads in order to break down opposition defences. This tactic works more successfully down the right side of the pitch due to Hazard’s role within the team. Hazard is allowed to roam across the front, picking up space and causing havoc wherever he roams, thus when the ball is in possession on the right side, Hazard will drift across to accompany Mertens and Meunier to drag a defender out of position and create an overload.
This was seen best early in their second game v. Tunisia. Whilst Meunier was in possession, Hazard drifted out wide on the right creating the overload, this combined with clever intricate play involving a dummy and lay off from Mertens, gave Hazard an almost free run on goal before he was brought down for the penalty. This goal demonstrated two of Belgium’s major strengths in attack, the use of overloads and their utilisation of quick one-twos to break down defences and the superior technical ability of Hazard and Mertens suits this system perfectly.
The plan doesn’t work as effectively down the left and this could be for a number of reasons, but most probably is the personnel difference. Mertens does not function in a similar way to Hazard and thus does not accompany him on the left, Mertens generally stays narrow and closer to Lukaku on the right. This leaves it down to either Witsel or De Bruyne to push up and help create the overload, more often it unfortunately appears to be Witsel who is not as technically skilled as his midfield partner, or Mertens. Therefore the intricate short combinations that Belgium look to use to attack in the wide areas can breakdown, or at least are not as successful as they are on the other side of the pitch. De Bruyne appears to be somewhat restricted within the Belgium setup, and were he to be allowed to freely move forwards, then they may find different options to breakdown defences and utilise the left side of the pitch more which would only be a benefit. This is where, potentially, a top quality holding midfielder could help tremendously, this leads me to what I like to call the “Fellaini Effect”. Against Tunisia, De Bruyne had very little influence in the attacking proceedings until Fellaini was brought on alongside Witsel. It gave De Bruyne the freedom to move forwards and Dictate the Game, not too dissimilar to how he has allowed Pogba greater freedom at Man United at times this season. Thus suggesting that a form of 3-man midfield may be a better option. Personally I would like to see Dendoncker given a chance as he could help give De Bruyne licence to roam without becoming vulnerable defensively. He is adept at playing at centre-back as well as in central midfield so could push up when in attack and drop back to form the third centre-back when defending, and would also be a better ball player than Boyata.
Although from deep, this demonstrates Belgium’s approach when it comes to crossing, they look to draw defenders close to the ball in order to create space in behind for the spare wingback to advance.
Belgium like to play out from goal-kicks but sadly, or amusingly depending on how you look at it, they look to avoid giving the ball to Boyata. He rarely plays much part in build up and Vertonghen and Alderweireld generally pass straight back to Courtois rather than across to Boyata even if he is free.
Belgium operate with a 5 at the back system with Meunier and Carrasco playing as wingbacks. Carrasco is not naturally a defender, so unsurprisingly it can cause issues with his lack of following runs and occasional lack of tracking back. When Carrasco does find himself way up field, Belgium will revert to a standard 4-man defence, with the naturally left-footed Vertonghen taking up the unoccupied LB position. In addition, Hazard will often drop back into a position akin to that of De Bruyne, congesting the midfield in an attempt to force the ball wide where Belgium will usually have superior numbers and can then press, win the ball back and break quickly. This also allows Hazard to pick the ball up deeper, often unmarked, and drive at the opposition defence.
Boyata very much acts as the covering CB of the three, either Vertonghen or Alderweireld will step out to press and tackle the opposition ball carrier whilst Boyata can then provide cover behind the pressing CB. Belgium also use a fairly high defensive line in order to compress the pitch, more than likely to help alleviate the defensive responsibilities placed on De Bruyne and Witsel, and also to allow these to press in midfield and win the ball higher up the pitch. They will press high when possible but look to generally make their press when the ball is in the wide areas, although Mertens can still occasionally be seen chasing down the ball wherever he may be, you can take the man out of Napoli but can’t take Napoli out the man, I suppose.
As mentioned, one of their main weaknesses is their lack of real holding midfielder, their defence has proved solid thus far and it is not a massive issue against the teams they have currently faced. But it could be exploited against teams who are good on the counter.
Carrasco at LWB is an obvious weakness defensively as he naturally is not a defender, however, Vertonghen’s experience helps alleviate this issue as he covers Carrasco when needed. Also deploying a 5-man defence helps as there is naturally greater protection.
Overall, Belgium have so far shown their quality but they are yet to face a real test, however, the early signs are positive for the Belgian Red Devils. Their squad is still young and will only get better, if they continue in the fashion they are, then it surely won’t be long until this squad sees some major silverware.
Other articles you may enjoy:
- World Cup 2018: Rough Guide to Uruguay National Team
- World Cup 2018: Rough Guide to Egypt National Team
- World Cup 2018: Rough Guide to Croatia National Team
As always, if you have enjoyed the writing on display and want to stay up to date with us, you can follow us on our social media pages –