Belgium: The only Red Devils worth supporting

Dummy Hoy

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In 3rd grade we had a grade-wide 'World's Fair,' where everyone did a big research project on a country of their heritage and produced a giant tri-fold poster board exhibit of your country. Positive I was the only one of Belgian heritage I worked pretty hard to produce a quality product, unaware that Amber Decou was going to try to one-up me. But she's a fucking Walloon, so it wasn't even a contest.

Now it was the spring of 1986, so I didn't realize that I should have talked up the Belgian National Team who were about to Offside-trap their way to a 4th place finish in Mexico, their best ever finish at a World Cup (Runner up at Euro 1980, 3rd place at Euro 1972, and YUP- Gold Medal at the Antwerp Games of 1920). But I was an American kid in 1986, which meant I played soccer on a collection of suburban fields (quite well too I might add) but had never seen an actual professional game. 32 years later and I'm already sweating over De Rode Duivels performance this year.

*Shameful Fact Alert* I was rooting for Belgium over the US in 2014 because I figured the US wasn't going to win the tourney, but maybe Belgium could...of course I forgot about Marc Wilmots...more on Belgium managers later, and yes, I am pretty ashamed I rooted against the US on that day.*Shameful Fact Alert*

My preview:

(
Okay, so it doesn't seem like we're all doing team by team previews, but I follow this team relatively closely, and I've watched 3-4 of their qualification games/lead up friendlies live and caught extended highlights for the rest. I've also read/listened to multiple previews, with a special focus on Belgium, so I thought I'd give my $.02 here)


Who: Here's a link to the current squad. You know most of them from the Premier League anyways. It reads like an EPL all star squad: Hazard! De Bruyne! Lukaku! Kompany! Courtois! Spurs CB Pairing! Etc.! Throw in a couple of guys playing in China, a tiny wizard in Naples and an art aficionado in Paris and we've got a starting XI. If Kompany can't go it looks like Dedryck Boyata will take his place. Kompnay has lost a step, but they will need him to marshall the back line against quality opponents (note- not Panama or Tunisia). A lot of people expected Dembele to play instead of Witsel (or even get Nainggolan in there) but it's clear Martinez prefers Witsel, despite the China move. Batshuayi can provide a lift up front off the bench, and there's even the option of taking off Lukaku to have De Bruyne slide into Mertens' spot so he can play as a striker. Sideshow Fellaini could get some burn in the last 10 of close games (either way) and Chadli may feature as well. Januzaj and Tielemans are young offensively gifted players who could be a desperation ploy.

Where: Listed as a 3-4-3, reality is Belgium will play a 3-4-2-1 going forward and a 5-4-1 in defense.

3-4-3 Belgium.png

What: Offensively look for Belgium to work the ball from the back, with De Bruyne or Witsel to start the push. They like to use long ball from De Bruyne across the field to Muenier or Carrasco out wide, who can then cross in to Lukaku or one of the tiny wizards inside, both of whom will switch outside of the wingbacks at times. Sometimes Lukaku plays as a hold up man to find an onrushing KDB/Hazard/Mertens or runs to create space for those three (and Carrasco slipping inside) to make a lot of tight touch passes for a look on goal. If you haven't watched them play, I think you'll be surprised at the amount of touches Muenier gets.
Defensively they look like a Roberto Martinez team- compact solid blocks in two lines. This can leave them susceptible to teams that can switch sides of the field or pressure down the flanks, especially on Carrasco's side.

When: Right now. This is Belgium's "Golden Generation" (although they continue to produce young talent), and their 2014 WC performance (blah) and their 2016 Euro performance (bleh) did not inspire. This core should lead again in 2020, but by the next World Cup it's likely the back three (or at least two of them), Witsel, Dembele, and Mertens will have aged out of effectiveness and their all world players will be in their early 30s. This is the best opportunity to win a major tournament in a long time, so...

Why: The Fuck did the KBVB hire Roberto Martinez? Because they were fucking cheap. The Belgian FA hired Roberto Martinez, fresh off under-performing with Everton, because they claimed their budget was too small to hire a world class coach (I'm far from LVG's biggest fan, but he knows how to manage a national team). Guys- have a fucking bake sale because opportunities like this don't come along often. Sell a national monument or something, but don't settle for a smooth talking, hard working, underachiever who doesn't seem to inspire faith in the best players. It's not personal towards Martinez, who is charming and quite bright, but this team deserves a coach to match their talent.

How: They win because they have a stunning array of attacking talent to go along with a veteran defense supporting one of the best shot stopping goaltenders in the world. They have the ability to attack up the middle or out wide, on the ground or through the air, and have multiple players who can turn water to wine in an instant. They all have big tournament (and top league) experience, and they know the time is now.
They lose because they can't figure out quite how to fit all their talent together to make a complete puzzle, they're vulnerable out wide, especially on the counter when their WB get caught high (and Carrasco just plain isn't a defender, in skill, mentality, or desire), and they can become stagnant on offense against packed in teams. Roberto Martinez probably ain't the guy to make a positive difference here.

I have no doubt they get out of the group (I think they win it), and win their R16 game. But they then face either Germany or Brazil in the quarters, and that's when the rubber hits the road for sure. I truly love this team, but that's too tall of a task for a team this flawed.
 

Kliq

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Does Germany have more talent than Belgium? Not their depth, but their best 14 or so players vs Belgium's top 14 players; who has more talent?

I like Belgium a lot and hope they play up to their ability because they should be an awesome team to watch this summer. Good job on the write up Dummy.
 

veritas

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As a Spurs fan, I'm very interested in this team. It's surprising to me that Dembele is not in the starting 11 if he's fit. A midfield duo of him and Witsel could own a midfield and let DeBruyne play a more advanced role. But then who sits? As usual, this team is full of talent but it doesn't fit together.
 

Grogan's NeckRol

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Literally this morning I put a Duvel beer glass I bought in Belgium in 1991 into my daughter's school bag as a prop for the country report she is doing on Belgium this Friday (She is in fifth grade so that third grade shit is pretty advanced). She picked Belgium because my Mom was born in Turnhout and I have gotten to know family from Belgium over the years and they (the Flemish) are great people . My older boys used to sport Belgian national team kits when they were young after a more recent trip there.

So fuck the Walloons (including Ms. Dacou wherever she is) as well as just hoping they get out of the group, let's win. Of course, I say that having virtually no knowledge of anything World Cup related so thanks for the write up, I will be rooting for them and it's nice to know a bit about the squad. I'll shut up now and enjoy the thread.
 

Dummy Hoy

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My people were from Oostende from the 1500s until the 1880s when opportunity arose to walk right off the Belgian naval ship that was docked in Boston Harbor and disappear into the streets. Dudes kept marrying the Irish, but we kept our Flemmish pride.

As a Spurs fan, I'm very interested in this team. It's surprising to me that Dembele is not in the starting 11 if he's fit. A midfield duo of him and Witsel could own a midfield and let DeBruyne play a more advanced role. But then who sits? As usual, this team is full of talent but it doesn't fit together.
That's not nearly the case this time around as it has been the last couple of tournaments when Wilmots was trying to play 4 CB across the back amongst other things.

If Dembele and Witsel play together in front of the back 3 (maybe a good idea against top teams), you push KDB up to play next to Hazard and drop Mertens or Lukaku. But Martinez thinks De Bruyne's best position is as deep lying playmaker, so he won't move him. Even if he would, I'm not sure Dembele is better than Mertens or Lukaku, so really the question is Dembele or Witsel. I'd probably agree with you were I picking the team, but Dembele has never looked as good for country as club (although I don't know that's his fault).

To me the biggest issue with 3 at the back is the need for wingbacks, and Carrasco, who is deadly going forward, is a huge liability in Belgium's half. If they had another Muenier on the left side, I'd like their chances a lot more. I also think putting De Bruyne and Hazard next to each other doesn't really work, because they tend to see the same channels and end up right next to each other.
 

Spacemans Bong

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I don't know how you've gotten so far without mentioning Martinez dropping Radja Nainggolan, which has pissed off approximately 99.83% of Belgians as far as I can tell.

None of the Belgians I know have any confidence in Martinez. None. They aren't a superteam, but worse teams than this have made the final. Arguably worse teams have won the competition. If they were managed by van Gaal, I think people would be picking them to win the tournament.
 

Dummy Hoy

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I mentioned it briefly, but what's to really say? I was focused on the team in Russia.

Nainggolan would serve in the Witsel/Dembele role, but Martinez found him uncoachable or a major distraction to the room. He was willing to cut bait in order to make things easier for him and maybe the team, but we'll see if the gamble backfires. Fellaini is now backing that spot up.

I think it's more that a very vocal group is making the decision seem universally hated, but I do think the majority of fans would prefer him on the squad. Radio silence from the dressing room though, which makes me think the team wasn't too upset.
 

Zososoxfan

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My people were from Oostende from the 1500s until the 1880s when opportunity arose to walk right off the Belgian naval ship that was docked in Boston Harbor and disappear into the streets. Dudes kept marrying the Irish, but we kept our Flemmish pride.



That's not nearly the case this time around as it has been the last couple of tournaments when Wilmots was trying to play 4 CB across the back amongst other things.

If Dembele and Witsel play together in front of the back 3 (maybe a good idea against top teams), you push KDB up to play next to Hazard and drop Mertens or Lukaku. But Martinez thinks De Bruyne's best position is as deep lying playmaker, so he won't move him. Even if he would, I'm not sure Dembele is better than Mertens or Lukaku, so really the question is Dembele or Witsel. I'd probably agree with you were I picking the team, but Dembele has never looked as good for country as club (although I don't know that's his fault).

To me the biggest issue with 3 at the back is the need for wingbacks, and Carrasco, who is deadly going forward, is a huge liability in Belgium's half. If they had another Muenier on the left side, I'd like their chances a lot more. I also think putting De Bruyne and Hazard next to each other doesn't really work, because they tend to see the same channels and end up right next to each other.
1. I don't understand your comment about Dembele being better than Mertens/Lukaku. They play very different roles and the decision to play Dembouz or a striker is mostly tactical, rather than talent-based.

2. Even if the defensive shape is a 5-4-1, I would suspect that Carrasco will have much less defensive responsibility than Meunier. One thing I've learned about Football over the past few years (and in large part from reading Inverting the Pyramid) is that formations are rarely symmetrical left to right. Sure, there is a balance to be struck (look no farther than Barca's right flank sucking since Dani Alves left), but you often see teams with a wide MF that attacks more than his counterpart on the other side, players drifting out to one side more than the other, etc. In the World Cup and in X-National football generally, there are often weak players well below the level of the rest of the squad that can be picked on. So, while Martinez will have to elect to either put Super Jan! or Toby on LB island a bit, I don't think it will be a big issue until later rounds. I'd probably pick the faster and more skilled passer there (which considering Toby's injury, is likely Jan).

3. There's very little reason why KDB and Hazard should have trouble coexisting. If KDB does in fact play deep, I'd bet his first target is to get Hazard the ball isolated on a wing defender. Really, that plus having a bona fide target striker is a pretty solid recipe for goals in the WC against high level competition who won't hunker down. Against opposition that does park the bus, KDB will have to push forward and help break down the defense. Hazard will be a width guy that can dart in and combine with KDB and the striker. Carrasco stirs the drink (or not) if he is a legitimate threat on the other wing. But if I'm defending this team, I make Carrasco beat me and try to shut down Hazard/Lukaku/KDB.

4. One last thing I have to add - Dembouz is a top 5 DMF/CMF IMO (full disclosure - am Spurs supporter). He is a stout defender, physical, has excellent possession skills, and still helps initiate offense. If pairing him with Witsel or Sideshow does anything other than free him up to advance forward more, Martinez is dumber than I thought. Against better opposition where holding the MF is a priority, I would absolutely consider dropping Mertens or Carrasco for the double pivot.
 

Dummy Hoy

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1. I don't understand your comment about Dembele being better than Mertens/Lukaku. They play very different roles and the decision to play Dembouz or a striker is mostly tactical, rather than talent-based.

2. Even if the defensive shape is a 5-4-1, I would suspect that Carrasco will have much less defensive responsibility than Meunier. One thing I've learned about Football over the past few years (and in large part from reading Inverting the Pyramid) is that formations are rarely symmetrical left to right. Sure, there is a balance to be struck (look no farther than Barca's right flank sucking since Dani Alves left), but you often see teams with a wide MF that attacks more than his counterpart on the other side, players drifting out to one side more than the other, etc. In the World Cup and in X-National football generally, there are often weak players well below the level of the rest of the squad that can be picked on. So, while Martinez will have to elect to either put Super Jan! or Toby on LB island a bit, I don't think it will be a big issue until later rounds. I'd probably pick the faster and more skilled passer there (which considering Toby's injury, is likely Jan).

3. There's very little reason why KDB and Hazard should have trouble coexisting. If KDB does in fact play deep, I'd bet his first target is to get Hazard the ball isolated on a wing defender. Really, that plus having a bona fide target striker is a pretty solid recipe for goals in the WC against high level competition who won't hunker down. Against opposition that does park the bus, KDB will have to push forward and help break down the defense. Hazard will be a width guy that can dart in and combine with KDB and the striker. Carrasco stirs the drink (or not) if he is a legitimate threat on the other wing. But if I'm defending this team, I make Carrasco beat me and try to shut down Hazard/Lukaku/KDB.

4. One last thing I have to add - Dembouz is a top 5 DMF/CMF IMO (full disclosure - am Spurs supporter). He is a stout defender, physical, has excellent possession skills, and still helps initiate offense. If pairing him with Witsel or Sideshow does anything other than free him up to advance forward more, Martinez is dumber than I thought. Against better opposition where holding the MF is a priority, I would absolutely consider dropping Mertens or Carrasco for the double pivot.
There's a lot to unpack here, but I was pretty clear with what I laid out- I've watched just about every game that Belgium has played under Martinez (several full games and the rest extended highlights). I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure what I've put down here is what you're going to see. I understand that your knowledge of the game is sublime (although you may be surprised to know that I too have read Inverting the Pyramid- more than once!!) but I'm simply reciting what I've seen from watching Belgium. If you've watched them even close to as much as I have and you still have these opinions, we're just going to have to disagree. To repeat:

1) They struggle with teams that attack down the flank, especially on Carrasco's side as he doesn't seem to show the requisite mentality to defend at times. Muenier can get caught too, but works hard to get back.

2) Hazard plays in the middle (as does Mertens), but will switch to the outside at times with Carrasco coming in. They will play on the same side. They love to get the ball out wide to Muenier or Carrasco who either cross or pass inside.

3) I have already said I agree that Dembele is the better player, but I'm simply telling you that he has not played as well with country as with club, and that Roberto Martinez prefers Witsel, no matter how highly you rate him. It may be that he should play a double pivot of Witsel and Dembele, and if that happens I think De Bruyne replaces Mertens. When De Bruyne and Hazard have both played as AM (more under Wilmots than Martinez) the offsense has often looked stagnant as they tend to end up in a similar space. I know this seems wrong to you but I've seen it happen time and time again.

Lastly, what I mean by comparing Dembele to Mertens and Lukaku is comparing their value to this team. Given how much they rely on Lukaku and Mertens and do not rely on Dembele (as much as this bothers you, this is what happens), he is not as valuable to them (even though you think otherwise).

Again- if you've watched hours of this Belgian team and have puzzled through their tactics and selections too, then I'm sure you know what you're talking about. But if you're instead just relying on your superior football knowledge and your love of Moussa Dembele to tell what should happen, that's fine- I just wrote about what to expect when you see this team in action.
 

BelgianSoxFan

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Great write up. Some comments, I am Flemish, but like most other Flemish we don't really dislike the Walloons, I met more Walloons in the USA than in my first 22 years growing up in Belgium. During the WC we are all Belgian, the team is a great mix of Belgians from all regions.

My best friend in Belgium is not very optimistic because of our defense. We are very thin there, but if we get lucky injury wise we could be alright.

Reading the Belgian papers, it seems most people are over the Nainggolan decision. The fact that he is out the door at Roma, suggests that he is not that easy to deal with. Talent wise, he belongs in the 23, but I don't have to manage him.

I am not crazy about Martinez, but I don't think national team coaches tend to be very good. There have been some complaints from KdB on their tactics being too simple, but I don't think you could implement a Pep style complicated system into a NT.

If they lose to Brazil or Germany in the QF I will be sad, but if you want to do well in the WC you have to beat the best.
 

Zososoxfan

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There's a lot to unpack here, but I was pretty clear with what I laid out- I've watched just about every game that Belgium has played under Martinez (several full games and the rest extended highlights). I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure what I've put down here is what you're going to see. I understand that your knowledge of the game is sublime (although you may be surprised to know that I too have read Inverting the Pyramid- more than once!!) but I'm simply reciting what I've seen from watching Belgium. If you've watched them even close to as much as I have and you still have these opinions, we're just going to have to disagree. To repeat:

1) They struggle with teams that attack down the flank, especially on Carrasco's side as he doesn't seem to show the requisite mentality to defend at times. Muenier can get caught too, but works hard to get back.

2) Hazard plays in the middle (as does Mertens), but will switch to the outside at times with Carrasco coming in. They will play on the same side. They love to get the ball out wide to Muenier or Carrasco who either cross or pass inside.

3) I have already said I agree that Dembele is the better player, but I'm simply telling you that he has not played as well with country as with club, and that Roberto Martinez prefers Witsel, no matter how highly you rate him. It may be that he should play a double pivot of Witsel and Dembele, and if that happens I think De Bruyne replaces Mertens. When De Bruyne and Hazard have both played as AM (more under Wilmots than Martinez) the offsense has often looked stagnant as they tend to end up in a similar space. I know this seems wrong to you but I've seen it happen time and time again.

Lastly, what I mean by comparing Dembele to Mertens and Lukaku is comparing their value to this team. Given how much they rely on Lukaku and Mertens and do not rely on Dembele (as much as this bothers you, this is what happens), he is not as valuable to them (even though you think otherwise).

Again- if you've watched hours of this Belgian team and have puzzled through their tactics and selections too, then I'm sure you know what you're talking about. But if you're instead just relying on your superior football knowledge and your love of Moussa Dembele to tell what should happen, that's fine- I just wrote about what to expect when you see this team in action.
You took my post as much more confrontational that it was meant to be - I will certainly defer to you with regard to how Belgium WILL play, I was commenting more on how they COULD play IMO and looking to discuss. I want to move the topic forward because I appreciate the fact that you've watched their matches and can comment from that perspective.

1. You say Dembele is not as good for country as club and that Martinez prefers Witsel. I am in no position to dispute that. At a tournament like the WC, typically you see some rotation in the early rounds from the quality teams to keep the squad fresh for the later rounds, and I would imagine to see who is in form and who's got the chemistry going, not to mention that tactics may change from match to match. Do you expect Dembele will start any group matches? Who would you prefer between Dembele and Witsel in a 1-man pivot (or Fellaini)? If it's a two-man pivot, who are your two?

2. So if Hazard is primarily a true #10 playing thru the middle behind Lukaku, I presume Carrasco and Mertens will be the width guys. Again, not doubting that Martinez has them lined up like this, but it seems like a waste to play KDB deeper to get Hazard more central, when his experience and style dictate that he is at his best on the wings and KDB being probably the single best #10 in the world. The way you describe the attack in your post, it seems like a 3-3-3-1 of sorts with Mertens, Hazard, and Carrasco all interchanging behind Lukaku and on the wings, and Witsel-KDB-Meunier in the middle, although with very different roles (Meunier will presumably be much wider than the other 2). I'm surprised that Meunier gets far up the pitch with so many attackers, but against packed in defenses and the solid 3 at the back it makes some sense. Teams often tighten up at the WC - do you think Meunier will be instructed to stay back a bit so as not to leave too much room in behind?

3. The KDB-Hazard question seems pretty key to getting the most out of this team. I really like Hazard's game, but I think KDB is on another planet in terms of skillset. With Panama and Tunisia on the schedule and presumably parking 10 behind the ball, do you think KDB will be far upfield anyway? Or will he be asked to stay back and provide some cover while still spraying the ball around? In other words, playing against Tunisia/Panama compared to England/R16 opponent will be very different challenges. How would you set these two up for maximum effect? Does it change based on the opponent? KDB is rising to the level of top 5 player in the world, where IMO you let him play centrally between the midfield line and the top of the box and have everyone else adapt to him, and not vice versa a la Messi.

4. I may be underestimating Witsel based on how much you and Martinez seem to like him. From what I've seen in the EPL the past couple of years, Moose would be a great teammate for KDB (especially if he's going to be playing deeper) because he is a solid possession passer who is a stout defender. How do you like Witsel?
 

fletcherpost

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I'm rooting for Belgium to win the whole thing. I love it when a new name is added to the relatively short list of previous winners.

But, can i root for them emotionally, that's the thing for me. Will I care enough, when they play, i think the England match is gonna be important for me, cos my mum is English, so i might find myself rooting for England...we'll have to see.
 

Dummy Hoy

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You took my post as much more confrontational that it was meant to be - I will certainly defer to you with regard to how Belgium WILL play, I was commenting more on how they COULD play IMO and looking to discuss. I want to move the topic forward because I appreciate the fact that you've watched their matches and can comment from that perspective.
This is part of the reason I hate the internet...tough to read people's tone at times. Have no interest in things other than discussing Belgium. Just want to make sure you read my original post...I put a lot in there.

1. You say Dembele is not as good for country as club and that Martinez prefers Witsel. I am in no position to dispute that. At a tournament like the WC, typically you see some rotation in the early rounds from the quality teams to keep the squad fresh for the later rounds, and I would imagine to see who is in form and who's got the chemistry going, not to mention that tactics may change from match to match. Do you expect Dembele will start any group matches? Who would you prefer between Dembele and Witsel in a 1-man pivot (or Fellaini)? If it's a two-man pivot, who are your two?
I would't be surprised to see some DM rotation, but Martinez has been pretty steady about his lineups in these lead up friendlies. I would honestly be surprised if Dembele starts barring a knock for Witsel...maybe the England game if they're through? But you're right- there often is rotation with the games so fast and furious, so we'll see.
I think Dembele is a better player than Witsel, and I think Witsel's best football for Belgium was 5-6 years ago (and I think Dembele has gotten better in that time). I don't see it, but both Wilmots and Martinez love him...maybe some little nuances that I don't get to see on the telly.
I don't want to see Fellaini unless they need a late desperate goal against a bus or they're going to shut it down on the other end.

2. So if Hazard is primarily a true #10 playing thru the middle behind Lukaku, I presume Carrasco and Mertens will be the width guys. Again, not doubting that Martinez has them lined up like this, but it seems like a waste to play KDB deeper to get Hazard more central, when his experience and style dictate that he is at his best on the wings and KDB being probably the single best #10 in the world. The way you describe the attack in your post, it seems like a 3-3-3-1 of sorts with Mertens, Hazard, and Carrasco all interchanging behind Lukaku and on the wings, and Witsel-KDB-Meunier in the middle, although with very different roles (Meunier will presumably be much wider than the other 2). I'm surprised that Meunier gets far up the pitch with so many attackers, but against packed in defenses and the solid 3 at the back it makes some sense. Teams often tighten up at the WC - do you think Meunier will be instructed to stay back a bit so as not to leave too much room in behind?
Look at the lineup I had in the original post- that's the set-up going forward. it's a 3-4-2-1, with Mertens and Hazard behind Lukaku with room to move. Carrasco and Muenier are wingbacks basically, and KDB/Witsel play in the middle. Carrasco and Muenier cover a lot of ground...Carrasco is more likely to move inside with Hazard going out than on the other side where Muenier does tend to stay outside (although I have seen Mertens make runs behind the D out wide for Munier to find.) I think Muenier will be forward all day, especially when Belgium has the ball. It's shocking how much they go through him.

3. The KDB-Hazard question seems pretty key to getting the most out of this team. I really like Hazard's game, but I think KDB is on another planet in terms of skillset. With Panama and Tunisia on the schedule and presumably parking 10 behind the ball, do you think KDB will be far upfield anyway? Or will he be asked to stay back and provide some cover while still spraying the ball around? In other words, playing against Tunisia/Panama compared to England/R16 opponent will be very different challenges. How would you set these two up for maximum effect? Does it change based on the opponent? KDB is rising to the level of top 5 player in the world, where IMO you let him play centrally between the midfield line and the top of the box and have everyone else adapt to him, and not vice versa a la Messi.
As I mentioned above, Martinez loves KDB in the Pirlo role, sitting deep and spraying passes around. I thought I linked to an interview with RM above, but it looks like I didn't. He will play him further back.
I don't disagree with your assessments, but over the years him and Hazard keep running into each other...De Bruyne pushes up into the same spot Hazard drifts in from...it doesn't seem to work as well as one would think. As I talked about a few times, I think when they get stagnant, pushing Mertens up for Lukaku and having De Bruyne and Hazard behind would give you an amazing passing show, but it probably won't happen.
I kind of don't think Belgium will change their lineups or tactics in a substantial way, until maybe the quarters. I am curious to see how they approach Engerland though.

4. I may be underestimating Witsel based on how much you and Martinez seem to like him. From what I've seen in the EPL the past couple of years, Moose would be a great teammate for KDB (especially if he's going to be playing deeper) because he is a solid possession passer who is a stout defender. How do you like Witsel?
You really are misreading me...I'm not a big Witsel fan (I mean, I rate him, but would probably start Dembele OR Nainggolan over him.), but the coaches are. Again- just pointing out what Belgium will likely do.
 
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Dummy Hoy

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I'm rooting for Belgium to win the whole thing. I love it when a new name is added to the relatively short list of previous winners.

But, can i root for them emotionally, that's the thing for me. Will I care enough, when they play, i think the England match is gonna be important for me, cos my mum is English, so i might find myself rooting for England...we'll have to see.
I wish we could watch together...I would get you emotionally invested.
 

BelgianSoxFan

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A very mature game from the Belgians, they did not play as well as against Costa Rica, and KDB was off his game, but they got the result they needed. Panama did a good job defending Hazard and had some good chances. But it seemed the Belgians were confident they would win by playing their game. They did not press hard, and they did not need to, but they did not stop playing either.

They have to be better against better teams, but it is hard to evaluate their tactics when they can be in an offensive shape nearly all the time.
 

Dummy Hoy

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If Belgium doesn’t revamp their tactics and lineup they will get overrun on the flanks, exactly as @BrazilianSoxFan predicts. It would take an all time performance from Courtois to prevent the loss. They should go with 4 in the back but it’s too late to make that drastic of a switch and I have zero faith in Martinez to figure out the necessary adjustments; I think 3-1 is a fair estimate.

That said- Brazil’s back line has not dealt with the likes of Lukaku, or frankly DeBruyne and Hazard either. Defensively they've looked very well organized and calm since Tite took over, and a few hairy moments against Switzerland and Mexico aside, have played very well. But this will be a new challenge for them, and we'll see how they handle it. Belgium can cause anyone trouble when they're on their game.

As far as Belgium goes defensively, they need to make some changes for sure. The back 3 will be good, but I'd start Chadli over Carrasco, and have him and Muenier playing back, alternating man-marking the wings (as Mexico did) without getting pulled out of shape. If Neymar and Willian react to the man marking by moving wide/next to another player to open space, I'd make sure the Belgians revert back to 5 at the back.
I love Dries Mertens like a tiny little brother, but you need to sit him and push KDB forward. Dembele and Witsel will act as a double DM pair, both with the ability to move the ball forward when the opportunity comes up. DeBruyne and Hazard will be behind Lukaku, and I think you hope those three (plus and advancing WB and/or a DM) can get some looks at the largely untested Brazilian back line and keeper.

What will actually happen is that Martinez will go straight 3-4-3 and Carrasco and Meunier will get caught forward and the Brazilian attackers will overwhelm the back 3 and 2 man midfield. and then 3-1 will flatter Belgium.

I think Belgium can beat Brazil- that game against Japan showed they have a resolve they have lacked in recent tournaments, when we all know they have the talent. But my biggest pre-tournament fears are still active- I'm not sure they have a coach to match their players ambition.
 

Time to Mo Vaughn

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As an Arsenal fan, I can't stand Man City, but I absolutely love watching DeBruyne play. To my eye, he's the best in the EPL (I should say world, but 90% of the soccer I watch is EPL) without the ball at his feet. His vision and movement to space is incredible to me.

I have not seen that at all from him in the Belgium team. Seems he's playing too centrally and as someone that wants to keep watching this Belgium team hopes they can figure it out.
 

wonderland

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Jul 20, 2005
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I’d be shocked if Carrasco started against Brazil. His positioning defensively was terrible against Japan. I’d leave him on the bench and look at him as a sub if they need a late goal.
 

Dummy Hoy

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As an Arsenal fan, I can't stand Man City, but I absolutely love watching DeBruyne play. To my eye, he's the best in the EPL (I should say world, but 90% of the soccer I watch is EPL) without the ball at his feet. His vision and movement to space is incredible to me.

I have not seen that at all from him in the Belgium team. Seems he's playing too centrally and as someone that wants to keep watching this Belgium team hopes they can figure it out.
Read the earlier posts...there’s a link to an article with Martinez explaining why he has DeBryune playing in a Pirlo-esque position.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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I would not be so worried about Carrasco. He is a defensive liability but Brazil doesn't really offer that much threat down that side anyway. The real issue is not getting killed down the defensive right by the trio of Neymar, Coutinho, and whoever is playing left back for Brazil (I suspect Marcelo recovers enough to play). You need a right-sided center midfielder who retains positional discipline and can come over and help defensively so that Meunier and the right CB in the back three don't get swamped. I agree with DummyHoy that pushing DeBruyne forward and getting a player like Dembele (or Tielemans if you want more of a passer) into that role is an absolute necessity.
 

Nick Kaufman

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I keep hearing that Belgium needs to play 4 at the back because otherwise they will be killed in the flanks (on TV mostly by Seedorf) but I don't get it. Systems with 3 at the back have been very much in vogue over the past couple of seasons in the EPL and I think they have been pretty popular in Italy for years now. Arguably Martinez has been at the forefront of this change since he was the one of the first to adopt 3 at the back with Wigan and that was the impetus for them winning their relegation fight when he did it.

Now, I have to confess that I don't know how formations come in and out of fashion in football. 3 at the back in particular seems to be cyclical. They were popular in the early-mid 90s with Germany winning the 1990 world cup (and I think Euro 96 in which IIRC England also played 3-5-2), then 4-2-3-1 became ascendant in the 2000s, then it seems to be back. I guess it must be a game theory- rock-paper-scissors type of thing with a formation becoming ascendant then teams exploiting a weakness of that formation by adopting a different one only to be counter-exploited by another team which adopts a different formation altogether. All of which is is a roundabout way of saying that I don't know if Belgium is going to get run down their flanks on Friday, but lots of coaches have adopted 3 at the back, Martinez was one of the first and they surely know that weakness of the formation, but they still think that 3 at the back gives them an advantage on some other area of the pitch that makes it worth it.

On a slightly different tangent, I rewatched the Japan game and Martinez deserves credit for his two subs, namely Fellaini. Japan was the 3rd shortest 0team in the tournament and Belgium the 5th tallest one, but the 194cm tall Fellaini gave fits to Japan's central defenders who also had to guard the 189cm/built like a tank Lukaku. I am also not sure if Belgium switched to 3-5-2 from 3-4-3. Fellaini acted as a second forward a lot in order to get at the end of crosses but you could also see him as an aggressive third midfielder who covered the center right-middle of the field; I suspect that with this Belgium was able to take possession away from Japan and push them back.

Either way, after England who I support for sentimental reasons, I am fully in the tank for Belgium who have been the most positive side which also played beautifully. Go, go go!
 

teddykgb

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I keep hearing that Belgium needs to play 4 at the back because otherwise they will be killed in the flanks (on TV mostly by Seedorf) but I don't get it. Systems with 3 at the back have been very much in vogue over the past couple of seasons in the EPL and I think they have been pretty popular in Italy for years now. Arguably Martinez has been at the forefront of this change since he was the one of the first to adopt 3 at the back with Wigan and that was the impetus for them winning their relegation fight when he did it.

Now, I have to confess that I don't know how formations come in and out of fashion in football. 3 at the back in particular seems to be cyclical. They were popular in the early-mid 90s with Germany winning the 1990 world cup (and I think Euro 96 in which IIRC England also played 3-5-2), then 4-2-3-1 became ascendant in the 2000s, then it seems to be back. I guess it must be a game theory- rock-paper-scissors type of thing with a formation becoming ascendant then teams exploiting a weakness of that formation by adopting a different one only to be counter-exploited by another team which adopts a different formation altogether. All of which is is a roundabout way of saying that I don't know if Belgium is going to get run down their flanks on Friday, but lots of coaches have adopted 3 at the back, Martinez was one of the first and they surely know that weakness of the formation, but they still think that 3 at the back gives them an advantage on some other area of the pitch that makes it worth it.

On a slightly different tangent, I rewatched the Japan game and Martinez deserves credit for his two subs, namely Fellaini. Japan was the 3rd shortest 0team in the tournament and Belgium the 5th tallest one, but the 194cm tall Fellaini gave fits to Japan's central defenders who also had to guard the 189cm/built like a tank Lukaku. I am also not sure if Belgium switched to 3-5-2 from 3-4-3. Fellaini acted as a second forward a lot in order to get at the end of crosses but you could also see him as an aggressive third midfielder who covered the center right-middle of the field; I suspect that with this Belgium was able to take possession away from Japan and push them back.

Either way, after England who I support for sentimental reasons, I am fully in the tank for Belgium who have been the most positive side which also played beautifully. Go, go go!
The ebb and flow of systems is relevant to the rock paper scissors nature of the sport but the worry here is more practical. The system they are currently playing relies on the wingbacks being in 3 different spaces at the appropriate times: Defending in a back 5, supporting the 2 CMs when the ball is in the midfield, and getting forward to overlap on attacks. Doing the last part often leads to being completely unable to do the first part. When the wing backs get caught up field, the midfield becomes incredibly easy to get through (there are only 2 there and one of them is KDB) and then everyone is turned and trying to mark someone. Also, it is very hard for 3 CBs to cover the width of the pitch the way 4 defenders normally would. As a result, there is usually a natural open gap in wide areas that the opposing team can hit balls into. And the gap gets bigger depending on the positioning of the wing backs. The risk for Belgium here is that their wingbacks are not special and Brazil can achieve a numerical superiority in both midfield and attack fairly easily. And if that ball is sprayed out wide, it'll be willian and Neymar running at their defense which is trying to scramble. And Jesus or Firmino making runs behind as well. Every one of those players is good on the ball and can beat a man 1 v 1 and any 1 v 1 lost with 3/4 back is going to put Belgium into a heap of trouble very quickly.

https://www.foxsports.com/soccer/video/1268688963943

If you watch Japan's first goal, it's basically a diagram of how it all can break down for them. Meunier is playing forward and passes and moves to create an attack. The ball is turned over and Japan launch a counter immediately. Meunier is basically done for the rest of the move. Witsel and KDB both attempt to mark the same man, which is a disastrous mistake in a 2 man midfield as it leaves a runner wide open (this was almost assuredly KDBs fault). It's an easy pass for a Japan player to run into space which exposes Belgium's back line. Neither wing back is anywhere to be seen while a Japanese player gets on his horse and causes Belgium's back line to need to turn and chase the run into the wide space that is available. The pass splits the CBs and gets buried. If KDB simply maintains a wide position this goal probably never happens but when you're playing with just 2 in midfield and 3 behind them any mistake by either of those 2 in positioning is liable to be punished. Add in that it will be Brazilian players making the passes and runs and they're just too likely to be caught out.

If Belgium insist on playing in this formation they'll need to play it far more as a back 5 and look to spring counter attacks than they've been playing to this point. Carrasco is useless as a defender but playing a back line 5 and absorbing pressure is reasonable enough but with Carrasco and KDB both playing there are really never more than 4 natural defensive minded players on the pitch for Belgium, they're just really likely to be overrun.

The natural move that many have suggested is to remove one attacker for a CM/CDM type who can give them more presence in the middle of the pitch and free KDB to make their rapid counter more lethal.
 

Dummy Hoy

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Great response @teddykgb, thanks - I was coming to craft a similar response, but it would not have been as well written as yours. Couple of things to add:

1. They will absolutely play 3 in the back, which as Teddy points out requires them to essentially play 5 at the back because of the vulnerabilities out wide. I like a lot of what Carrasco does, but he's being asked to perform duties not in his skill set when he plays WB. I think Chadli makes more sense, and he can get forward too if they need him to.

2. What the Fellaini sub against Japan allowed was for an additional midfielder in the middle so that DeBruyne or Witsel could be freed up to multitask. Martinez is asking DeBruyne to cover the back line, distribute, and lead the counter. He's asking Witsel to defend and distribute. You can't do all that when you're being outnumbered in the middle.
The Japanese pressure and goals in the second half were partially because Martinez pushed DeBruyne more forward to create more, and that created essentially a 1 man midfield, and Witsel is hardly Patrick Viera. Adding Felliani to the mix allowed for more strength in the middle and freed everyone up a bit.

As I mentioned above, what I would do is something like:
Belgium Lineup v Brazil.png

It's lacking out wide on the attack, but I think you get support for the front 3 from an additional MF or a wing back. If Belgium wins, they're scoring through counter attacking runs or long, direct balls to Lukaku.
 

Nick Kaufman

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Ok, this is a great article on why 3 back systems have exploded over the past couple of years.

And this is Jonathan Wilson pondering how Brazil could be beaten:
But that opening quarter against Mexico did suggest a possible tactical opportunity for Belgium. Once Dani Alves was ruled out of the squad through injury, Brazil always looked vulnerable at right-back. Danilo played in the draw against Switzerland, since when Fagner has been deployed there. Vela, and Hirving Lozano when he moved to the Mexican left, both made him look slow on the turn. The problem for Belgium, though, is that their 3-4-2-1 does not necessarily push a player tight up against the full-back.

Yannick Carrasco can get forward from left wing-back but he is likely to have his hands full dealing with Willian. That then means Eden Hazard, who operates almost as an inside-left behind Romelu Lukaku, with Dries Mertens alongside him, needs to pull to the left to try to pressure Fagner.

But that in turn leaves an additional problem, one that Mexico faced, which is how to get sufficient players into the box to take advantage. If Hazard pulls left, it places great onus on Kevin De Bruyne to get forward to join Mertens and Lukaku in the box.

The absence of Casemiro through suspension breaks up the highly effective triangle he and the two central defenders, Miranda and Thiago Silva, had formed, but the back of midfield is an area in which Brazil have cover. Fernandinho is used to operating as a breakwater in front of two central defenders, dropping between them if necessary.

He is, though, a more dynamic presence than Casemiro and while that means he may be more effective at joining counterattacks, it also perhaps offers Belgium, and De Bruyne in particular, an opportunity to counter back against him.

Belgium themselves have an issue at the back of midfield, Axel Witsel being badly at fault for Japan’s second goal in their last-16 game. If he is similarly lax against Neymar or Philippe Coutinho, it is hard to see much hope for Belgium.

Against Mexico, Brazil switched from the fairly orthodox 4-3-3 they had used through the group to something closer to 4-4-2, with Neymar operating more centrally and Willian dropping deeper. Neymar perhaps benefits from the more central role but it would be a surprise if Tite did not go back to the 4-3-3 against Belgium.

With the 4-4-2, Belgium would have three against two at the back with two central midfielders plus two inside forwards against two in the centre of midfield, which would allow them to overman even if Coutinho played narrow on the Brazilian left.

So long as Carrasco and the right wing-back, Thomas Meunier, were able to hold their own on their flanks, that would, in theory at least, allow Belgium to control the centre of the pitch and probably possession – although as Brazil showed against Mexico, that is not necessarily something which concerns them.

A 4-3-3, though, immediately causes problems for Belgium by having Willian target the space behind Carrasco, while Neymar operates in the awkward zone between Toby Alderweireld, the right-sided centre-back, and Meunier.
https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/jul/05/if-belgium-beat-brazil-world-cup-quarter-final-how

Neither article addresses the points you have made and I see now how Belgium is vulnerable, but there's great deal of good ino in there and food for thought. It's going to be a rare occasion that I will have such a good understanding of the two sides tactically entering the game. I am curious to see how it plays out.
 

candylandriots

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Ok, this is a great article on why 3 back systems have exploded over the past couple of years.

And this is Jonathan Wilson pondering how Brazil could be beaten:


https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/jul/05/if-belgium-beat-brazil-world-cup-quarter-final-how

Neither article addresses the points you have made and I see now how Belgium is vulnerable, but there's great deal of good ino in there and food for thought. It's going to be a rare occasion that I will have such a good understanding of the two sides tactically entering the game. I am curious to see how it plays out.
Could you check that first link? It isn’t working for me, and sounds interesting.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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Ok, this is a great article on why 3 back systems have exploded over the past couple of years.

And this is Jonathan Wilson pondering how Brazil could be beaten:

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/jul/05/if-belgium-beat-brazil-world-cup-quarter-final-how

Neither article addresses the points you have made and I see now how Belgium is vulnerable, but there's great deal of good ino in there and food for thought. It's going to be a rare occasion that I will have such a good understanding of the two sides tactically entering the game. I am curious to see how it plays out.
I think this article emphasizes the wrong side of the field. Brazil's bigger weakness is on their left, as Marcelo (assuming he plays) routinely pushes so far forward, allowing teams to play balls into the space he vacates. Get DeBruyne or Hazard into space in transition behind Marcelo and running at Brazil's old and not very mobile central defenders.

I also think that Belgium can't be afraid to press Brazil high up the pitch in midfield. Switzerland showed that you could disrupt their play significantly if you contested the buildup and made them really work to advance the ball.
 

Dummy Hoy

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Martinez just doesn't seem high on Dembele, who knows why. Fellaini will also help with some aerial attack though.
 

Time to Mo Vaughn

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As an Arsenal fan, I hate pretty much this entire Belgium team: Courtois and Hazard on Chelsea, Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Dembele on Spurs, De Bruyne and Kompany on Man City, Lukaku on ManU, but other than rivalries I really have nothing against any of those players. I love watching this team and the players on it. None of them are a Diego Costa to me. I was pulling hard for Argentina from the start, but since they've been out Belgium has been my team for this World Cup.

Except for that fucker Fellaini. Screw you with your sideshow Bob hairdo and awful unibrow. I hope you get pick up a red for one of your stupid elbows in the 93rd minute of a win over France and can't even show up to the Final!
 

singaporesoxfan

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‪As an Everton fan, watching the success of this Belgium team: why can’t we get a manager like Martinez? Or players like Fellaini and Lukaku?‬