Euro 2016: Sweden 0-1 Belgium: Tactical analysis
Needing a win to stay in UEFA Euro 2016 and prolong talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s international career, Erik Hamrén made just the one change in Nice as the experienced Marcus Berg came in for Celta Vigo’s John Guidetti from the 1-0 loss to Italy.
Marc Wilmots was forced to bring start Radja Nainggolan instead of Moussa Dembele who was forced off with an ankle injury in the 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland. Belgium meanwhile needed a point to guarantee qualification as the second best team from Group E.
Sweden didn’t really get going in the first half although it could have been so different had Berg buried a loose ball in the 5th minute following a Kallstrom freekick which fell to him kindly. Courtois saved sharply and Belgium proceeded to dominate the rest of the half without actually controlling the game. Sweden lacked any real quality to create much in the final third, although, Forsberg kept finding space in between the lines with Belgium lacking any compactness and organisation without the ball
Alternately, their best moments came when the trio of Hazard, De Bruyne and Carrasco would run at the Swedish defence during transitions and this led to the fullbacks being restricted in their forward forays.
Issues with Belgium’s Play
Marc Wilmots has been widely criticised for not fulfilling the potential of this Belgium side which has undoubtedly been their most talented ever. The players don’t seem to have been coached the basic organisational tactics and even while going forward don’t appear to have coordinated movements. The gap between the front four and midfield was far too much at times on Thursday and it is highly unlikely that they won’t be made to suffer against an opposition featuring higher quality players. Too much was asked from the two 6’s as the formation turned into a wide open 4-2-4 while going forward.
Their construction of attacks suffered in the absence of Dembele who was sorely missed in midfield as his creativity and guile during build-up makes the team much more fluid. There were no connections between the lines in possession and relying on the individual quality of Hazard and De Bruyne seemed to be the only ‘game-plan’.
It is a testament to the fact that there is a lack of teamwork while going forward is the fact in 37 internationals together, De Bruyne has only set up Hazard for two goals while the favour hasn’t been returned even once. It is an astonishing stat considering the quality of the duo and further questions their manager’s approach.
As it was against Italy, Witsel & Nainggolan offered a minimal progression of the ball and as has been a feature of Belgium under Wilmots, most of their attacks originated from the fullbacks, predominantly the left back in this game position as they focussed almost all their attacks down that side.
Lukaku constantly kept dropping into midfield to offer support and then found it difficult to reach on the end of dangerous crosses flashed across the face of goal. De Bruyne was the man responsible on a number of occasions and as the half was coming to a close, a corner taken short by him was a whisker away from the far post though Isaksson got fingertips onto it which went unnoticed.
Meanwhile, the two midfielders barely circulated the ball between them and preferred to feed the three behind the striker. After the opening quarter of the game, there was a lot of interchange between the trio throughout the game with all three taking up positions on the left, presumably to attack Lindelof and curtail Larsson going forward simultaneously.
By half-time, Belgium had enjoyed more of the ball despite the flaws in their game. But their best moments came during transitions and perhaps picking teams off on the counter is what Wilmots has decided his approach will be in the tournament as the both of Lukaku’s goals against the Republic of Ireland came through that manner.