FIFA World Cup 2018: Belgium steamroll Tunisia, but gaping holes in midfield, lack of leadership in defence still a concern

Captain Eden Hazard and in-form striker Romelu Lukaku scored braces as Belgium steamrolled their way to a 5-2 win over Tunisia that almost certainly guaranteed the team a place in the Round-of-16 of the FIFA World Cup 2018. While the scoreline suggests a rout — and it could have been worse for the African side had it not been for Michy Batshuayi's profligacy in front of goal — there were instances where Tunisia exposed certain weaknesses in the seemingly flawless Red Devils side. Here are four talking points from the Group G encounter:

Belgium's players celebrate the opening goal against Tunisia at the Spartak Stadium. AFP

Belgium's players celebrate the opening goal against Tunisia at the Spartak Stadium. AFP

Advanced De Bruyne wreaks havoc, but leaves open the door for counters

In terms of attack, this was a perfect show for the Red Devils, with the likes of Hazard, Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Kevin de Bruyne impressing in their outing. Once De Bruyne was the chief orchestrator from the midfield, spotting the runs of the attackers and playing perfectly-weighted passes. The Manchester City star occupied a more advanced role throughout the match, almost forming a four-man attack with the trio of Mertens, Hazard and Lukaku, as evident in the counter-attack that led to Belgium's second goal. This was clearly a directive from coach Roberto Martinez and his coaching staff who were probably concerned with Belgium's first half jinx — the team hadn't scored in the first half of a World Cup match in their last seven attempts.

While the strategy paid off against Tunisia, leaving just Alex Witsel to do the sweeping role would be an invitation for trouble against better teams in the competition, especially with wing-backs Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco also foraying forward at regular intervals. Martinez introduced Marouane Fellaini and pushed KDB to a forward role in the second-half, perhaps a sign of how the team will shape up in the latter stages. The tall Manchester United man adds steel to the central midfield but kills the fluidity De Bruyne brings — a gentle reminder of how omitted-from-the-team Radja Nainggolan could have been effective in this side.

The thin line between attack and defence

Again, a match against Tunisia isn't probably the best indicator of how Belgium will play against bigger teams, but the Red Devils’ strategy when not in possession is a little bewildering. The forwards, Lukaku and one among Mertens or Hazard, initiate the press against opposition defenders but once the defender/midfielder gets past the half-hearted press, there is a sea of space to exploit, with the second line of defence, Carrasco-Witsel-De Bruyne-Meunier, staying behind the half-line and waiting for the team to approach. Belgium offer too much time in the midfield and oppositions with deep-lying playmakers in the Toni Kroos-mould will be able to exploit this space and possibly do damage. A more focused pressing will pay rich dividends for the Belgium team.

Alderweireld and Vertonghen need Kompany at the back

Belgium lacked leadership in the back throughout the match, something that was evident in the way Tunisia scored both their goals. While Alderweireld and Vertonghen are seasoned professionals, they don't offer the same leadership that Kompany does. The defence was confused during set-pieces with Celtic defender Dedryck Boyata looking overwhelmed by the task assigned to him. A small tactical tweak could solve the problem for the Belgians though. Advancing Boyata's role to that of a libero — ahead of Vertonghen and Alderweireld — from the current role of a sweeper (behind the Tottenham pair) will allow Boyata to play more freely. Importantly, there will be some protection in the central midfield, with Boyata acting as a wall before the attackers have a go at the central defenders. That said, Boyata will have to improve his distribution and show positional-awareness for this to work.

Team B gets a run in

The first-half blitzkrieg by Belgium, in which the side scored three, also allowed Martinez to give his substitutes some valuable time on the pitch. Batshuayi impressed with his runs, though his finishing was wayward, missing at least three gilt-edged chances before converting one. But the 'Batsman' is a lively option if Lukaku fails to deliver (though that looks unlikely with Lukaku now leading the battle for the Golden Boot). Fellow substitute Fellaini hardly influenced the match but that isn't his fault with Tunisia hardly pressing the midfield. Similarly, Youri Tielemans hardly had time to impress with his late introduction. The substitutions did, however, throw some light on coach Martinez's backup plans if things don't go his way.

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Updated Date: Jun 24, 2018 09:15 AM

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