With both teams having secured qualification for Euro 2020 this was a battle for the top spot. Before the game, just three points were separating the sides. However, as Russia‘s next game is against San Marino a win against Belgium would have given them a chance to top the group. This gave them a good incentive to attack Belgium.
For Belgium, it was a good test against strong opposition and to see how they might play in next years championship. therefore with this in mind and a perfect record to protect. It is not surprising Roberto Martínez took this game seriously. This tactical analysis will break down the tactics used by Belgium and analyse how they executed them. it will also look at the tactics used Stanislav Cherchesov.
Through the analysis of Russia’s loss game against Cyprus, the went with the 4-3-3 formation as they like to get players wide and target Artem Dzyuba whose main strength is his aerial threat. However, with their opponents in mind and the injury to Denis Cheryshev, the manager decided to go for 4-2-3-1. As he hoped that more in midfield would be able to cope with Belgium’s stars. While still having wide players who can get the ball into the box.
Kevin De Bruyne was back available for this round of fixtures meaning they changed for the better for this game. This meant they went with 3-4-3. This is because Martínez likes his teams to stretch the pitch making it difficult for the opponents to be compact. It also plays into the hands of Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens who are fantastic one vs one.
From the early stages of the game, it is clear that Russia will look to double up on the wing-backs and look to get the winger in behind for the cross. They have targeted this as a weakness for Belgium. This because the wing-backs like to push high meaning there is a gap to the centre backs. This plays into Russia’s tactics as thy want to get crosses into Dzyuba. Nevertheless, on this particular occasion, the ball is not strong enough allowing Thorgan Hazard to get back and make a recovery tackle.
Russia’s idea to pack the midfield does make it hard for the Belgians to play through them. However, with pace in behind this is not a problem for them. If anyone is going to find a run it is likely to be De Bruyne, therefore, Russia does need to be aware of the ball over the top. In this situation Belgium has two runners making it difficult for Russia to pick up one. The ball from the Manchester City man is perfect finding Mertens. In the end, it was good defending from Russia as Mertens cut back was intercepted before Romelu Lukaku had a tap in.
Not long after Lukaku’s chance Belgium get their opening goal. It happens as Russia have too many people in the middle of the pitch which makes it difficult to move across. As a result, they are not able to deal with the wide threat. Mário Fernandes should try and force Thorgan inside. However, with no cover, he is not able to prevent him from doing so and fires a fantastic shoot into the top corner.
Belgium continues to threaten as they are always looking to get either Hazard one vs one with a defender. This is because it is when they are most effective. They can get their wingers in this position as they switch the ball so quickly, and then as Eden Hazard and Mertens constantly switch positions it is difficult to mark.
This type of movement leads to their second goal. This happens as Lukaku provides a good crossing option from deep and a ball in the box towards him is dealt with by Georgi Dzhikiya. However a mix of communication means that Eden Hazard was left unmarked, and his strike made it 2-0.
Belgium’s compact formation
With Dzyuba upfront Belgium are aware that Russia does not have pace in behind. Therefore the defence can afford to have a highline. This makes them dangerous if they turnover possessions as there is not much distance between the defence and the attack. This also makes it easier for Belgium to get numbers forward because there is less distance for them to cover.
Lukaku is a handful for defenders as when he comes back he drags a defender with him this leaves space in behind. Therefore as Belgium is compact a simple knockdown to Mertens allows space in behind for De Bruyne to run into. This puts them in a two vs one and simple pass to Eden Hazard makes it 3-0.
From the first half, it is clear that Belgium was getting a lot of joy from the flanks. Therefore it is no surprise Belgium continued to target Russia’s fullbacks. It only took three minutes for Thorgan Hazard to be one vs one with Fernandes. His pace easily gets him past and poor marking from the midfield means Mertens is unmarked. If not for a good save from Guilherme Marinato it could have easily been 4-0.
Martínez was forced into a change with the injury to Mertens. Therefore he decided to tactically change as well. He did this by bringing on Youri Tielemans. This meant they changed to a 3-5-2 with Eden Hazard playing as a striker. It also meant that De Bruyne moved into a more advanced position. This is dangerous for Russia as not only is I capable of scoring from range but also find the important pass.
What can Russia do?
The game plan from the outset has always been to get it wide and cross it in. However, Belgium’s compact system has made this difficult to do with Axel Witsel and De Bruyne limiting Russia to shots from distance.
What Russia wanted to do is for one of the defensive midfielders to play a pass in-between the lines. This would be to one of the three attacking midfielders whose job would be to get it wide to the fullbacks to cross it in. this is difficult with the number of bodies Belgium had back.
Almost exactly like Belgium’s first goal their fourth goal occurred as Sergei Petrov did not force Lukaku down the line. This was not helped by the fact that Hazard made a good run dragging the defender with him leaving space for Lukaku to run into. Russia paid the price for letting him cut inside as a good finish made it 4-0.
It was too little too late at this point for Russia. Nevertheless, they finally tried a ball over the top. This worked as Belgium’s high line meant there was space to run into. If it wasn’t for good defending from Thomas Vermaelen to block the cut back it would they would have scored.
Nevertheless this defending didn’t matter as from the resulting corner Belgium failed to clear their lines leaving a tap in for Dzhikiya. this made it 4-1. after that, the away side controlled the game well and that is how it finished
To conclude this is a very good result for Belgium as it was on paper a tough away test which this star-studded team passed. Martínez will be disappointed to have conceded but can take confidence from how solid they were throughout the game and in the attack, they look like they will be a force to be feared.
It was not a bad performance from Russia they just played a really good Belgium team. As a result, they can learn from the mistakes they made today and take it into the tournament in the summer. Although it was concerning how little they threatened Thibaut Courtois’s goal.
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