Sunday, June 24, 2018

Defence will be Belgium’s biggest Achilles heel heading into 2018 World Cup

Juan Pablo Aravena in Editorial, World Cup 21 May 2018

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There is no doubt that Belgium are one of the biggest candidates heading into the 2018 World Cup. The Red Devils cruised their way through the UEFA World Cup Qualifiers, and undoubtedly feature some of the best players in the world in their current squad. However, it might be a stretch to call them a title contender.. at least just yet.

When looking Belgium’s squad, we can see they have a top-class goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois. The midfield zone feature quality names such as Marouane Fellaini – even if you hate him or love him! – , Radja Nainggolan, Kevin de Bruyne, and other promising names such as Youri Tielemans. And the attacking line is even better. Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens… and the list goes on and one.

However, there is one area we didn’t mention… and that’s the defensive line. Belgium’s defence will be the team’s Achilles heel in this upcoming World Cup… and barring an unexpected uptick in performance, everything indicates that those defensive problems will become an issue on The Red Devils’ first World Cup title quest.

Who does Roberto Martinez have at its disposal?

Let’s take a look at the options available for manager Roberto Martinez:

Right Back: Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Thomas Meunier (PSG)

Central Defender: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City, Thomas Vermaelen (FC Barcelona), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles FC), Christian Kabasele (Watford)

Left Back: Jordan Lukaku (Lazio)

There are some quality names there, for sure. But that’s not a championship-caliber defensive line. No matter how good these players are, Belgium’s defensive line is second-tier quality… at best. The lack of fullbacks is quite a concern, too. Lukaku and Meunier are the only natural fits for the position, and the team often improvised with the likes of Vertonghen, Vermaelen, Kompany and Alderweireld lining up in a four-man CB defensive line. That.. is less than ideal considering the pace of other teams on the attacking end.

So yes. As you can see, those defensive concerns are the real deal.

Unfortunately, the comparisons are not nice to them…

To further emphasize that, let’s compare it with the (probable) starting defences of other contending teams:

Brazil: Alisson (GK, Roma), Fagner (RB for Corinthians, but only due to PSG’s Dani Alves absence through injury), Miranda (CB, Inter Milan), Marquinhos (CB, PSG), Marcelo (LB, Real Madrid)

Germany: Ter Stegen (GK, FC Barcelona), Joshua Kimmich (RB, Bayern Munich), Jerome Boateng (CB, Bayern Munich), Mats Hummels (CB, Bayern Munich), Jonas Hector (LB, FC Koln)

France: Hugo Lloris (GK, Tottenham), Djibril Sidibe (RB, AS Monaco), Raphael Varane (CB, Real Madrid), Samuel Umtiti (LB, FC Barcelona), Benjamin Mendy (LB, Manchester City)

Spain: David De Gea (GK, Manchester United), Dani Carvajal (RB, Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (CB, Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (CB, FC Barcelona), Jordi Alba (LB, FC Barcelona)

Argentina: Sergio Romero (GK, Manchester United), Gabriel Mercado (RB, Sevilla), Federico Fazio (CB, AS Roma), Nicolas Otamendi (CB, Manchester City), Nicolas Tagliafico (LB, Ajax)

Do you see? Belgium might have something similar to Argentina, but La Albiceleste has several specialists on their respective positions. But it is clearly a few steps below the likes of Brazil, Germany, France, and Spain. And that should be the team’s benchmark going forward. After all, The Red Devils have one of the best teams all over Europe.

Final Thoughts

There are less than three weeks for the start of the 2018 World Cup. As such, there is not enough time to fix what’s already broken. And while Belgium will probably make a deep run in the tournament, don’t expect them to win it all. Paradoxically, their own defence will prevent them from being one of the top teams on Russian soil.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Juan Pablo Aravena


A freelance writer and sports analyst with almost five years of experience in the industry before joining SoccerNews, Juan Pablo Aravena is based in Chile and currently contributes to several publications and websites including SoccerNews, 12up, and Sports From The Basement, while also working as a fantasy beat writer for RotoWire, as a database editor for EA Sports, and as a football analyst for SmartOdds and InsideFutbol. His areas of focus are Serie A, Bundesliga, Premier League, LaLiga, and Ligue 1, but he has also written about MLS and South American football in the past.

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