Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld both help Belgium to open up a narrow opponent as their Euro 2016 tie finishes Sweden 0-1 Belgium in Nice.
It was an open and energetic encounter in Nice. Both sides needed the points to progress and each went about it by trying to enforce their style on the other. Sweden were compact and narrow, Belgium trying to play from out wide back in to the centre. Radja Nainggolan settled the stalemate with a screamer, as it finished Sweden 0-1 Belgium.
Narrow Sweden setup
Sweden’s shape was very compact from back to front, but also narrow. Set up to limit Belgium’s key players – Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard – from playing between the lines, Sweden tried to minimise space in the centre of pitch.
The Swedes were exceptionally narrow in their defensive shape. They were trying to usher Belgium out of the middle and get them towards the sidelines. Then they would close in.
Their defensive setup saw their two front men try to stop the play coming back inside. The two midfielders and full back on that side would then close in on the ball.
Belgium in the wide areas
Belgium are a crossing team, so Sweden’s setup should’ve played in to their hands. There was space on the flanks for their wide players to exploit, if the ball could be moved here quickly enough before Sweden could slide over.
However, Belgium did run in to some issues. The ball often wasn’t moved across the formation in one or two passes. Frequently it went in three or four. Secondly, Belgium’s width was coming from their full backs. Jan Vertonghen was trying to get forward, but went 0 for 4 on his crossing attempts. Thomas Meunier on the other side went 0 for 6 on his balls in to the box.
The full backs weren’t providing accurate service. Ahead of them the midfield trio of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Yannick Carrasco were all cutting inside trying to get between the lines. The three of them were all often very narrow. Starting from inside and then moving out wide when they should have been operating in the other direction.
It was only once Kevin de Bruyne started drifting out towards the left earlier in the build-up that Belgium became a threat with their crosses.
The Man City man fizzed two sumptuous balls across the six-yard box that Romelu Lukaku was unable to get to. The striker cut a lone figure in the penalty area, highlighting another issue Belgium were having, getting men up in support in the box.
Sweden set pieces
Forcing Belgium out to the sidelines and then closing in saw Sweden win the ball back. They would then try and launch attacks forward that would start on the flanks and then work their way in to the centre.
Attempting just 12 crosses from open play, Sweden weren’t setup on the outsides to provide them. They had a centre back in Victor Lindelof at right back, who didn’t want to overlap his wide midfielder. Emil Forsberg was roaming from the left and so Martin Olsson was struggling to get forward against Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Meunier.
Where Sweden were getting success was from set pieces. They won a number of free kicks in the Belgium half and corners that saw them with two great opportunities. Marcus Berg shot straight at Thibault Courtois with the whole goal to aim at in the first half from a free kick. Andreas Granqvist saw his header repelled off the line in the second from a corner.
Belgium on the break
Belgium had been lethal on the counter attack in their 3-0 win against Ireland. As the match wore on, Sweden had to commit more men forward and the pitch began to open up for counter attacks.
What was interesting was that Belgium were at their most dangerous from Sweden’s set pieces. Corners and free kicks would break down and Belgium would be off, predictably with Kevin de Bruyne leading the charge.
He put Eden Hazard in for a shot that was saved and Romelu Lukaku for a 1v1 that was also thwarted by keeper Andreas Isaksson. Moments later and Lukaku would this time provide the finish in the 1v1 situation, but was given offside as he raced beyond the back line.
The stalemate couldn’t be broken and the game was heading for a draw. That was until Belgium made a counter attack from a Sweden set play pay off. Sweden had men up the pitch, Belgium finally took advantage of space in the wide areas and Radja Nainggolan provided the finish.
Predictably the ball went through Kevin de Bruyne as he found Romelu Lukaku. The striker then laid the ball out wide for Eden Hazard in space. With Sweden trying to get back and stay narrow, working from out wide on the flank to back inside paid off. Hazard could cross the ball back across the penalty area to the waiting Radja Nainggolan.
He’d had a sighter earlier in the half from the same spot, which had been blocked. Nainggolan on this occasion he had a fraction more time to unleash a venomous drive. Despite taking a slight defection, it couldn’t be stopped from arrowing in to the corner, Sweden 0-1 Belgium.
There wasn’t much time for Sweden to respond with just five minutes left on the clock. They went with four up top as they pushed for the improbable two goals that they now needed. Zlatan Ibrahimovic went close with a hooked effort just past the post, but this was the closest they came.
Belgium move on to face Hungary, whilst Sweden go home, calling time on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s international career.
Sweden 0-1 Belgium overall
Belgium again flattered to deceive. With so many dangerous options at their disposal, they only start going when Kevin de Bruyne gets a grip on the match. If opponents can keep him quiet then Belgium’s creativity is stifled.
Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld performance
The two Spurs players on display had 7 out of 10 games here. They did plenty well, but also had some issues.
With Sweden playing narrow, Toby Alderweireld’s diagonal passing helped move the ball quickly out wide, when he played them. This wasn’t often enough though, as the ball was on most times Belgium had possession. Frequently he would shift it to defensive partner Thomas Vermaelen who would slow the pace down. By then, Sweden had moved their narrow block over to press by the sideline.
Defensively he had some trouble with Zlatan’s size and strength, but wasn’t bullied or moved out of position by the big Swedish striker.
Jan Vertonghen at left back meant that Ibrahimovic couldn’t pull on to the full backs looking to exploit his height advantage on aerial balls as easily. Vertonghen coped well with the striker when he tried this and was also particularly good at limiting Yannick Carrasco’s effectiveness.
Continuing issues still persist with Vertonghen going forward though. He still looks like a centre back masquerading as a full back and was 0 for 4 on crosses. That now sees him 1 of 16 on crossing attempts for the tournament.
Final score: Sweden 0-1 Belgium.