Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele all star in an impressive Euro 2016 display with it finishing Belgium 3-0 Ireland in Bordeaux.
Being criticised for playing as a bunch of individuals rather than as a unit, Belgium were more of a team here. Marc Wilmots made three changes, which included bringing in Mousa Dembele and it partially paid off for him. His side were in control, but slow and laboured, until they dropped to invite Ireland out of their compact shape. When they did, the match turned and they ran out easy winners, as it finished Belgium 3-0 Ireland in Bordeaux.
Kevin de Bruyne
Bringing Mousa Dembele and Yannick Carrasco in to the line-up gave Belgium a much better balance. The key was that these switches allowed Kevin de Bruyne to play as a number ten, easily his best position. In Belgium 0-2 Italy, the inclusion of Marouane Fellaini had pushed de Bruyne out wider and he struggled to influence the game.
Starting from the middle, de Bruyne is much more of a threat. His movement and eye for pass opens up the whole field and he can drift to get involved in the play. He was aided by support from Axel Witsel and Mousa Dembele from behind.
Against Italy, Witsel and Nainggolan had played as a duo and too flat. Dembele and Witsel operated as much more of a natural pivot. They were never square, giving different levels for Belgium to pass through and when one would move up, the other would drop. It aided Belgium to move possession up the pitch, but to also bring an extra man to hem Ireland in to their half to recover the ball when it was lost.
This extra support from the base of midfield and freedom to drift between the lines from the middle saw de Bruyne involved in Belgium’s two best moments of the first half.
A neatly chipped ball over the defence that saw Carrasco have the ball in the net, but was given offside. Drifting out towards the right, he swung in a cross that Romelu Lukaku knocked down and Eden Hazard blazed a glorious chance over.
The first half was very lethargic and laboured. This was due in part to Belgium’s slow movement of the ball, but also as a result of Ireland’s shape. Belgium are a crossing side, they’ve attempted the third most at Euro 2016, so Ireland’s narrowness and compact setup to leave space out wide seemed a strange choice.
It did work in the first half though due to Belgium’s slow build-up and movement of the ball. Ireland were able to get their full backs and wide midfielders from their narrow 4-4-1-1 defensive base out to Belgium’s wide players. It didn’t stop Belgium trying to swing the ball in, but often the crossing attempt was blocked or the Irish defender challenging increased the degree of difficulty.
In the first half, Belgium had 64% possession and the bulk of the territory. They were forcing Ireland back, but could rarely find a way through.
After the interval, Belgium had 50% of the ball as they noticeably dropped off. They clearly had struggled with Ireland’s compact shape and were now trying to invite them out of it.
The result was two of three goals scored from counter attacks as Ireland got caught with men forward, but all came from raiding down the right side.
The opener arrived just two minutes after the interval as Belgium swept forwards after an Ireland free kick. Shane Long was unfortunate not to win a penalty after Toby Alderweireld’s feet got up around his head, but Belgium didn’t hang about. Kevin de Bruyne drifted out and raced down the right flank, skipping past James McCarthy before squaring for Romelu Lukaku to pass the ball in to the corner of the net.
Lukaku’s effort to play the first ball out of defence and then motor forward to get on the end of the move showed just how much more energy and speed Belgium were intent on committing to the second half versus the first.
Back to crossing
One then became two as Belgium made one of their crosses pay. Strangely, the build up went back to the slow and sideways ball movement we’d seen in much of the first half.
In the build-up, Belgium had passed up two opportunities to try and spring Yannick Carrasco in-behind the Irish defence again. Carrasco had made the out-to-in run in the first half and had the ball in the net, but was given offside. In the move that lead to the second goal, he clearly indicated and started to make the move twice at various points in the build-up, but both Witsel and de Bruyne didn’t try and get him the ball.
Possession would eventually end up with Carrasco on the right though and it would be Witsel that would make the darting run in-behind the Ireland defence. Thomas Meunier swung in the cross with the key being his first time delivery of the ball.
After much of the first half had seen Belgium slow to get their deliveries from wide in, this caught Ireland out, as did Witsel’s late third man run past James McCarthy.
What’s more, Belgium have struggled to get men up and around Romelu Lukaku in the box for their crosses in this tournament. Getting more men in to the penalty area paid off to see them extend their lead.
James McCarthy had been beaten down the touchline by Kevin de Bruyne on Belgium’s first and Axel Witsel had snuck past him for their second. His replacement, James McClean, would turn the ball over on Belgium’s third.
McClean losing possession by the corner flag 90 yards from the Irish goal seemed innocuous. However, seconds later the ball was in their net as Belgium’s speed to break and Ciaran Clark’s ill-advised lunge on halfway sprung Eden Hazard.
Why Clark slid in out on the touchline at halfway only he will know? But Belgium were in down the right side for the third time to open Ireland up again.
Romelu Lukaku easily slotted home to make it Belgium 3-0 Ireland and the game was up.
Belgium 3-0 Ireland overall
After giving up crosses to Sweden, including a number of very dangerous deliveries to their left back Martin Olsson, it was surprising that Ireland were narrow again here against an even more crossing based side. Belgium didn’t take advantage in the first half though, as their slow ball movement gave Ireland time to get their players out to close down. They were caught out by Meunier’s delivery on the second goal. His first time ball in was what Belgium needed to do more often in the first half.
Belgium nicely changed their approach after the interval and in drawing Ireland out more, created space to counter attack in to. Their speed of ball and player movement was much quicker and Ireland couldn’t catch up with them.
Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Dembele
All three Spurs lads were in from the start this time.
Mousa Dembele gave Belgium a much better balance in midfield, as he plays more offset from Axel Witsel than Radja Nainggolan. His powerful dribbling gave Belgium something different, as a well as a physical presence to recover the ball and hem Ireland in to their half.
Jan Vertonghen did much better at left back this game than against Italy. He still looks like a centre back masquerading as a full back though and his 0/5 on crosses in this match means he is now 1/12 for the tournament. Not what a crossing based side needs.
Toby Alderweireld’s distribution had been mitigated against Italy. This was partly due to the Italian’s set up and also to Hazard and de Bruyne operating narrow in the wide positions. Here, his long diagonal passes were much more of a feature and helped Belgium get on their way in building their attacks, especially in the second half as Ireland came forward.
The score of Belgium 3-0 Ireland was impressive, but the performance still left a lot to be desired, especially in the first half. Marc Wilmots’ men still look like an array of individuals than a co-ordinated team.
Final score: Belgium 3-0 Ireland.