Belgium’s plans in EURO 2016 might not be to win the tournament, but to show signs of progress. Yet, in a side brimming of youth and extraordinarily talented players that would be considered a failure. Michy Batshuayi is the latest Belgian youngster to have made a breakthrough, scoring 24 goals and assisting in 9 in a total of 54 appearances with French outfit Marseille. This has propelled him from no-man’s-land to the Belgium EURO final squad roster in a matter of one year.
The more proven Belgian starlets, such as the likes of Lukaku, De Bruyne, and Hazard, haven’t really been at their very, very best for their country as we know that they can be, though recent performances have suggested otherwise.
Belgium go into this tournament without their leader Vincent Kompany, who is injured. This has given the manager Marc Wilmots some problems to sort out, however, his reluctance to field the successful Tottenham pair in Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld has led to some poor defensive performances from the Red Devils.
After the friendly against Finland yielded yet another defensive performance boasting of kindergartners, the manager finally said, “I want Toby Alderweireld to lead my defence.”
This realization by the manager was delayed more by his doubt in the replacements that are available in the primary position of both Vertonghen and Alderweireld when it comes to the national team, the full-back areas. Thomas Meunier and Jordan Lukaku do not radiate vast experience, or talent; the latter only recognizable due to his relation to brother Romelu.
This reveals the only major weakness in this Belgium team their opponents will surely exploit given Eden Hazard and Yannick Carrasco aren’t exactly well known for their defensive contributions.
However, it can be solved with a slight tweak in formation to allow more dominance within matches against better opponents. Playing three at the back is not preferred by many managers due to the gap it leaves in the wider areas, but, then again, most managers don’t have troubling full-backs.
Given the array of attacking talent available at Wilmots’ disposal, fielding two up top might not be a bad choice. Benteke and Lukaku certainly looks on paper to be a formidable partnership, as they both possess mostly similar traits, though Benteke lacks a few notches in his sprinting abilities compared to his fellow forward.
The newly invited Batshuayi can also prove to be a dependable choice given the injection of energy that he can provide with his youthfulness. The now more experienced Divock Origi can certainly light up the game after a strong season at Liverpool.
Wilmots will need to make choices that reflect his managerial prowess. Outside of the national team, he’s managed Schalke in a short stint previously as well as Sint Truiden (don’t ask), where he was a failure. Complaints about a lack of talent in this country have faded away since the World Cup in Brazil, and he cannot have any excuses for failing to at least reach the semi-finals of the Euros with the talent that he has in his possession. The players have proven at club-level that they can handle the pressure. Question is, can the manager?