Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
Belgium have reached their usual level, booking a third straight quarter-final place. They’ve fallen at the last eight in back to back tournaments, and now they’re aiming to step things up a level against Brazil. Getting past the quarters will be on Roberto Martinez’s to-do list, but he’s already talking down their hopes against the tournament favourites, despite their squad featuring Premier League stars like Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku
With such a talented squad at his disposal, the manager can’t really say too much about Brazil’s talents. Martinez should at least be talking up the impressive elements of the Belgium side who are the tournament’s top scorers. With the Red Devils impressing in Russia, just who is responsible for the displays so far? We’re looking back over Belgium’s first four matches, to pick out the key player statistics from their campaign so far.
Also see: Belgium’s Key Group Stage Stats
Romelu Lukaku – 4 Goals
Lukaku’s reputation as a bully over the small sides follows him from club football. The striker has hit four goals in Russia to date – the second highest tally – but they came in a very short window. The striker scored twice in six minutes against Panama, while he hit two first half goals against Tunisia. There was about 66 minutes of football between Lukaku’s first and fourth of the summer, and then he drew a blank against Japan.
However, Lukaku isn’t a player struggling to convert chances. The striker has averaged 3.7 shots per game so far this summer. That’s a healthy total, but he’s not missing a ton of chances either. Playing in one of the most creative sides in world football, Lukaku has done well in Russia, he just can’t match up to Harry Kane’s tally so far.
However, Lukaku was blasted by Hazard for not getting involved enough in the opening 45 minutes against Panama. Arguably over the course of the three games, he’s still not doing enough. His total of 55 passes ranks 17th among Belgium’s 23 man squad, which isn’t great for a player who supposed to be leading the line and feeding a talented midfield. If Lukaku can improve that service, then Belgium could gain an extra dimension going forward.
Eden Hazard – 11 Shots
The Chelsea man has made a bright start in Russia, and he’s been a great attacking influence for his side. The Belgians wouldn’t be so free flowing if it wasn’t for Hazard pushing forward. He’s been a creative hub for his national side, operating across the pitch despite starting from the left. He’s not hugging the touchline in Russia so far, with 11 shots on goal during the tournament.
Hazard has also led the way in terms of shots on target for his side, with five. He’s racked up two goals and two assists in Russia, including setting up the vital second goal against Japan. However, that’s not all. The forward has been fantastic in many elements so far, with his 3.7 key passes per game ranking fifth of all the players at the tournament. He’s also been fantastic running with the ball, as Belgium’s top dribbler.
So far, it’s hard to argue with the number 10’s impact at the tournament. He’s unlucky not to have more goals too, after hitting the post against Japan. Overall, Hazard is the stand out player for the Red Devils, and possibly even of the whole tournament so far.
Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata and Jan Vertonghen – 621 Passes
Belgium’s aim to play out from the back is clear at this tournament, with Roberto Martinez going with his usual style for the most part. While a side with Keven De Bruyne and Eden Hazard has plenty of talent capable of keeping the ball, the Red Devils have been utilising their defenders in possession.
Martinez is a big believer in building up attacks from the back. Given that, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the three defenders who started their opening two games have seen a lot of the ball. However, it is shocking to note that the three players who have played the most passes for Belgium this summer are Alderweireld, Boyata and Vertonghen. They’ve played 238, 197 and 186 passes respectively, as they look to get moves flowing from the back. This certainly gives us an insight in to their style, and it’s another reason for Martinez to continue with three centre-halves.
With all five Belgian centre-halves scoring a pass success rate of 87% or better, they’ve clearly got skill at the back. That’s something almost every side in Russia would love to have.
Axel Witsel – 6 Successful Tackles
While Belgium are passing, shooting and scoring, winning the ball back is their big worry. Of their World Cup squad, defensive midfielder Witsel has the most successful tackles with six, or two per game. That’s a really poor total, he sits 83rd in the ranking of all players in Russia when it comes to the number of tackles won.
You’d imagine that a defender would rank highly in this department, but Belgium’s issues at the back have left them with problems. The full-backs push too high, while the back three retreat too deep. That leaves the central midfield duo doing a lot of work, and they’re usually left stretched. Kevin De Bruyne and Mousa Dembele follow up with five successful tackles, while Youri Tielemans has four.
In fact, the first defender on the list is seventh placed Vertonghen, who has one per game. Clearly there’s not a lot of pressing going on with this Belgium side. That’s despite Martinez being a big fan of an aggressive pressing game. However, he’s instructed the defence to remain deep, and that’s left Vertonghen and Boyata successfully dealing with aerial battles, having each won 10 so far at the tournament.
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