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 a perfect record from their opening three World Cup clashes. The Red Devils progressed through the group stage with nine points following their 1-0 victory over England on Thursday night. Roberto Martinez didn’t exactly want such a strong start, but his players didn’t obey his call for second place.
However, just how have Belgium looked in their opening matches in Russia? After their group stage success, we’re looking back at the main statistics from their three games so far. Have they proved themselves to be World Cup contenders?
Also see: Could Off-field Issues Derail Belgium?
Forward Line Firing Already
Total Goals – 9 (Highest in Tournament)
Belgium started off in impressive fashion going forward, racking up eight goals in their opening two matches. They named essentially a back-up 11 for their final game, the 1-0 victory over England. That result wasn’t anything special, but it did edge them ahead of Russia and the Three Lions to become the top scorers from the group stage.
Their goal tally was boosted by a collective seven strikes from their trio up front; Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens. With their talented attack, Roberto Martinez and his side were expected to produce goals. They may have landed three straightforward group games, but at least they’re delivering.
Goals From Open Play – 6
While England relied on set pieces in their group games, the Belgians were much more open. Two-thirds of Belgium’s tournament goals came from open play, while another two came from quick counter attacks. Again, the quality of the group comes in to question, but Belgium took their chances on the counter, while they broke down sides who tried to frustrate them. They really should have no problem scoring with the talent they have, but this is a good sign.
Martinez Getting Creativity Right
Shots on Target – 22 (Highest in Group Stage)
It’s not just up front where Belgium are impressing. While they have three talented finishers in their forward line, two of those are also very creative players, When you add in their wing-backs and Kevin De Bruyne’s presence, Belgium’s forwards should be flooded with chances. That’s proved to be the case so far, and they’re certainly threatening. With the highest number of shots on target at the tournament, the Belgians are going to be a threat going forward for the rest of the competition.
Total Assists – 7 (Highest)
The creativity of Belgium shows in their assists tally, another high for the Red Devils. Many sides in Russia have caused trouble through moments of Magic, with Cristiano Ronaldo setting up half of his goals on his own. However, The Belgians have rarely seen that, with seven of their eight non-set piece goals being teed up by a teammate. They also lead the way in terms of assists from through balls threaded through the defence, which shows their midfield can pick their way through a tight defence.
41% of Attacks from the Right Flank
While Belgium have the talent to cut through the middle, they’re interestingly not focusing on that. They’ve focused almost half of their attacks down the right flank, including an incredible 44% against Panama. While that’s big chunk on its own, this is surprising when you consider the strength of Belgium’s left-flank. Martinez moved Yannick Carrasco out to left-wing back, supporting captain Hazard. It seems like they’re looking to pull teams across the pitch, in order to give that pair space to work in.
Despite the attacking focus from the right wing, their duo on that flank have provided two assists. There’s been one each from Thomas Meunier and Mertens, but it does seem like they’re being used to draw out opponents, before they switch the play.
Defence Remains the Big Question
Aerial Duels Won – 14.7 per Game (26th of 32)
One issue for Belgium is that they haven’t had their defence fully tested yet. Both Panama and Tunisia weren’t exactly the toughest for the Belgian backline. England changed their team before the last game, so we still aren’t sure if Martinez has fixed up their backline. He didn’t exactly come away from Everton or Wigan with praise for his defensive coaching. The Red Devils still seem vulnerable at the back, and their opening matches have done little to fix those fears.
They’ve got an average ranking in terms of aerial battles won, Despite starting each game with three strong, physical defenders at the heart of their defence. You’d imagine they wouldn’t get beat in the air very often, but so far they’ve been average in the air.
Total Attempted Tackles – 73 (22nd Overall)
Belgium have seen a lot of the ball in their first three games in Russia. They’ve seen 55% of the possession on average, but they aren’t great at winning the ball back. So far, only 10 teams in Russia have attempted fewer tackles than Belgium. They don’t seem all that adventurous when it comes to pressing and winning the ball back, which was a staple of Martinez sides in the past.
On top of that, of the sides to have less attempted tackles, none have had more failed attempts than Belgium. They’ve won just 56% of the tackles they’ve gone in for in Russia, which is something they need to improve against better sides.
Interceptions Per Game – 6.7 (Third Lowest)
Another example of the lack of pressing from Belgium is their low number of interceptions so far. They’ve seemingly not been pushing out enough to win the ball back, something which Kevin De Bruyne criticised the team for last year. Working on their pressing was a big thing for the Red Devils, as they could easily be swamped in central midfield. With bigger tests to come, they have to defend better as a unit, or risk being eliminated. With Brazil looming, the Belgians are going to need to up their efforts at the back.
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