A crumbling defense has been under scrutiny for a few years now and it was no different at Villa Sporza after Belgium and Canada. Hein Vanhaezebrouck notes that “it was unbelievable how many balls were played wide in defense”.
“If you look at the stats, you’ll see they only played midfield once or twice. We played all the balls in the areas Canada wanted the ball in, while the space was right in the middle.”
Is this World Cup pressure? “Busy? Those guys aren’t 19 years old anymore, are they.”
“Defensively they weren’t very good either,” concludes Arnar Fedarsson. “I had flashbacks about the match against Italy in the European Championship.”
“In the documentary about Italy’s European title, I watched how the coach of the national team, Mancini, told his players before the match:“ The Belgian defenders will give you space and make way. Be calm and ready to shoot “And it happened. There was no pressure on the ball.”
“After a year and a half, unfortunately, I see it happening again. And it’s not only the defense’s fault, but also the midfield’s fault. Witsel and Tielemans didn’t catch on. The distance between defense and midfield was too much.”
It’s a development that has crept into the Belgians’ game in recent years, but how do you tackle that in the short term? “In the first place you have to decide which central defender applies pressure,” Fedarson says. “You can’t run backwards in a five-man defense.”
“Secondly, you need players who can handle it. That’s very hard on Witsel and Tielemans, I’m afraid. That’s why I thought he should have put Onana in.”
“It really shocked Witsel and Tielemans,” says Vanhaezebrouck candidly. Their transformation was dramatic.
“The other solution is to play with four defenders instead of five. If you’re always down with five, you’re short on people in midfield.”
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