Although Belgium had a sensational victory over Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals, the Red Devils' played their most problematic game in the tournament. Coach Roberto Martinez risked his team's usual shape and strategy to exploit the space Brazil left behind when they attacked. His decision to push Kevin de Bruyne forward and bring in Marouane Fellaini in the midfield drastically changed the way the team functioned. Belgium became a side entirely focused on counterattacks, at the expense of a versatile possession game. Although it worked against a reckless Brazil, France may not let this gamble go unpunished.
First, without de Bruyne in midfield, the swift transitions from defense to offense do not work. Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel are simply not suited for de Bruyne's job. Thus, as it happened against Brazil, Belgium will be forced to play long balls to go forward.
Martinez's plan was to somehow push the ball forward, then use de Bruyne's playmaking skills to execute direct passes. This plan worked well against Brazil, not because Fernandinho was not as good as Casemiro, but Brazilian coach Tite could not anticipate the effects of de Bruyne playing upfront. If he had seen the vulnerability in Belgium's transition from defense to offense, he would have pushed up his defense to press the Belgian midfield.
However, French coach Didier Deschamps most certainly watched Belgium against Brazil and took his notes. Considering he is a coach who places great importance on analyzing the opponent, he would likely opt for the midfield trio of Kante, Pogba and Matuidi to dominate the area against Fellaini and Witsel. This would not only cripple Belgium's transition but also force its forwards to fall back and defend. If I were Deschamps, I would push my defense near to midfield and press the Belgian midfield as much as I could. This would also create offensive continuity for France since dominating the midfield means more rebounds.
At this point, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez must take a step back and think how vulnerable he made his team. Plus, he will not be able to produce similar counterattacks against France which he did against Brazil, because Deschamps' team do not like to dominate the game as much as Tite's Brazil.
The best thing he could do right now is to return to his original game, where Kevin de Bruyne masterminds the transition and Mertens as the hidden playmaker going forward. In this way, it would be more in control of the game and force France to cover a lot of space in their own half.
Martinez must remember that teams that could not dictate their terms against France - Argentina and Uruguay - were all eventually sent home by the Les Blues. Belgium must avoid falling into the same trap if it wants to reach the final.
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