5 Things You Need to Know About Marc Wilmots' Belgium
With so many prominent Belgian players in the Premier League—think Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku—the Belgian national team has been rising in reputation for a number of years now.
While experts have considered Belgium as dark horses for the forthcoming World Cup in Brazil for a while now, not every detail about the Rode Duivels is well known.
Here, we take a look at five things you need to know about Belgium.
On paper, Belgium might play in a straight-forward 4-3-3 formation, but look a little closer, and you'll see that manager Marc Wilmots' tactical set-up can just as easily be described as 4-5-1.
They key here is the Rode Duivels' fluid midfield, led by Zenit Saint Petersburg's confident defensive midfielder Axel Witsel. Ahead of Witsel, Wilmots usually plays Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini and Wolfsburg's Kevin De Bruyne.
Chelsea's Eden Hazard and—depending on the match and Wilmots' decisions—Everton's Kevin Mirallas typically start on the wings.
In Belgium's latest friendly, a 5-1 victory over Luxembourg, Witsel could often be seen functioning as an anchorman and staying behind as Fellaini bombed forward to join attacks. Hazard would often roam from the left flank to the centre, while De Bruyne moved in opposite direction.
In other words, many of Belgium's midfielders regularly swapped position, roaming from wide positions to central areas and vice versa.
De Bruyne Is Key
A major role in Belgium's fluid midfield is played by Kevin De Bruyne, who functions as Belgium's central playmaker and main creative hub.
Against Luxembourg, De Bruyne could often be seen roaming to one of the flanks, giving Hazard and Mirallas the opportunity to cut inside from a wide position. Centrally, Fellaini benefited greatly from De Bruyne's clever positioning.
Without De Bruyne's intelligence, Belgium's audacious midfield set-up would arguably not be as effective.
With defenders like Thomas Vermaelen and Vincent Kompany at the back, the Rode Duivels have nothing to complain about when it comes to the defensive side of the game.
This assertion holds especially true when Belgium's defensive depth is considered. Besides Vermaelen and Kompany, Wilmots has the option to play defenders like the experienced Daniel Van Buyten or Zenit Saint Petersburg's Nicolas Lombaerts.
What's more, full-backs Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, who play for Tottenham and Atletico Madrid respectively, are in fact centre-backs who are capable of taking over from Vermaelen and Kompany at any time.
During a World Cup, injuries and suspensions sometimes ruin a manager's planned formation, especially during the latter stages of the tournament. When it comes to the Rode Duivels' back four, however, Wilmots won't have too worry much.
A New Generation Is Knocking at the Gate Already
Belgium's current crop of players—many of whom are playing for big clubs in the Premier League—is sometimes said to be part of a "Golden Generation" of footballers.
This qualification implies that most of these players are relatively young, which is true, in a way, when you consider that it contains players such as Eden Hazard, who is 23, and Romelu Lukaku, who is 21.
But right behind this young group of players, a new generation is knocking at the gate already. Think of players such as Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj and French side Lille's Divock Origi.
Age is relative—this seems to be especially true when it comes to the Rode Duivels.
Grouped with Algeria, Russia and South Korea in the first stage of the World Cup in Brazil, it looks as if Belgium will have a relatively easy ride through to the knockout stages—if such a thing can be said when it comes to the World Cup.
Should Belgium progress to the round of 16, they would have to face Germany, Ghana, United States or Portugal—each a formidable opponent.
But considering the confidence that might be gained during the first round of the tournament, it could have been much worse for the Rode Duivels.