Key Selection Choices Facing Belgium in World Cup Clash with Algeria
Ahead of Belgium's World Cup opener against Algeria on Tuesday, manager Marc Wilmots will probably already have his first XI in mind.
For spectators, it's not difficult to imagine the broad outlines of this XI.
Thibaut Courtois will start in goal. Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen will make up the back four. In midfield, Axel Witsel and Kevin De Bruyne will play, with Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku up front.
Questions remain in central midfield and on the right wing. Should one of the starting players not perform adequately, who would Wilmots bring on to switch things around?
Ahead of Tuesday's match, we take a look at the three key selection choices facing Belgium.
Dembele or Fellaini?
During Belgium's preparatory friendlies, Wilmots made use of the opportunity to experiment with different midfield setups.
Although Steven Defour received some playing time as well, Axel Witsel seemed like a constant factor as a defensive midfielder. Meanwhile, in attacking midfield, Kevin De Bruyne looked like the manager's first choice.
Against Luxembourg, Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini played as the central midfielder. Whenever the creative De Bruyne drifted to one of the flanks, he would surge forward.
When the Belgians were not in possession of the ball, he would drop back and try to intercept the ball from midfield.
Against Sweden, Wilmots used Tottenham Hotspur's Moussa Dembele in this role.
While Fellaini had looked like more of a ravaging physical presence, Dembele offered more creativity going forward.
Ahead of the match against Algeria, Wilmots will have to decide which of the two will start in his first XI. Or will the manager have a surprise up his sleeve?
While it seems obvious that Chelsea's Eden Hazard will play as the left-winger, it's not quite clear who will be Wilmots' first choice on the opposite flank.
Everton's Kevin Mirallas could play in this position, as he did against Luxembourg. However, Wilmots could also opt for Napoli's Dries Mertens—like he did in the match against Sweden—or Tottenham's Nacer Chadli.
Then there's Adnan Januzaj, who recently made his Belgium debut. Although the Manchester United man is young and inexperienced, he could well be one of the most talented players the "Rode Duivels" have in their squad.
Let's imagine for a second that we're deep into the second half of Belgium vs. Algeria. It's still 0-0, and it doesn't look like the Rode Duivels will be scoring any time soon.
What would Wilmots do in this situation?
He could, of course, bring on one of the aforementioned right-wingers. Dries Mertens scored in the dying minutes of Belgium's friendly against Tunisia. With his pace, he could repeat the feat against a tired Algerian defence.
The young Adnan Januzaj, undoubtedly eager to prove himself, would perhaps be able to do something similar.
With Dembele in midfield, the manager could even bring on Fellaini, whose physical presence could add something extra.
Should the striker fail to find the net, Wilmots could also take off Lukaku and replace him with Lille youngster Divock Origi, who will be serving as Lukaku's stand-in.
All in all, Wilmots has plenty of options to change things around if the match requires it.
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