Key Selection Decisions for Belgium Ahead of Clash with South Korea
In what will be their final match of the group stage, Belgium will face South Korea in Sao Paulo on Thursday.
During Belgium's first two matches, against Algeria and Russia, manager Marc Wilmots switched his first XI around. His substitutions were often impactful, rather than like-for-like.
Consequently, it's not completely clear yet how the Rode Duivels will line up this time around.
Will the midfield setup look the same as it did against Russia? Could Wilmots revert to the players he picked for the match against Algeria?
What about the attack?
Here, we take a look at a couple of selection decisions facing Belgium ahead of the match against South Korea.
Fellaini in Midfield?
Wilmots doesn't seem sure on one central midfielder—or holding midfielder, if you think of the formation as a 4-2-3-1.
During much of Belgium's preparatory campaign, Marouane Fellaini played in this position. Against Algeria, Wilmots went for Mousa Dembele, but Fellaini was back in the starting XI against Russia.
Fellaini and Dembele are different types of players, but both clearly have something to add to Belgium's midfield. While Fellaini offers physical strength and the ability to intercept the ball, Dembele often brings more piercing creativity.
Against Algeria, Fellaini came on as a super sub, functioning as a de-facto striker on the tail end of long balls.
It worked well, with the Manchester United man scoring the equaliser late in the second half.
What will Wilmots do against South Korea? Will he pick Fellaini as a central midfielder or prefer the more attacking Dembele?
Mertens on the Right?
For a long time now, the right-wing position has been problematic for Belgium.
Against Algeria, Kevin de Bruyne played there despite usually playing as a central attacking midfielder. Meanwhile, Nacer Chadli took De Bruyne's place in the middle.
During the second half, Wilmots changed this setup, taking Chadli off for Dries Mertens and putting De Bruyne back in his natural position.
Against Russia, Wilmots started with Mertens on the right and De Bruyne in the middle. This seemed to work better for both De Bruyne and Mertens, the latter having scored the winning goal against Algeria after coming on.
With that being said, it must be kept in mind that Belgium's midfield is very fluid. The right-winger is rarely just the right-winger. De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and whomever they're teamed with will often change positions in an attempt to find space.
With all of this in mind, Wilmots must decide who will be his third man in the Rode Duivels' attacking midfield against South Korea.
Lukaku or Origi?
Before the World Cup, the conditions seemed perfect for Romelu Lukaku to shine.
Christian Benteke, the first man in Belgium's hierarchy of strikers, had suffered an injury. As a result, Lukaku was called upon to replace the Aston Villa striker.
All things considered, Algeria, Russia and South Korea seemed like relatively easy opponents. Surely Lukaku would be able to score a goal or two and prove in the process that he's ready to play for Chelsea or a similarly big club?
It didn't work out that way. Against Algeria and Russia, Lukaku wasn't able to deliver the sort of performance expected of him. Whether it was World Cup nerves or just sheer inability, the striker failed to score a single goal.
During the match against Russia, Lukaku was taken off for Divock Origi early in the second half.
Unlike Lukaku, Origi managed to score, and Belgium won 1-0.
Lukaku's status has now dropped. Origi, who is only 19 years old, may well start ahead of him in the match against South Korea.