May 23, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Watching Belgium under Tedesco: two systems, the up-and-coming Lukaku and the impressive Lukebakio

Watching Belgium under Tedesco: two systems, the up-and-coming Lukaku and the impressive Lukebakio

The March round of matches is generally the least anticipated international break in the football calendar. Domestic title races and relegation hangovers are heating up, the Champions League is getting serious, and should we pause it all for a round of qualifiers and friendlies?

This year, it was at least a little different. In 2023, the international window is March, and for the first time ever – because of the World Cup being held in November and December – that interesting time when we see a bunch of new coaches, a lot of junior players, and realize that some stubborn veterans are somehow still heading out. Towards the next tournament in the session.

A good example of the latter is Belgium. They suffered a disastrous World Cup, and were knocked out at the group stage with one win from their three matches. This was the end for their manager Roberto Martinez and captain Eden Hazard, as well as centre-back Toby Alderweireld.

Martinez was replaced by German-Italian coach Domenico Tedesco, who was relatively fresh from a promising 10-month spell in charge of Leipzig. Previous Leipzig managers haven’t quite excelled in their next jobs – witness the trials of Ralf Rangnick (Manchester United), Julian Nagelsmann (Bayern Munich) and Jesse Marsh (Leeds United) – but Tedesco is a highly rated coach with a very different squad. Modus operandi of Martinez. Indeed, this sounds like a new Belgium.

In addition to the retirements of Eden Hazard and Alderweireld, Tedesco also named a squad for this month’s fixtures without Axel Witsel’s 130 and Dries Mertens’ 109, both now in their mid-30s. This quartet represents the players who rank second through fifth on the list of the most capped players in Belgium’s history. Surprisingly, the outspoken leader, Jan Vertonghen, is still around and has now won 146 caps a month before he turns 36.

There was also no place for two players in theory in their early years – Thorgan Hazard and Youri Tielemans (the latter due to injury) were also absent. In all, 11 of the 26-man squad that featured Martinez at the World Cup were not in this first squad chosen by Tedesco, an important shift given the perennial question about fading golden generations: do they have anyone up for grabs? and replaced?

Tedesco’s first international break was a couple of tough matches – a trip to snowy Stockholm for a European Championship qualifier, and then a friendly against Germany in Cologne, just an hour’s drive from the Belgian border.

In general, things could not have gone better for the new Belgium manager.

Although Sweden are rarely able to turn teams away, they are tough to play against – especially when it’s below freezing. Fortunately, the roof at Friends Arena was closed on Friday night.

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Before the match, new Belgium captain Kevin De Bruyne was asked if he and his team had a good idea of ​​how Sweden could play. He almost laughed in response: anyone could have predicted that Sweden would go, as always, 4-4-2 and would be happy to go long periods without the ball.

Tedesco’s response was, in part, to emulate Sweden’s form. Without possession, his team looked like a 4-4-2, with Romelu Lukaku and Leandro Trossard on top. Curiously, Lukaku wore the No. 10 shirt and the No. 9 Trossard jersey, contrary to what you might expect. In the defensive phase, they focused on dropping and blocking passes while playing in Sweden’s midfield. This is a pure 4-4-2.

Often seen on the edge of his technical field, Tedesco performed the ‘compact’ coaching gesture that was probably invented by Rafa Benitez and is now an accepted part of football management’s version of international sign language.

With possession, Belgium turned into something different, more like a 4-1-4-1.

Lukaku was left alone up front with Trossard dropping out to join De Bruyne between the lines, and those two essentially became the ‘free eight’ – something the latter used to do at Manchester City. De Bruyne’s role was particularly free. Sometimes he overlapped in crossing positions, other times he rammed into the left inner channel.

Both moves helped Belgium make progress to the right. And while Lukaku was the clear player of the match, scoring all three goals in a comfortable first for Tedesco, the big winner of the match was right winger Dodi Lukbakio.

Although Martinez has earned four caps over the past two years, Lukbakio has been left out of the World Cup squad, and he has never been more important.

A player enjoying his best season at club level, with 10 goals for relegation-threatened Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga – although four of them came from the penalty spot – the 25-year-old was a constant threat against Sweden. Belgium loaded on their left wing and then quickly changed play to Lucbakio, who was operating on the right flank as an inverted winger.

Inverted wings tend to break inward and shoot out; It can be very predictable. Lukebakio did it once on Friday, in the early stages, but then showed great versatility in his game.

The next time he received the ball in space, he waited for De Bruyne’s trademark tackle and fed his skipper, who crossed Lianick Carrasco to shoot in close range from the far post.

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Then, after a short corner kick, Lucbakio sent a Wout Faes cross into the goal which was tipped over. Then came the opener, when Lukbakio cut inside again and played a volley into the penalty area, allowing Lukaku to glance at the goal, off the far post.

Belgium doubled their lead after half-time when – again after a short corner kick – Lukaku stunned Sweden by dribbling outside and playing a low ball across the six-yard box for Lukaku to finish from close range. Lukebakio was showing off his all-around game – crossing, shooting, and going down the outside.

Lukaku’s second goal of the night prompted his old Serie A rival, a weary Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to rise from the Swede’s bench and start warming up. He came on last but that simply allowed the 41-year-old to get a good look at Inter Milan loanee Chelsea who completed his hat-trick in the final 10 minutes. Once again, it was thanks to some cleverer play from the right wing, this time it was debutant Johan Bakayoko of PSV Eindhoven.

Based on this evidence, Belgium’s next generation looks very promising – in at least one location.

Then came the trip to Germany – the country Tedesco described as his home before the match. He was born in Italy, but his family moved to the Stuttgart region for work when he was two years old.

Conveniently, his nickname is the Italian word for “German”.

Tedesco changed the system of the friendly match in Cologne – Trossard was disqualified, Uriel Mangala entered the side to strengthen the midfield, and De Bruyne pushed forward to the 10th place.

And for the first 20 minutes, Belgium completely stunned their hosts.

De Bruyne’s advanced positioning behind Lukaku was working beautifully. In a brilliant passing movement that cut through the German pressure, they linked up by switching play to Carrasco running in across the left, to open the scoring on six minutes. Then, three minutes later, De Bruyne pulled back for Lukaku to double their lead.

Belgium could have scored more. Lukbakio crossed into the goal, Lukaku’s header hit the crossbar and they almost got a shot into his own net.

Such was the Belgian dominance that Tedesco’s opposing player Hansi Flick had to make a tactical double substitution after half an hour, to bring more tenacity to his midfield. “We were very passive and didn’t put them under any pressure,” Flick said afterwards. Belgium used this mercilessly.

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Lukaku, in particular, was great. The striker is often criticized for his poor touch, which causes serious problems when receiving the ball with his back to the goal.

At one point in the opening stages, Vertonghen flicked a pass into the channel for him, and Lukaku lunged back, signaling the defender to deliver the ball to his feet. From there, Belgium continued to play those same passes, which Lukaku was receiving, then swept the ball towards the runners from deep.

Given Lukaku’s style of play at the World Cup – leaving the field with his shirt over his face after a series of late, goalless group final defeats against Croatia that sent Belgium home – four goals in two games under the new management provides a much-needed confidence boost. . He is now among the top five all-time international goalscorers from European countries.

Most international goals, UEFA countries

player nation years Objectives

Cristiano Ronaldo




Ferenc Puskas

Hungary / Spain



Robert Lewandowski




Sandor Cocsis




Romelu Lukaku




Miroslav Klose




Gerd Mueller




Robbie Keane

Republic of Ireland



Edin Dzeko

Bosnia and H.



Zlatan Ibrahimovic




However, Lukaku’s handball allowed Germany to get back into the game from the penalty spot just before half-time, and Belgium were under constant pressure in the second half.

Tedesco made so many substitutions in an attempt to figure out the match that at one point he had to rely on the referee, on his fingers, how many “substitution windows” he used. In the end, Belgium went back to bed with De Bruyne’s goal on the counter-attack 12 minutes from normal time, before Serge Gnabry scored a late equaliser.

A 3-0 win in Sweden and a 3-2 win in Germany represent a great first international window for Tedesco. But beyond the results themselves, this marks a serious improvement from those miserable final days of Martinez’s reign. Tedesco has shown tactical flexibility and determination to develop the playing squad.

Most importantly, Lukaku is back in form, and De Bruyne will enjoy an even more prominent role after Hazard retires.

With quick, efficient wingers and an emphasis on defensive organization and compactness that Martinez often lacks, Belgium could be a serious force the next time they play on German soil – which will likely be at next summer’s European Championship.

(Top photo: Vincent Callot/PhotoNews via Getty Images)