Belgium to pile on the goals with Russia's help
The opening match in Group B at Euro 2020 sees FIFA world number ones Belgium take on 'home side' Russia at the Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg. The Red Devils are likely to be without talisman Kevin De Bruyne, who suffered facial injuries during Manchester City's UEFA Champions League final defeat to Chelsea. Head coach Roberto Martínez is also persisting with an ageing defence, a unit that could cut the legs out from under a still exciting attack. This problem is also reflected in Stanislav Cherchishov's troops, but with the addition of battering ram Artem Dyzuba up top, it could prove to be easily one of the most open games of the entire pool before the knockout stages. Read our preview here:
There is nothing particularly surprising or complicated in regards to Martínez's overarching strategy for Belgium, and it rarely deviates from a very attack-minded 3-4-3. The problem he faces has been magnified by time, with the loss to retirement of Vincent Kompany, and a reluctance to replace the tried and tested experienced hands in central defence. None of Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen, and Toby Alderweireld have had stellar campaigns, and their legs are three years older than the last major tournament, where they reached the semi-finals despite the trio not being well protected by the midfield. Without De Bruyne and possibly Axel Witsel, the two in the engine room are likely to be Leander Dendoncker, who is naturally more defensive-minded than any of his rivals for the spot, and Youri Tielemans, who had a brilliant season for Leicester City, and will progress the ball through the second third of the pitch. Thorgan Hazard and Dries Mertens are the probable candidates to flank Romelu Lukaku and feed passes beyond the defensive line for the Internaziole hitman to latch onto. Thorgan's older brother Eden has been in and out of the Real Madrid XI because of form and injury, but his national team manager is insistent he'll be ready for all three fixtures.
Up and Artem
With goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev not considered for selection for the tournament, the position between the sticks is still open for consideration, but none of the three contenders have covered themselves with glory lately. For once, the defence is not full of over 30s in their ranks, and actually have a total lack of experience at major tournaments, so it could be a baptism of fire for centre backs Igor Diveyev and Roman Yevgenyev. At full-back, they are also going to be susceptible, especially to the relentless forays forward of Yannick Carrasco down Russia's right channel. Elsewhere though, Cherchishov can be tactically flexible, and most of the approach play will be concentrated through central areas to hide their own weaknesses and accentuate their own positives. They also have the obvious target of Dzyuba up top, who is nigh-on peerless in the air, and can use his supreme strength to also shield the ball and bring the runners from midfield into the penalty area.
Both sides have similar deficiencies, but are more pronounced and widespread in Russia's ranks. Belgium often look poor when countered upon by numbers breaking at speed, and that is something that's eminently possible on Saturday evening. When coupled with a likely aerial dominance, the strength in depth in forward areas (particularly the trickery of Jérémy Doku) in red and black, and it therefore promises to be a goal-filled encounter. Betway have odds of 3.30 for more than three goals in the 90.
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