Probable lineups, predictions, tactics, team news and key stats

Wales resume their UEFA Nations League campaign with a home game against Belgium on Saturday, having suffered back-to-back defeats in Group A4.

The 2022/23 UEFA Nations League reaches the halfway point this weekend. Wales take on Belgium this Saturday at the Cardiff City Stadium in a must-play fixture for the hosts, who will be looking to secure their first points after back-to-back defeats.

After booking their ticket to their first World Cup in 64 years with a victory against Ukraine last Sunday, Rob Page’s men were brought back to reality midweek. It would still be a tall order for Wales to win against the Netherlands on Wednesday.

To their credit, they came on seconds after earning a credible draw in Cardiff, equalizing in the 92nd minute through Rhys Norrington-Davies, only for Wout Weghorst to go all the way to the other end to head home the goal decisive of the game to win the Netherlands clinched a last-minute 2-1 victory, condemning Wales to their second successive Nations League defeat in stride.

Things don’t get any easier as they now host a rampant Belgian side, who beat Poland 6-1 last time out. It’s safe to say that Roberto Martinez’s side have had a mixed start to their new Nations League campaign. After a 4-1 loss to the Netherlands at home on Friday night, the Red Devils bounced back with a final thrashing against Poland to put their critics to bed, at least for now.

After such a heartwarming win, Roberto Martinez’s men will be hoping to maintain positivity across the country when they face Wales this weekend, as they are still three points clear of the Netherlands at the top of Group A4.

Wales and Belgium last met in World Cup qualifiers late last year, a game which resulted in a respectable draw for the Welsh side. Ahead of the final encounter between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News and Tactics

Wales

For the first time in the past two weeks, Rob Page’s selection will not be influenced by the 2022 FIFA World Cup play-offs, and that could mean the Wales boss is in line to name a solid starting XI as they look to break their duck in Group A4.

That said, Page faces a major dilemma regarding the goalkeeping situation. With Wayne Hennessey and Danny Ward both uncertain between the sticks, Adam Davies has been put on reserve in case the former is unable to recover in time for the hosts.

Wales’ proud home record of 19 games unbeaten since November 2018, its longest at home, fell to the Netherlands last time out. Thus, it becomes inevitable that they are ready to entertain the local crowd. And with Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, Ethan Ampadu and Neco Williams likely returning to the side, they have every chance of upsetting the Belgian apple basket here.

The three-man central defensive unit is expected to include Ethan Ampadu, Joe Rodon and Ben Davies, flanked by Neco Williams and Rhys Norrington-Davies as two wingers, with the duo tasked with providing width further up the pitch.

In front of the midfield, Joe Morrell and Joe Allen will play as a double pivot. The former will provide energy and tough tackles, while the latter would be responsible for getting things done with his ability to spread the game.

Aaron Ramsey will have the freedom to float between the lines in the attacking midfield role, slotting just behind the strike force of Gareth Bale and the quick Daniel James, the former possessing winning skills and tasked with carrying the Welsh attack on his shoulders. The hosts will also have a strong bench to turn the game around if needed, with Brennan Johnson, Harry Wilson and Kieffer Moore waiting in the wings to impress.

Probable composition (3-4-1-2): Adam Davies; Ampadu, Rodon, Ben Davies; Williams, Morrell, Allen, Norrington-Davies; Ramsay; James, Basel

Belgium

Unlike his Welsh dugout counterpart, manager Roberto Martinez has no new injury concerns following the resounding home win over Poland but is expected to turn strongly with a reverse trip to Poland still on the horizon.

Martinez will put Belgium in their preferred 3-4-3 formation, with attacking full-backs Timothy Castagne and Yannick Carrasco pushing high to provide width and support for forwards. In the absence of Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet will take his place between the sticks. Protecting him in a three-man central defensive unit should be the trio of Wout Faes, Toby Alderweireld and Dedryck Boyata.

Leander Dendoncker played as a right-sided defender last time out but could go further to give playmaker Youri Tielemans a break. Axel Witsel will join the Wolves man to form the double pivot after his stellar display against Poland, which included a long-range howler.

Away, Leandro Trossard impressed on the bench last time out and could have a chance to shine for Wales, while Thorgan Hazard could start on the opposite wing as they try to break through a resilient Welsh defense .

Romelu Lukaku is likely to miss once again with an ankle problem and, in his absence, Michy Batshuayi played as a striker against Poland but was pretty useless. So Napoli veteran Dries Mertens is set to lead the line for Belgium against Wales in Cardiff.

Probable composition (3-4-3): Mignolet; Alderweireld, Boyata, Fae; Castagne, Witsel, Dendoncker, Carrasco; Trossard, Mertens, Thorgan Hazard

Key statistics

  • The hosts have quite an impressive recent record against Belgium, despite their much lower ranking, as they have only lost once in the last six encounters between the two teams (W2 D3).
  • During Roberto Martinez’s tenure, Belgium have lost just eight times in 72 games, while only one of their last 10 away games have ended in defeat.
  • Belgium’s form has indeed been inconsistent recently, with just three wins in their last nine games, but one thing the Red Devils have always managed to do is find the back of the net. Indeed, they have scored in 46 consecutive games.
  • Belgium’s away form in the Nations League further reinforces the assertion of their inconsistencies. The Red Devils have won three and lost three of their six away matches in the competition.
  • Wales tend to be very strong at home and have only lost once in their last five home games in all competitions (2V 2D).

Player to watch

Leandro Trossard

Embed from Getty Images

Trossard was on fire in Belgium’s last game against Poland, scoring a stunning seven-minute brace, including a curling strike into the top bins, which only further demonstrated his high level of technical efficiency. The tricky Brighton & Hove Albion striker was in superb form for the Seagulls last season, picking up eight Premier League goals and three assists.

In the final year of his contract at the Amex Stadium and linked with a host of top Premier League clubs, the 27-year-old’s versatility, dribbling and end product are attracting suitors. Also, Trossard does not want to neglect anything to put themselves in the summer showcase by delivering solid performances in the UEFA Nations League.

Prediction

Wales 1-2 Belgium

Belgium, who have beaten Wales just once in their last six attempts, come to Cardiff as favourites. And while there is no doubt that they have one of the strongest squads on the continent, their aging defense has recently proven to be their Achilles heel. Thus, it becomes inevitable that they will concede at some point in the game.

Wales, meanwhile, will not want to chain three defeats in a row in the Nations League and will often tend to make life difficult for Belgium. Robert Page will now be able to name a stronger starting XI, and it will be seen as a free kick for them as they prepare for the World Cup later this year. Still, The Hard Tackle believe the superior quality of this Belgium side should be able to pull off a favorable, albeit narrow, result.

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