Top spot in Group A2 and a place in the finals of the UEFA Nations League will be up for grabs when Switzerland host Belgium in Lucerne on Sunday
The curtains will fall on the UEFA Nations League group stage over the coming week, as teams play their final international fixtures of 2018. The deciding fixture in Group 2 of League A will pit the top two sides Switzerland and Belgium against each other at the Swissporarena on Sunday.
Iceland are already out of the running to make the UEFA Nations League finals, having lose each of their four games in Group 2. The Nordics will now be relegated to League B, with Switzerland and Belgium retaining their status in the top-flight. As far as the race for top spot is concerned, the hosts currently trail Roberto Martinez’s men by three points, needing a win to make the finals in June.
Switzerland have not picked up since their disappointing 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign, losing three of the five games they have played. The two wins over Iceland represent their only success over the last two international breaks, while leaving much to be desired in their narrow loss at the hands of Qatar this week.
Belgium, on the other hand, have only gone from strength to strength following their best ever showing in a World Cup finals, with only a resurgent Netherlands side depriving them of a win. The Red Devils’ 2-0 win over Iceland earlier this week has now put them on the verge of qualification to the UEFA Nations League finals.
The reverse fixture, played at the King Baudouin Stadium on Matchday 3, saw Belgium notch up a 2-1 win courtesy a brace from Romelu Lukaku. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Nations League encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Switzerland were already missing the services of Manuel Akanji Stephan Lichtsteiner, Roman Burki and Breel Embolo due to injury. But, Vladimir Petkovic has been dealt a further blow heading into the match against Belgium, with Fabian Schar suspended, having picked up a couple of bookings in the last three UEFA Nations League games.
In the absence of the first-choice central defensive partnership, Leo Lacroix and Nico Elvedi should combine at the heart of the Swiss defence, with Kevin Mbabu and Ricardo Rodriguez being the full-backs. Meanwhile, Petkovic is likely to revert to his usual 4-2-3-1 formation after the experiment with 3-5-2 failed rather miserably.
In the middle of the park, Granit Xhaka is a certain starter, with the Switzerland captain aiming to pull the strings to control the game. Denis Zakaria should be the man to line up alongside the Arsenal man in the midfield pivot. Meanwhile, with Embolo unavailable, Xherdan Shaqiri will likely have to move to the right flank.
In Shaqiri’s stead, Remo Freuler should play in the advanced midfield position, with the Atalanta star likely to be tasked with nipping the Belgium attack in the bud higher up the pitch. On the left flank, Steven Zuber is an automatic selection, while Haris Seferovic should lead the line for Switzerland against Belgium.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Mbabu, Lacroix, Elvedi, Rodriguez; Zakaria, Xhaka; Shaqiri, Freuler, Zuber; Seferovic
Roberto Martinez has just one major injury concern to deal with ahead of the trip to Lucerne. On Sunday, the Belgium head coach could continue to be without Romelu Lukaku, who is still not deemed to be completely match fit.
With his side needing just a draw to progress to the UEFA Nations League finals, Martinez could opt to keep Lukaku on the bench, keeping him as a last resort. In place of the Manchester United striker, Michy Batshuayi should continue to lead the line for Belgium, following his match winning brace against Iceland.
One surprising selection by Martinez in the Matchday 5 UEFA Nations League tie was picking Thorgan Hazard as the left wing-back in Yannick Carrasco’s stead. The Borussia Monchengladbach superstar shone in the game, and could keep his place on the left flank, with Thomas Meunier starting on the opposite wing.
Selecting the rest of the starting lineup should be rather straightforward, with Youri Tielemans being the playmaker in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne, with Axel Witsel being the midfield workhorse. Dedryck Boyata is the preferred replacement for a regular centre-back, and should start alongside Vincent Kompany and Toby Alderweireld in the back-three.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Courtois; Alderweireld, Kompany, Boyata; Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Thorgan Hazard; Mertens, Batshuayi, Eden Hazard
- Belgium are unbeaten in their last four meetings with Switzerland (W3 D1), including a success in the reverse fixture in the UEFA Nations League. The Swiss last recorded a win in this fixture over 25 years ago.
- Switzerland pose a vulnerable defence, having kept just a solitary clean sheet in their last nine matches.
- Switzerland have lost by a single goal in four of their last six matches.
- However, Switzerland have not lost a competitive match on home soil for over four years .
- Belgium are unbeaten since their semi-finals loss at the 2018 FIFA World Cup (W5 D1), conceding just one goals in these games.
Player to Watch
Goals have been hard to come by for Switzerland in their recent outings, bar their 6-0 mauling of Iceland. In all the other games, Vladimir Petkovic’s men have struggled considerably, and with a solid Belgian defence to breach up next, the hosts are in need of some inspiration.
That inspiration could come in the form of Xherdan Shaqiri, who is a man in form. The Liverpool man has been performing at a high level for the Reds since making his move from Stoke City, and will need to bring that form for the crunch tie against Belgium. If he can, then Switzerland will stand a reasonable chance of progressing to the finals. If not, it could be a long night’s work for the hosts.
Switzerland 1-2 Belgium
Switzerland have been out of sorts for much of 2018, having been booted out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in the Round of 16 by Sweden. In the five matches that have followed since then, Iceland have been the only opposition against whom Vladimir Petkovic have managed to get a win.
Belgium, on the other hand, have been solid for the most part, even if they haven’t always been spectacular. Boasting a solid defence and an industrious midfield, alongside the in-form Hazard brothers, the Red Devils could be hard to get past on Sunday, despite Switzerland’s strong competitive record at home.
The second string side may have lost to Qatar earlier this week. But, it only showed just how lacking Switzerland are in the final third, with the backups not bringing much to the plate either. All things considered, the scales are tilting heavily in favour of Belgium, who should notch up another narrow win to progress to the UEFA Nations League finals.