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

The 2022/23 UEFA Nations League reaches the halfway mark this weekend. Wales will lock horns with Belgium this Saturday at the Cardiff City Stadium in a must-win game for the hosts, who will look to get their first points after back-to-back losses.

Having booked their ticket to their first World Cup in 64 years with a victory over Ukraine last Sunday, Rob Page’s side were dragged back to reality in midweek. It was always going to be a tall order for Wales to win against the Netherlands on Wednesday.

To their credit, they came within seconds of securing a credible draw in Cardiff, equalising in the 92nd minute via Rhys Norrington-Davies, only for Wout Weghorst to go right up the other end to head home the decisive goal of the game to earn the Netherlands a last-gasp 2-1 win, condemning Wales to their second consecutive Nations League defeat in the process.

Things do not get any easier as they now welcome a rampant Belgium side, who rolled over Poland 6-1 last time out. It is safe to say that Roberto Martinez’s side have had a mixed start to their new Nations League campaign. Following a 4-1 loss to the Netherlands at home on Friday night, the Red Devils bounced back with an ultimate thrashing of Poland to put their critics to bed, at least for the time being.

After such a pleasing victory, Roberto Martinez’s men will be hoping to keep the positivity around the nation flowing when they face Wales this weekend as they are still three points adrift of the Netherlands at the top of Group A4.

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

Team News & Tactics

Wales

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

Having said that, Page faces a major dilemma regarding the goalkeeping situation. With Wayne Hennessey and Danny Ward both doubtful 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 19-game unbeaten home record since November 2018, their longest on home soil, fell against the Netherlands last time out. So, it becomes inevitable that they will be up to entertain the home 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 Belgium apple cart here.

The three-man central defensive unit ought to feature Ethan Ampadu, Joe Rodon and Ben Davies, flanked by Neco Williams and Rhys Norrington-Davies as the two wing-backs, with the duo being tasked with providing the width higher up the pitch.

Up ahead in midfield, Joe Morrell and Joe Allen will operate in the double-pivot. The former will provide energy and tough tackling, while the latter would be assigned to keep things ticking with his ability to spread the play.

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

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Adam Davies; Ampadu, Rodon, Ben Davies; Williams, Morrell, Allen, Norrington-Davies; Ramsey; James, Bale

Belgium

Unlike his counterpart in the Welsh dugout, manager Roberto Martinez has no fresh injury concerns from the resounding home victory against Poland but is expected to rotate heavily with a reverse trip to Poland still on the horizon.

Martinez will set up Belgium in his preferred 3-4-3 formation, with attacking wing-backs Timothy Castagne and Yannick Carrasco pushing high to provide width and support to the attackers. 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 featured as the right-sided defender last time out but could shift further forward to hand playmaker Youri Tielemans a breather. Axel Witsel will join the Wolves man to form the double-pivot after his stellar display against Poland, which included a long-range screamer.

Out wide, Leandro Trossard impressed off the bench last time out and could be given a chance to shine in Wales, while Thorgan Hazard could be handed a start on the opposite wing as they attempt to break down a resilient Welsh defence.

Romelu Lukaku is likely to miss out once again with an ankle problem, and, in his absence, Michy Batshuayi operated in the striker role against Poland but was fairly wasteful. So, Napoli veteran Dries Mertens is likely to lead the line for Belgium against Wales in Cardiff.

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

Key Stats

  • The hosts have a pretty impressive recent record against Belgium, despite their much inferior rank, as they have only lost once in the last six meetings between the two sides (W2 D3).
  • During Roberto Martinez’s managerial tenure, Belgium have lost just eight times in 72 games, while only one of their last 10 away games has ended in defeat.
  • Belgium’s form has indeed been inconsistent recently, with only 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 netted in 46 consecutive matches.
  • Belgium’s away form in the Nations League further backs the claim of their inconsistencies. The Red Devils have won three and lost three of their six away games in the competition.
  • Wales tend to be very strong at home and have tasted only one defeat from their last five home games in all competitions (2W 2D).

Player to Watch

Leandro Trossard

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Trossard was on fire in Belgium’s last game against Poland, scoring a wonderful seven-minute brace, including a curling strike into the top bins, which only demonstrates further his high level of technical efficiency. Brighton & Hove Albion’s tricky attacker has been in superb form for the Seagulls last season, amassing eight goals in the Premier League along with three assists.

In the final year of his contract at the Amex Stadium and linked to a host of top Premier League clubs, the 27-year-old’s versatility, dribbling and end product are what attract the suitors. Also, Trossard does not want to leave any stone unturned to put himself in the summer shop window by delivering strong performances in the UEFA Nations League.

Prediction

Wales 1-2 Belgium

Belgium, who have defeated Wales just once in their last six attempts, arrive in Cardiff as favourites. And while there is no doubt that they have one of the strongest teams on the continent, their ageing defence has proven to be their Achilles heel recently. So, it becomes inevitable that they concede at some stage during the game.

Wales, meanwhile, will not want to make it three defeats in a row in the Nations League and often tend to make life tough for Belgium. Robert Page will now be able to name a stronger-looking starting eleven, and this will be considered to be a free-hit for them as they prepare for the World Cup later this year. Still, The Hard Tackle believes that the superior quality of this Belgium side should be able to pull out a favourable result, albeit a narrow one.

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