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Jun 22, 2014

Tactics Board: Romelu Lukaku out of place; Sergio Aguero woes

Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku looks completely out of place against Russia.

BELGIUM 1-0 RUSSIA

Romelu Lukaku's touch map is interesting for two reasons. First, it reflects not just Belgium's 1-0 win over Russia but also their 2-1 victory against Algeria and, in the process, indicates how little he has been involved in both games. Second, and most pertinently, there is one, lone red blob in the box; Lukaku has only had one touch in the opposition's 18-yard penalty area.

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What the diagram illustrates is Belgium's tactical approach. Even though Lukaku has both the physique to hold the ball up and -- in a side of his game that has been developed further -- the pace to run beyond a defence, Marc Wilmots' side don't tend to aim for the striker. Instead, their initial instinct is to find Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens or Kevin de Bruyne. Even on counterattacking breaks, they haven't often released Lukaku.

His other problem is that, so far, he hasn't seemed on the same wavelength as his teammates. They have rarely found him, and -- as his total of seven completed passes against Russia shows -- he hasn't often given them the ball back. The final issue is that he has probably been on the pitch at the wrong time. Belgium have displayed more intent in the final half hour of both games, but Lukaku had been substituted by then.

Argentina
Sergio Aguero was expected to shine, but he has come up short.

ARGENTINA 1-0 IRAN

Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella changed tactics at halftime in his team's opening game and went from 5-3-2 to 4-3-3. The switch in formation was a major reason his side beat Bosnia-Herzegovina. He then retained the 4-3-3 formation against Iran, a game in which victory was attributable more to one individual, Lionel Messi, than Sabella's system or tactics. Instead, Iran's obdurate defending highlighted the imbalances in the shape.

The first is the lack of natural width, which makes Argentina overly reliant on full-backs Marcos Rojo and Pablo Zabaleta to get forward. The front three consists of two strikers by trade, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero, and Messi, a false nine for Barcelona. Messi can cut in from the right to devastating effect -- indeed, it brought his winner against Iran -- but Aguero has struggled on the left of the trio.

The Manchester City man's touch map shows there were times when he was in a winger's position, but he wasn't effective there. None of his three crosses found a teammate, and he struggled to get on the ball in goalscoring positions when he came off the flank. Indeed, it is testament to Iran's defending that they prevented Argentina's most prolific players getting many chances in the box; Higuain and Messi only had two touches apiece inside the penalty area.

The other element of Argentina's attack on the left is Angel di Maria. The Real Madrid man has spent much of his career as a winger and is the lone member of the central midfield trio who does get forward. With him advancing on the left and Messi comfortable picking up possession near the right touchline, in theory 4-3-3 could become 4-2-4 against a defensive team such as Iran. But it never quite worked that way, and Sabella's system might require a rethink.

Muntari
Sulley Muntari of Ghana impressed in his team's draw with Germany.

GERMANY 2-2 GHANA

A central midfielder with a pass completion rate of just 71 percent might be deemed to have had a poor game. Yet Sulley Muntari is far from the conventional deep-lying midfielder who concentrates on keeping the ball, and rather than showing any wastefulness, the statistics highlight his positive approach.

Muntari, one of the Ghana duo in the middle of a 4-2-3-1 formation, is an unusually direct central midfielder. As the map of where his passes were directed shows, he looks for the attacking option wherever possible. Sometimes that means he loses the ball, but it is a risk he is prepared to run.

Ghana's second goal is a case in point. Muntari gambled to intercept Philipp Lahm's pass -- if he hadn't, he would have found himself behind the ball, as Germany would have had a chance to break -- and his verticality was apparent in the pass to scorer Asamoah Gyan.

Muntari epitomises Ghana in many respects. He is a physical player in a position in which others often have a technician. He counterattacks at pace, as his teammates do, and shoots more from long range than many a midfielder. He had the most attempts at goal of any player on the pitch (one brought a fine save from Manuel Neuer), but his impatient, impetuous attitude also showed, as he committed the most fouls. The last brought a booking, which rules him out of Ghana's final group game, against Portugal. This display suggests he will be missed.