Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
There are few national sides on the planet who can boast the strength in depth that Belgium have right now. Their golden generation is the envy of most international bosses, but there’s still pressure on Roberto Martinez to live up to the hype with the Red Devils. Just how far can he take this talented outfit?
The Belgians have been quarter-finalists at the last two tournaments, but they’ve got the ability to do better. We have seen their stars light up the Premier League this season, ahead of a Group G clash with England. Here’s a look at the talent which stands in the Three Lions way, with Belgium finally announcing their provisional World Cup squad.
Take a look at Belgium’s Fixtures and Schedule at the 2018 World Cup
Belgium Provisional Squad
Manager – Roberto Martinez
Koen CASTEELS (Wolfsburg)
Thibaut COURTOIS (Chelsea)
Simon MIGNOLET (Liverpool)
Matz SELS (Newcastle)
Toby ALDERWEIRELD (Tottenham)
Dedryck BOYATA (Celtic)
Laurent CIMAN (Los Angeles FC)
Christian KABASELE (Watford)
Vincent KOMPANY (Man City)
Jordan LUKAKU (Lazio)
Thomas MEUNIER (PSG)
Thomas VERMAELEN (Barcelona)
Jan VERTONGHEN (Tottenham)
Yannick CARRASCO (Dalian Yifang)
Nacer CHADLI (West Brom)
Kevin DE BRUYNE (Man City)
Mousa DEMBELE (Tottenham)
Leander DENDOCKER (Anderlecht)
Marouane FELLAINI (Man United)
Youri TIELEMANS (Monaco)
Axel WITSEL (Tianjin Quanjian)
Michy BATSHUAYI (Borussia Dortmund)
Christian BENTEKE (Crystal Palace)
Eden HAZARD (Chelsea)
Thorgan HAZARD (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Adnan JANUZAJ (Real Sociedad)
Romelu LUKAKU (Man United)
Dries MERTENS (Napoli)
Yet again, Belgium have called up an incredible mix of talent. The key thing this time around, is that those players are entering their peak years. No longer is this an inexperienced outfit battling with superpowers. These Belgian stars have huge international experience, and many have just enjoyed a fantastic club campaign. While the names in this group will leave plenty of managers jealous, the pressure is on to make sure it doesn’t go to waste.
Martinez has been brought in to ensure that this side can become a functioning unit, rather than just a collection of names. As a result, he’s had to make some changes in the approach. The Spaniard has gone for a three man defence, which could prove to be a masterstroke if Kompany stays fit to partner Tottenham’s defensive duo. He’s got six central defenders in place, which means he has options if Kompany can’t make it. In attack they’re flooded with vibrant attacking players, which leaves a headache for Martinez as he builds an attack.
Will Belgium go all the Way? See Our World Cup 2018 Outright Predictions
Star Player – Eden Hazard
Picking a star among this group is difficult, and Belgium certainly won’t want to look at their squad that way. They need a number of top players working together in order to succeed, so Eden Hazard can’t fully excel without Kevin De Bruyne at his best. The pair were too often left trying to play in the same position, but with De Bruyne deep and Hazard advanced, they can link up well together.
The Chelsea man is likely to start on the right flank this summer, with more defensively minded wing-back in support. That would allow him to roam, linking up with former teammate and Man United striker Lukaku. The key for this Belgium outfit is to combine their talents, and Hazard will be right at the centre of that. The manner of his display in the FA Cup final shows that he can decide tight matches, and as captain of his national team he’s growing in stature in international football. If he’s going to lift the World Cup aloft in July, then the Chelsea winger is going to need to be at his best.
One to Watch – Yannick Carrasco
It says a lot about this Belgian squad that there’s no young talent ready to step in. This is a group who are reaching their peak together. Former Atletico Madrid man Carrasco is a lesser-known star – especially following his switch to China – but that’s not the only reason he’s our one to watch. The winger has been operating as a wing-back for the national team, which seems like a big risk.
Playing Carrasco in that role does fit in more talent to this side, but does it leave them compromised defensively? It’s going to be a vulnerability which many sides try to exploit, but then again it could add another dimension to the side. With three fantastic centre-halves holding the fort, Carrasco has enough strength behind him to cause problems, if he can adapt to this new role.
Potential Line-up (3-4-2-1)
Martinez will head to Russia with a system in mind, after finally settling on an approach which helps both De Bruyne and Hazard. The Man City man is partnered with Axel Witsel, who provides a key role in screening in front of the defence. This system also offers a place for Napoli’s high scoring forward Dries Mertens, although his best form in Serie A came after moving in to a central role. That’s unlikely to happen this summer, as Lukaku has been in inspired form during this qualifying campaign.
Courtois; Vertonghen, Kompany, Alderweireld; Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel, Carrasco; Hazard, Mertens; Lukaku
Who Might Be Dropped?
With a 28 man squad, Martinez needs to wield the axe before departing for Russia. Most of the top European nations have settled on sides and selected a few back-ups, but Belgium have left their men in their dark. You have to wonder if there are injury worries there, or is Martinez simply trying to make players fight for a place? He could be leaving some time to decide on Kompany, who is bound to be a doubt based on his injury record.
One of those will obviously be a goalkeeper, which is set to be between Matz Sels and Koen Casteels. With six picks at centre-half, so one of those will sit out, probably Christian Kabasele, who has just two caps to his name. In midfield, Monaco’s Youri Tielemans is in trouble, as is former Man United man Adnan Januzaj.
With just a talented squad, there’s going to be some solid players missing out on the World Cup. Martinez isn’t giving anything away, but his decision to leave out Radja Nianggolan shows that he’s brutal with his choices.
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