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.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez has one of the strongest squads at the World Cup at his disposal. As a result, he’s going to be one of the latest bosses to finalise the 23 man final selection for the tournament. However, just who is he relying on most as he tries to bring success back to the Red Devils?
Martinez is set to name a really strong line up from Belgium’s Golden Generation, but that doesn’t mean that they have stand out stars. In fact, part of their struggles on the international stage have been down to failing to use their top names effectively.
Here we’re running through the players who Martinez has to get the most out of in Russia. Despite the make up of their squad, not all of our selections are tricky number 10s, especially as Martinez needs to have a solid defence for this tournament.
Roberto Martinez has made changes to way that Belgium play, and that involves playing three at the back. He needs that strong defensive base to get this attacking players in the right positions. However, the trickiest part of that is keeping Vincent Kompany fit. The Man City defender would be a guaranteed starter, as long as he is injury free.
There’s an obvious benefit to having defender of Kompany’s calibre available. However, Belgium’s depth at centre-half doesn’t stretch too far. Kompany could lead a back three including Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, which is an impressive defensive line. However, without Kompany, Belgium need to promote either Dedryck Boyata or Thomas Vermaelen. Those two aren’t exactly international quality, which could rule out the formation which has brought Belgium the most success. A strong tournament for Kompany would be a massive bonus, but even his presence is going to be key for Martinez this summer.
Kompany is the kind of talent who can decide games at the highest level. He’s proven to be a threat from set pieces, as well as a rock in defence. His fitness is always a concern, but it’s even bigger over the course of a month long tournament. Expect Kompany to be wrapped in cotton wool by the Red Devils, as they can’t afford to lose him.
The Dalian Yifang midfielder isn’t the biggest name on the teamsheet for Belgium, but his role is potentially crucial. He’s set to perform an unfamiliar role on the left flank. Jordan Lukaku is a perfect fit for their left wing-back role, but he’s rumoured to be staying at home this summer. Instead, Martinez is expected to prefer winger Carrasco as a wing-back, which is certainly a bold option.
There was little about the former Atletico Madrid man that screamed wing-back, but Martinez has taken a risk. Carrasco is certainly a talented option to have out wide, but will he have the defensive attributes necessary to star for the Red Devils? You’d imagine any top side would target him as a weak point if Martinez decides to maintain with Carrasco as his choice on the left-wing.
He can’t move away from the 3-4-3 because of its benefits elsewhere, so Martinez will need wing-backs. He’s got Thomas Meunier on the right, but aside from Carrasco there’s little option on the opposite flank. Unless Lazio’s Lukaku does get the call, it’s going to be Nacer Chadli or Carrasco, and the former Atleti man is the more talented option. However, there’s going to be pressure on him in that role. This seems like Martinez’s biggest call of the tournament, so Carrasco’s displays could be decisive.
Kevin De Bruyne
The standout performer from the greatest ever Premier League champions, Kevin De Bruyne was always going to be a lock on this list. The midfielder has taken on a new lease of life since moving centrally. Interestingly, Roberto Martinez didn’t wait for Pep Guardiola to make that move. The former Everton boss dropped De Bruyne deep, as he tried to avoid the issue of pairing him with Eden Hazard.
He and the Chelsea man consistently got in each other’s way for the national team, and that limited the talents of both. Martinez has to get the most out of De Bruyne, given how he’s coming an incredible asset to City and Belgium. His role in the middle helps keep possession, and it also allows him to burst forward when he senses the opportunity. Having a player of that talent now operating at his best takes this Belgium side to a level above the ones who failed previously.
Hazard is just as crucial as De Bruyne, as their new system has the pair working in tandem. The Man City man dominates possession and looks to get it forward. Meanwhile Hazard is the main creative force in the final third. Their captain is also a huge presence in attack, having struck a brilliant partnership with Romelu Lukaku. The Man United forward is likely to have plenty of service this summer, with Hazard, Dries Mertens and De Bruyne working together.
The forward is now 27, so he’s hitting the peak of his career. This is his best chance to make a mark at the World Cup, while his side is now set up to work to his strengths. Hazard has no excuse this summer, he has to deliver. Having him on form could be the key to the Red Devils going all the way. However, he’s also going to signal the kind of approach which the Belgians need. They lost out to a more organised Welsh side at Euro 2016, which showed just were Marc Wilmots had gone wrong during his time in charge. Martinez now needs to build a side who can work together. Getting Hazard to be selfless at times is the biggest indicator that the Spaniard is getting his point across.
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