Today, Roberto Martinez will reveal his first Belgium squad after replacing Marc Wilmots in the summer. The main interest will be on the number of new faces he may bring in. If Martinez wants an injection of youth, the best bets seem to be Anderlecht’s Youri Tielemans, Mönchengladbach’s Thorgan Hazard and Club Brugge’s Bjorn Engels.
Tielemans could have his best ever season now that Steven Defour is no longer at Anderlecht. He has talent but has never been able to impose himself with Defour running midfield. The younger Hazard hit the headlines with a hat-trick in the Champions League and, if Martinez was considering the midfield man, that could have tipped the balance. Engels is a talented and, as yet, unproven centre back who was recently linked to Arsenal. He was quoted as saying that such a move would be too soon, so he looks promising.
However, Martinez will have to decide if it’s the right time for players like Thorgan Hazard and Tielemans, especially given the remarkable number of midfield players – I make it about 20 – who could be in contention.
Players who are certain to be out include Standard keeper Jean-François Gillet, who was only there as a good dressing-room presence, and Celtic’s Dedryck Boyota, who briefly looked like going to France, much to the surprise of Celtic fans. As for strikers, I think Christian Benteke will be the unlucky one as Martinez will not want all of the four that Wilmots managed to accommodate.
It will be too soon for Charly Musonda Jr, who needs to cement his place at Real Betis, and Anderlecht’s Leander Dendoncker who I see as one for the future. Adnan Januzaj and Denis Praet, at Sunderland and Sampdoria, respectively have no chance of selection and are just two more in the vast pool of midfield talent at Martinez’s disposal.
He also has to decide on a new third keeper, this could be Newcastle’s Matz Sels or Wolfsburg’s Koen Casteels. Furthermore, does he retain players like Christian Kabasele, not yet playing at Watford, and does he give Steven Defour a recall, now he’s in the Premier League?
One thing that has not changed is the dearth of top class full backs. Thomas Meunier has yet to become a regular at PSG, while both he and Jordan Lukaku, now at Lazio, need to work on their defensive abilities.
That could mean that Martinez opts to play one or both of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen at full back. My overall feeling for the squad is that the new coach will opt for experience over youth, we will see.
Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Matz Sels (Newcastle); Thomas Vermaelen (Roma), Toby Alderweireld & Jan Vertonghen (Spurs), Thomas Meunier (PSG), Jordan Lukaku (Oostende), Bjorn Engels (Club Brugge), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit Saint-Pétersbourg), Christian Kabasele (Watford); Radja Nainggolan (Roma), Moussa Dembélé (Spurs), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Axel Witsel (Zenit), Steven Defour (Burnley), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Dries Mertens (Napoli) ; Divock Origi (Liverpool), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea).
I would go with the same squad but with Thorgan Hazard and Koen Casteels instead of Defour and Sels.
Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Thomas Vermaelen (Roma), Toby Alderweireld & Jan Vertonghen (Spurs), Thomas Meunier (PSG), Jordan Lukaku (Lazio); Radja Nainggolan (Roma), Moussa Dembélé (Spurs), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Axel Witsel (Zenit), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Dries Mertens (Napoli); Divock Origi (Liverpool), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea).
Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Matz Sels (Newcastle); Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Bjorn Engels (Club Brugge), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit Saint-Pétersbourg), Christian Kabasele (Watford); Steven Defour (Burnley), Thorgan Hazard (Mönchengladbach), Youri Tielemans (Anderlecht); Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace),
Davy Roef (Anderlecht); Guillaume Gillet (Nantes), Jason Denayer (Manchester City), Laurens De Bock (Club Brugge); Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge), Charly Musonda Jr (Real Betis), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Sven Kums (Udinese), Nacer Chadli (Spurs); Laurent Depoitre (Porto).
Completely off the radar (8)
Jean-François Gillet (Standard Liege); Dedryck Boyota (Celtic), Olivier Deschacht (Anderlecht), Anthony Vanden Borre (Montpelier), Dennis Praet (Sampdoria), Maxime Lestienne (Rubin Kazan), Zakaria Bakkali (Valencia), Adnan Januzaj (Sunderland).