The wear and tear on those playing regularly in the Premier League is well documented and, ironically, the reverse side of the coin is not playing at all.
In Cyprus, for his first official game, Martinez played three at a back – a tactic never employed by Wilmots – in a 3-4-2-1 formation. He is to be congratulated for that but it was against Cyprus and it seems unlikely he’ll repeat the experiment when Bosnia – the most dangerous opponents in Group H – visit Brussels next week.
Going with three at the back would solve the perennial problem of a lack of full backs, but there’s now – due to the Premier League’s impact on Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen – a diminishing number of quality centre backs. At left back, Jordan Lukaku has probably used all his credit and I can’t see an alternative other than Club Brugge’s Laurens De Bock. As for central defenders, there could be a recall, from Montreal, for Laurent Ciman.
The other issue facing Martinez is a big one: how to replace Kevin De Bruyne. Although he has not played anything like his best for Belgium in the last months – especially in France – he still leaves a gaping hole. There is no like-for-like player in the squad and I see Thorgan Hazard as being the most similar. Other options are Steven Defour – that would be interesting in Brussels – Sven Kums, who is struggling somewhat at Udinese, or even Eden Hazard in a central role.Aside from the obvious players missing through injury – De Bruyne, Kompany and Vermaelen – there will be doubts about Moussa Dembélé (hamstring) and Thomas Meunier (knee). Added to that list, many squad members have not, or only occasionally, featured recently for their clubs: Christian Kabasele, Divock Origi, Lombaerts, Jordan Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi. They may soon be joined by Marouane Fellaini and Simon Mignolet, who could face long periods on their club’s benches.
So for Martinez, it’s a choice between a traditional (4-2-3-1) or an experimental (3-4-2-1) line-up. I think he’ll go with the former but here’s a look at how both could pan out.
Traditional – 4-2-3-1
Here, Martinez has to find a solution for left back and a replacement for De Bruyne. I see him moving Jan Vertonghen to the flank and bringing in Lombaerts (there are few other choices). At ‘10’, he could well bring in Defour and re-unite him with Fellaini and Axel Witsel.
Team: Courtois; Meunier, Alderweireld, Lombaerts, Vertonghen; Witsel. Fellaini, Defour; Carrasco, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard.
Experimental – 3-4-2-1
A less likely option but if he goes with it, I would see Lombaerts joining the Spurs duo at the back. In midfield he could go with a similar four as those that played in Cyprus and put Dries Mertens and Eden Hazard behind Lukaku.
Team: Courtois; Alderweireld, Lombaerts, Vertonghen; Meunier, Witsel. Fellaini, Carrasco; Mertens, Eden Hazard; Lukaku
I would bring in Ciman at centre back as he has the benefit of playing regularly and opt for Thorgan Hazard in an advanced central midfield role.
Team: Courtois; Meunier, Alderweireld, Ciman, Vertonghen; Witsel, Nainggolan, Thorgan Hazard; Carrasco, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard.
Keepers: Courtois, Mignolet, Sels
Defenders: Vertonghen, Lombaerts, Alderweireld, Ciman, Meunier, Kabasele, De Bock
Midfield: Witsel, Dembélé/Chadli, Fellaini, Nainggolan, Defour, T. Hazard, E. Hazard, Mirallas, Mertens, Carrasco
Strikers: Benteke, Lukaku, Origi, Batshuayi