Reports across the UK this week have claimed that Southampton are interested in left-back and brother of Romelu, Jordan Lukaku.
The Belgian defender is currently playing for K.V. Oostende in his home country but is now being linked with a move to the Premier League.
At 21 years of age there is no doubt that Lukaku has plenty of time to develop his game but do Southampton and manager Claude Puel really need to spend money on a left-back?
Lukaku played in the quarterfinal of Euro 2016 against Wales where he filled in for the injured Jan Vertonghen in his nations’ 3-1 defeat.
Based on that performance, the Saints would be much better off focusing their minds on positions that need filling, such as a winger or a striker, because the defender appeared to be out of his depth.
The inflated prices of young players would probably result in the club paying well over the market value for a signature that the Saints do not need.
One of the highlights of the south coast clubs’ preseason was seeing England left-back Ryan Bertrand sign a new contract.
The ex-Chelsea defender signed a new five-year contract earlier this month and has become a fan favourite and a certain starter.
Bertrand’s understudy comes in the form of academy graduate, Matt Targett, who put together a string of impressive performances, whilst playing in a 5-3-2 formation last season.
Lukaku is able to boast a height and power greater than both Bertrand and Targett but showed nervousness on the ball.
Bertrand has found himself on both corner and occasionally, free kick duty due to his ability to whip the ball with his left foot.
Additionally, Southampton fans are extremely proud of players that come through the academy and they possess far more patience with these players.
For example, midfielder James Ward-Prowse has failed in recent seasons to live up to expectations but still has full support of the fans. Targett earned the respect of the fans last season when the team went through a difficult patch of results but the 20-year-old remained as one of the standout performers.
Puel, Les Reed and the rest of the board at Southampton should be aiming to bolster their attacking options in preparation for next seasons’ Europa League campaign and avoid paying absurd money for Lukaku.
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Is Roberto Martinez the man to take Belgium to international success?
The announcement of Roberto Martinez as Belgium manager came as a bit of a surprise to most of us but in reality, it actually makes sense. Belgium needed a new manager and Roberto Martinez was one of the most high-profile currently without a job, so a match made in heaven?
Well since Martinez was sacked by Everton at the end of last season for poor results and less than entertaining performances you could understand why some Belgium fans are not overjoyed at the appointment. Mocking images from Wayne Rooney’s testimonial match against Everton pictured Romelu Lukaku in various facial expressions with what fans made out to be his reaction to the news that his former boss was now once again his manager. The fans reaction on social media to this would suggest that they believe Lukaku would not be thrilled at the prospect of a reunion despite Martinez signing the Belgium striker for a club record fee of £28 million.
Applause was given when Everton announced back in 2013 that Martinez would take over from David Moyes, after guiding Wigan Athletic to FA cup glory it was obvious that the Spaniard had talent and deserved his chance at a bigger club and Everton were the ones to give him that chance.
His first season at Everton was a successful one, just missing out on Champions League football and finishing above Manchester United, recording their first double over the Red Devils since 1970. Martinez promised to bring Europe’s finest competition to Goodison Park but despite finishing 5th in his first season the club backtracked finishing a disappointing 11th after never really recovering from a poor start to the season.
Despite taking Everton to two domestic semi-finals last season it was not enough to save his job as fans called for his sacking. When various Premier League jobs became available amazingly Martinez has not really mentioned for any of them, Southampton, Hull, Sunderland all changing managers in the pre-season. But Belgium is his new destination and will be looking to revitalise the country that went into Euro 2016 as second in the FIFA rankings only to be easily beaten by Wales in the Quarter Finals.
There is no doubt Belgium have one of the strongest squads individually. Players like Eden Hazard, Lukaku, Vincent Kompany, Tibo Courtois to name just a few but they have failed to fulfil their potential as a team. Looking back at the competition it really was a missed opportunity by the Belgians with the left-hand side of the draw wide open and Portugal, the eventual surprise winners coming from what looked the easy side of the tree.
Martinez’s first game in charge of his first ever international side will be a friendly against Julen Lopetegui’s Spain side who will play their first game, not under the management of Vincent Del Bosque. Their first World Cup qualifier is against Cyprus on September 6th in a group they should easily win with their main competition coming from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece in group H. Failure to qualify for the World Cup would surely spell a brief time in international management for Martinez, anything less than top of the group will put him under enormous pressure.
There is an argument for saying that Martinez would have suited the Hull managerial position over jumping into international management at such a big team. Hull fits the bill in terms of the pedigree of where he is right now and could have steered them to survival while maybe having a run in one of the cups but the former Wigan and Swansea manager wants to test himself in new waters.
As for playing style, Belgium did not exactly light up Euro 2016, their 4-0 win over Hungary an obvious highlight but the other games were drab affairs so Martinez has the chance to stamp his own mark over the players most of which he has seen a great deal of in the Premier League or even previously managed himself.
Belgium’s greatest strength is Chelsea’s Eden Hazard so you feel unlocking the best out of him will be the first thing on Martinez’s list. With so many high profile players there are not many positions that don’t have great players filling them. The team is there, it is up to the new manager to bring this Belgium side together so they can reach their potential.
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Chelsea’s Eden Hazard proves he is well-and-truly back with exhilarating Belgium display
As Belgium ran riot against Hungary in Toulouse on Sunday evening, winning by the greatest margin of Euro 2016 so far, it was a familiar face who hogged the limelight. The 4-0 victory for Marc Wilmots side saw Chelsea forward, Eden Hazard, put in one of the performances of the tournament so far as he reigned havoc over an unsuspecting Hungarian defence.
Now the tournament’s most effective player in the final third, having been involved in more goals (three assists and one goal) than any other player in France, the Stamford Bridge faithful will be loving what they are witnessing. Having watched the former Lille man go missing for much of the previous campaign, you just get a sense that he is back to his best, and raring to prove each and every one of his doubters wrong.
Positioned on the left-hand-side of a Belgium attacking-midfield trifecta, Hazard put in a man of the match display for the Red Devils. Indeed, afforded plenty of space on the counter against somewhat inadequate opposition, the stand-in Belgium captain approached the tie with little mercy. He even outshone the ever-impressive Kevin de Bruyne.
The 24-year-old’s ability to slow down play, before bursting between opposition lines, is a key factor to his game and he punished Hungary with his ability in possession of the ball in Toulouse. Completing a tournament-best eleven take ons – a 92% success rate – while drawing two fouls, he was simply untouchable – and he used these powers to devastating effect.
He capped an exhilarating display with 20 minutes to play, not once, but twice. First, he broke free and played a square ball to substitute Michu Batshuayi, who despatched just two minutes after entering the field of play. He then completed his evening by scoring his first ever goal at an international tournament, cutting in from the left, beating two players and firing the ball low into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Soon after scoring his goal, he found himself substituted by manager Marc Wilmots, presumably to rest him ahead of a tricky quarter-final display against Wales, although it could just have easily have been to spare Hungary any further embarrassment. One thing is for sure, the team that topped Group F, ahead of Portugal, will certainly be happy to see the back of the Chelsea forward.
His involvement in this tie saw him provide four key chances for his Belgium team-mates, while he completed an mightily impressive 90% of his total attempted passes – 32 of which came in the final third. To top this, he managed two attempts at goal himself, scoring with one, and forcing 40-year-old Gábor Király into making a save with the other.
It was a perfect display from Hazard, who after a disappointing domestic campaign at Stamford Bridge, is looking to re-establish himself as one of Europe’s brightest talents in France. This most recent performance will certainly go a long way to proving the critics wrong. There is absolutely no doubting the notion that an onlooking Antonio Conte – soon to be Chelsea’s new manager – will have been rubbing his hands with glee.
Despite these Spurs and Liverpool stars, why will Belgium not win Euro 2016?
Before the World Cup two years ago, Belgium were labelled as the archetypal dark horse – so much so that by the time the tournament arrived they had been beckoned well and truly into the light. Despite the elevated expectations that followed Marc Wilmots’ men to Brazil, they only managed to achieve a respectable but nonetheless unspectacular quarter-final showing.
Considering it was their first tournament outing for twelve years, Belgium would have perhaps been content with reaching the quarter-finals in Brazil, but their aims for the European Championships in France are guaranteed to be much more ambitious. In fact, many have tipped the Red Devils and their talented squad to get their hands on a major trophy for the first time.
However, come their opening game against Italy on Monday, Belgium were completely outplayed, outflanked and out-thought, ending a disappointing night 2-0 losers. Taking nothing away from Antonio Conte’s intelligent Italy team; who were excellent, Belgium were at best underwhelming, and could possibly be described as down-right poor.
The defeat highlighted all of the issues with Marc Wilmots’ talented but under-performing side, which is plagued by problems from back to front.
The first issue lies in the defence. Thibaut Courtois may have had an indifferent season with Chelsea, but he has shown over the last three or four campaigns to be one of the best young goalkeepers in Europe. In front of him though, lie problems. Whilst the absence of the fantastic Vincent Kompany cannot be helped, Wilmots has always been guilty of trying to squeeze four centre-backs into positions where they are not wholly comfortable.
Thanks to Kompany’s injury, Toby Alderweireld has been shifted from right-back; the position he traditionally occupies for the Red Devils, into the centre of defence to partner Thomas Vermaelen. Although this initially sounds like a strong pairing, Alderweireld’s centre-back partner at Tottenham Hotspur; Jan Vertonghen, with whom he created arguably the strongest rearguard in the Premier League, has been shunted out to left-back.
With the only other option at left-back for Wilmots being the young Jordan Lukaku, Belgium are certainly suffering by not utilising a world-class defensive pairing that have played together every week for the last season. As much as Vermaelen is a better player than the younger Lukaku, his presence between Alderweireld and Vertonghen hinders the Belgian defence’s ability to operate as a cohesive unit.
However, when looking at Belgium’s options at right-back, it is unsurprising that Wilmots has tried to fit as many of his quality defenders into his side. The man who got the nod against Italy was 12-cap, 30-year-old Montreal Impact defender Pascal Ciman, hardly a sturdy name to call on. This is another massive issue with the Belgian defence.
For all of the star quality of Vermaelen and Spurs duo Vertonghen and Alderweireld, the rest of the defence is made up of players such as Genk’s Christian Kabasele and Club Brugge’s Thomas Meunier, as well as the aforementioned Ciman and Lukaku. There is just too much of a gulf between Belgium’s good and bad defenders, but not enough space to fit the better ones in the team. This will always lead to defensive vulnerabilities for Marc Wilmots.
In front of the defence is probably where Belgium are at their strongest. Radja Nainngolan and Axel Witsel are as tenacious as they are terrifying, mopping up scraps in front of the defence and launching Belgium on the attack. Furthermore, Moussa Dembélé sits on the bench as a more creative midfield option from the bench, but as was shown in Spurs colours during 2015/16, the left-footed former Fulham man can be right up there with the best on his day.
This solid midfield base is crucial to Belgium’s hopes, as it allows their creative talents in front of them to express themselves. With the talents of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard on each wing, the Red Devils have a plethora of creative talent, cutting inside and causing problems for opposing teams. Better still, they have the dual talents of Dries Mertens and Champions League final ‘Casanova’ Yannick Carrasco to bring off the bench to add more direct pace to their attack.
Despite this talent out wide, Wilmots’ fierce commitment to a 4-2-3-1 system means that; in the opposite problem to defence, the manager is wasting plenty of talent on the bench. Without a genuine number 10 in the squad, Wilmots has turned to Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini to occupy the creative space behind the main striker.
Whilst Fellaini has his qualities; and was actually among the better performers against Italy, he is very out of place among the likes of Hazard and De Bruyne. Having the height and strength of Fellaini in and around the creativity of Belgium’s talented wingers suggests that Wilmots is very confused about the system he is trying to play. Instead of maximising the talents of his creative players, Wilmots has instilled a system which stifles all of them.
Finally, Belgium are also afflicted with many problems up front. Just like in Brazil, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku started the opening game up front and, just like in Brazil, struggled massively. Not only did he miss a great opportunity, he was barely in the game, making just 17 touches and misplacing seven passes.
It was a disastrous performance from Lukaku, who has yet to shrug off the inconsistencies that often plague the careers of promising youngsters. He is clearly talented but suffers through periods of poor play and finishing, but the same can also be said of Belgium’s other strikers.
The out-of-sorts Liverpool forward Christian Benteke is inconsistent, and thrives off the type of crosses that Hazard is unlikely to deliver. Divock Origi is probably a better option to play through the middle, but he has managed just three goals in 20 caps and only had a two-month period towards the end of the season where he secured his place in the Liverpool team. For all of their options, it is difficult to guess which forward is going to deliver from game to game.
So, what does all of this mean? Belgium have plenty of stars, but not enough space to accommodate all of them. They have quality centre-backs playing at full-back, first-class wingers on the bench, but have plenty of holes left in the starting eleven. Italy perfectly highlighted and exploited these weaknesses and pulled Belgium apart, leaving them with a tricky task against Ireland and Sweden to get out of the group.
Should they progress, many will still tip them for glory, but without wholesale changes which limit their weaknesses and allow their talent to shine, Belgium will not win this tournament, leaving another so-called ‘golden generation’ to go to waste.
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