Belgium have qualified for the world cup finals for the first time since 2002. With an impressive squad at their disposal this time around, Belgium look to take the world by surprise. TheHardTackle makes a comparitive study of two of their promising young strikers-Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke.
After a solid qualifying campaign in a group containing Serbia and Croatia, where they finished as group winners, Belgium clearly asserted their credentials as one of the dark horses in this year`s world cup. Blessed with an abundance of talent in all areas of the pitch, the Red Devils have gained the respect of the world and one won’t be surprised if they make it past the last 16 stage of the world cup. Marc Wilmots, who himself was a prolific scorer for Belgium during his time with the national team, will hope to bring back the Golden Period of Belgian football and much will depend on his centre forwards in Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke to perform at their marauding best and link up with the creative array of midfield talent to intimidate opposition defences when they begin their campaign in Brazil.
Romelu Lukaku : Trump card for the Red Devils.
Romelu Lukaku, like so many of his Belgian compatriots, has been setting the premier league alight with his blistering performances since last season, where he impressed for the Baggies. Lukaku`s performances for West Bromwich Albion should have been enough to make him a starter for Chelsea this season, but Jose Mourinho thought it was wise to send him out on loan to Everton. While some may argue that this was not a good decision by Mourinho considering the form of his strikers, others feel that Lukaku is still a raw talent and a move to a club like Everton would prove to be an important phase in his career, where playing week in, week out would help him hone his skills rather than warming the bench at Chelsea. Lukaku himself preferred a move to the Merseyside club this season, and his performances for Everton have been top draw this season.
Lukaku has been the focal point for a rejuvenated Everton side this season. Roberto Martinez has brought a new lease of life for the Merseysiders by making them play an attractive brand of football. Everton have usually started with a 4-2-3-1 formation this season with Pienaar and Mirallas supporting Lukaku from the wings and Barkley playing just off the giant Belgian. Everton have looked a threat on both wings with Coleman and Baines bombing forward and supporting the wingers at all times. Lukaku fits this system like a glove and although he is thought to be a physical and a brutish player up front, one shouldn’t forget his tactical awareness during games. He is a hard working centre forward, one who constantly works the channels and stifles opposition defences with from his intelligent runs. This in turn leaves his team mates with the much needed space which has made Everton a dangerous side to face this season. The Merseyside Derby last November was a showcase of Lukaku`s abilities on a football pitch. He put up a scintillating display against Liverpool and gave a torrid time to Skrtel and Agger, who simply couldn’t deal with him. He was strong in the air, showed good pace during the counter attacks and the Liverpool defenders would`ve been relieved to see him go off injured in the reverse fixture at Anfield.
The only real weakness in Lukaku`s game at the moment is his decision making in the final third of the pitch. He is wasteful at times and lacks the composure to slip in his team mates when there is a counter attack. The former Anderlecht man is just 20 years of age and he is bound to get better and better with the amount of games he plays. One thing is for sure, Wilmots has a real brute upfront and Belgium will be more than happy to have Lukaku leading the line for them against Algeria at Belo Horizonte in June.
Christian Benteke : Super substitute for Belgium?
Christian Benteke is another Belgian who has been a revelation in the Premier League ever since he signed for Aston Villa from Genk for 7 million pounds. He turned out to be an important signing for the Midlands club as he single-handedly carried Villa to safety from the clutches of relegation last season. Benteke`s game is pretty much similar to Lukaku. He is strong in the air, has the ability to get in behind the defence and is a better finisher going by the evidence of last season. The fact that he managed to score so many goals in a poor Villa side fighting relegation showed his qualities. A summer move to one of the bigger clubs looked inevitable but Benteke chose to stay. This season has been stop-start for the Belgian. He has been bighted by injuries and poor form and went on a barren period where he didn’t manage to score for 14 hours and 45 minutes. Lambert must have been relieved when he saw Benteke return to scoring ways against Arsenal and there were glimpses of last season`s Benteke when Villa held Liverpool to a 2-2 draw at Anfield .
Benteke is a quality player and it is only a matter of time before he returns to his best by shaking off the niggling injuries that has held him back and affected his confidence. A lot will depend on his Aston Villa team mates as well, who have to get the distribution right to their centre forward. Paul Lambert has set up his team to play on the counter attack more often than not, and Benteke finds himself partnering Agbonlahor or Weimann upfront. He is capable of achieving last season`s heroics when, in his final 18 games, he went on to score 14 goals. And it is worth remembering that Benteke only scored five in his first 16 league games back then, an identical record to this time around. Aston Villa is in the thick of a relegation fight once again and it is imperative that their talismanic Belgian come to the fore and lead them to safety. If he manages to emulate last season`s performances, then one won’t be surprised if he is in the shopping list of one of the bigger clubs in the summer transfer window that is open at the end of the season.
Wilmots will be hoping for his front man to sort out his poor form quickly and with Lukaku just about to return from the sidelines, Benteke might get the nod against Ivory Coast in the beginning of March.
Below is a statistical comparison of both the strikers in the Premier League this season.
|Romelu Lukaku||Christian Benteke|
|Minutes per Goal||176.3||240.9|
|Passes completed||65.7 %||59.3%|
Stats wise, Lukaku probably has a slight edge over Benteke but that can change over the course of this season . Wilmots is not a fan of playing two big centre forwards, especially with the midfield talent that Belgium has got. Therefore it will be either Lukaku or Benteke who will start for Belgium and the other has to be content with a place on the bench. Both players will be looking to maximize their chances of starting for the Red Devils by putting up strong performances in the league as well as the four friendly matches that are scheduled before the world cup.