In the space of just a few years, Belgium seemed to come from nowhere to one of the best teams in Europe, with the emergence of a fantastically talented group of players. The depth of quality they now possess rivals Spain and Germany; something of a revolution from a small nation with a very weak domestic league. Most of the squad play their club football abroad and almost half in the Premier League, so here’s a look at the influence the Premier League based stars could have on Belgium’s fortunes this summer in France.
A great goalkeeper can make a huge difference to any team and Belgium certainly have one in Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois. Although he endured a difficult campaign with injury and everything that was going on at the club, he remains one of the best around in his position. His form and commanding presence could be even more a crucial to a defence missing Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany through injury; however, Belgium have the luxury of being able to call on the Tottenham defence pairing of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. They have struck up a fine understanding in the Premier League and if they can transfer that to the Euros then it may turn out to be a cornerstone of Belgium capitalising on this so-called golden generation.
In central midfield, another Spurs player, Mousa Dembele, has enjoyed a good season of club football, but is unlikely to start their opening group game. That doesn’t mean he won’t have a part to play, of which the same can be said for Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini. He’s not the most talented or aesthetically pleasing of players, but he can be effective, particularly with his aerial prowess, which could be his role late in a tight game where Belgium are struggling to find a breakthrough.
Attacking midfield is where the Premier League influence on coach Marc Wilmots side really comes to prominence. Premier League regulars Kevin Mirallas and Nacer Chadli of Everton and Spurs have missed out on this squad, such is the level of competition. They are unlikely to be missed when you consider the alternatives Wilmots has at his disposal and leading the charge for Belgium will be Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne. Over the past season, Hazard may have looked a pale shadow of the player he was a year previous, but he still integral to his national side and his return to form for Chelsea at the very end of the campaign couldn’t have come at a better time for his nation. De Bruyne has grown in stature as a player over the past couple of years and enjoyed a positive first season at the Etihad. His return from injury helped Manchester City improve their form and probably leaves him fresh ahead of a potentially crucial role in Belgium’s quest for glory.
The strong Premier League presence for Belgium continues in their forward ranks, where Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and Liverpool’s Christian Benteke and Divock Origi are amongst the options. Benteke has had a poor season since his move to Anfield and could be considered fortunate to be selected, but much like Fellaini, he could be an option to change a game where a different approach might be required. His club-mate Origi had a very different campaign, finding his feet under Jürgen Klopp and really impressing in the Reds push to the final of the Europa League. His speed, mixed with a stronger physical presence, a desire to work for his team and added confidence, have helped develop the raw talent first seen at the 2014 World Cup for Belgium and he could yet be a surprise star of the tournament. Meanwhile, Lukaku has again amassed an impressive goal tally with a mainly positive domestic campaign. Although his form dipped towards the end of the season, that may have been largely influenced by Everton’s struggles and if he can impose himself as he has against many a Premier League defence, then this tournament could well be Lukaku’s breakthrough to the next level. With so many strikers vying to make an impact, Belgium coach Wilmots should be the one to profit.
The Premier League influence in the Belgium squad is a strong one and likely to play an integral role if they are to be successful this summer.