Red Devils to enact measure of revenge over France
European giants Belgium and France will meet for a place in the final of this year's UEFA Nations League tournament, three years after their clash at the World Cup at the same stage was narrowly won by Les Bleus. Whilst the competition on Thursday isn't held in anything like the same regard, it still represents an opportunity to regain a semblance of pride after both had disappointing Euro 2020 tournaments for different reasons, and N'Golo Kanté's absence could tip the balance in the Red Devils' favour. Read our preview here:
Whilst Eden Hazard has largely avoided injury spells in 2021/2022, and Kevin De Bruyne has just come back from the second of his sustained in June, the real question mark over team selection for the big clash at the Juventus Stadium will be further back in midfield. Like so many within Leicester City's ranks, Youri Tielemans has endured a thoroughly underwhelming start to the campaign to the extent that his place alongside the combative and roving Axel Witsel is in serious jeopardy. Rangy 29 year old Hans Vanaken, on the other hand, has had a blistering opening, racking up goals for Club Brugge and the national side. Whilst probably not as silky a passer as Tielemans, he marries physicality (especially in the air) with a range of techniques to find a teammate, and if selected, should make it a touch more difficult for France to launch counter attacks through the middle of the pitch. Elsewhere, they will be pretty much as expected, with Romelu Lukaku settling in well back in Chelsea colours, and a constant threat to even the most fortified of defences.
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Meanwhile, the absence of Kanté is a huge blow to Didier Deschamps' chances of steering France into the final against 'hosts' Italy or Spain, and it might even make him switch things up at the back with a central defensive trio. If he does make that move, then Lucas Hernández will slot in as the left-sided stopper, and could be joined by brother Theo down the flank, who plies his trade for AC Milan. Sensibly, the head coach will not seek to replicate the kind of role Kanté plays for the national side, and Paul Pogba would have the confidence to go forwards with two pivots attempting to dictate the tempo. Aurélien Tchouaméni will duke it out with Adrien Rabiot to be alongside Jordan Veretout, who has been in superb form for Roma. He could also be given some licence to influence proceedings in the final third, having already racked up four goals in Serie A. Kylian Mbappé has made public his possible intention to leave giants PSG, but even off-colour, he's peerless on the counter. Karim Benzema continues to enjoy an exceptional all-round contribution to Real Madrid's efforts on multiple fronts.
Martínez's last hurrah?
Roberto Martínez is deeply embedded in the Belgian FA, a fact that goes well beyond his management of the senior men's side. Even so, Ronald Koeman's tenure at Barcelona is almost certain to end soon, regardless of the expense it will pile on a mountain of debt. His name has been closely linked with the job despite only tenuous connections at best to the Catalonian outfit. Opportunities like that, if indeed he is approached, are so rare, and he'd be sorely tempted. Steering Belgium to the final and winning the Nations League might be his last actions in charge, and a win over France can be backed at odds of 2.90 with betway.