Opinion: Werner could be Chelsea's Martinez alongside Lukaku

Chelsea will have to play much better than they did against Brentford if they are to win this season’s Premier League title. Thomas Tuchel’s side got the 1-0 win they needed to return to the top of the table, but not many in blue left the Brentford Community Stadium having played their best football.

However, the performance of Timo Werner surely gave Tuchel food for thought. While the German international failed to score or assist, the way he was deployed as one-half of a front two hinted at how he could be used this season. One wonders if Tuchel spent the international break watching tapes of how Inter got the best out of Romelu Lukaku.

Indeed, the role Werner played for Chelsea against Brentford was similar to the one Lautaro Martinez performed to great effect alongside Lukaku when the pair were the most devastating strike partnership in Italian football. While Lukaku was the one who primarily provided the finishing touch in front of goal, Martinez offered movement and spatial awareness around him.

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In binary terms, Lukaku has delivered for Chelsea this season, scoring three goals in six Premier League appearances since making the £98m return to Stamford Bridge in the summer window. However, the Belgian striker has grown increasingly isolated as Chelsea have looked to him as an orthodox frontman to hit with long balls and crosses.

Manchester United fell into this trap when Lukaku was at the club, seeing the Belgian for his physical attributes rather than his technical capacity as an all-round forward. Antonio Conte demonstrated how to harness Lukaku and this is why Tuchel’s recent deployment of Werner as a strike partner for his £98m striker is notable. Werner could be Chelsea’s Martinez.

Even as Chelsea got the job done against an impressive Brentford side who have hit the ground running in the Premier League this season, they showed many of the faults that have hindered them in recent weeks. Primarily, Tuchel’s team are currently lacking in creativity and invention – they don’t forge as many goal scoring chances as a side with their attacking talent should, registering just five shots.

But this is partly why Werner, who scored twice for Germany over the international break, has grown in stature of late. He possesses a different skill set to everyone else around him. Werner gives Tuchel another route to goal, another way to create space and open up opponents. The German might be unpolished in some of his output, but Chelsea would be a weaker squad without him.

Timo Werner for Chelsea against Brentford in the Premier League.

Image credit: Getty Images

There is still a sense that Tuchel is working out the best system for Chelsea as an attacking outfit. Lukaku was signed to give the European champions the cutting edge they lacked at times last season, but there is now an acknowledgement that the Belgian can’t simply be dropped into the side and expected to do it all on his own.

Against Brentford, Werner did a lot to break in behind and provide Chelsea’s midfielders with an option. Even when he didn’t receive the pass, the German gave the opposition defence something else to think about. Werner drew defenders away from Lukaku in much the same way Martinez used to for Inter. Tuchel might not wish to remember much about Saturday’s win over Brentford, but this is one thing he should keep in mind.

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Chilwell gives Chelsea victory over Brentford in tight clash

4 HOURS AGO

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'It's too early' – Tuchel not distracted by Premier League title talk

Thomas Tuchel is not getting carried away by Chelsea’s position at the top of the Premier League, saying it is too early to be talking about title challenges.

The Blues have made an excellent start to the season, and a battling win at Brentford on Saturday lifted them back above Liverpool after eight games of the season.

Liverpool were deeply impressive in routing Watford – and are the only side with an unbeaten record – while Manchester City are two points adrift of Chelsea.

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Chilwell gives Chelsea victory over Brentford in tight clash

3 HOURS AGO

Tuchel is happy with Chelsea’s start to the season, but is not looking too far ahead.

“Better to be there [top of the table] than the other way around but it is too early and way too many teams who are close,” Tuchel said.

With every draw or loss you can lose positions, this is not the main point in October.

“I am happy with our game against Southampton and today, we needed luck in the last 20 minutes but I am happy with the energy.”

Ben Chilwell’s goal secured the win, but the performance of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy drew praise as he made a string of brilliant saves to keep Chelsea in front.

Five Chelsea players are on the Ballon d’Or shortlist, and Tuchel feels Mendy should have been a sixth.

“It’s more important that he performs like this than being on any list,” Tuchel said. “I hope it doesn’t bother him too much. I wish we could be on the list as a whole team because we won it as a team. If we have five or six names it does not matter.”

Romelu Lukaku drew another blank, his sixth Chelsea game in a row without goal, but Tuchel is not concerned by the lack of end product.

“I am not concerned and he was isolated because we were defending as a block too deep,” the Chelsea coach said. “That was the problem today. But I have no concerns, the best thing is he scores. He is very unselfish at the moment looking for Timo. When we had him in the situation he was in an offside position.”

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Chilwell gives Chelsea victory over Brentford in tight clash

Ben Chilwell’s goal on the stroke of half time was enough to give Chelsea a 1-0 victory in the West London derby at Brentford, but Thomas Tuchel’s side had to survive an onslaught in the last twenty minutes to hold on.

Twice Brentford were the width of the goal post from hitting the target as Bryan Mbeumo hit the post in each half.

This disappointment did not quell Brentford’s spirit and the Bees piled on the pressure in the last quarter of the match with Eduoard Mendy making fantastic point blank saves from Saman Ghoddas and Jansson and then tipping over the bar from Christian Norgaard in injury time to keep the Blues in front.

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The goal, well worthy of winning any match, came after Pontus Jansson, under pressure from Romelu Lukaku, cleared N’Golo Kante’s cross to the edge of the area where the England left back on the volley scored his third goal in as many games.

TALKING POINT – BRENTFORD WILL GIVE ANYONE PROBLEMS

Yes, Chelsea had an unfamiliar looking back three with Trevoh Chabolah and Malang Sarr either side of Andreas Christensen but even with a full-strength defence they would have struggled against the Brentford onslaught in the second half. After a difficult first half when Brentford had the best chances but Chelsea most of the play, the Blues dominated the early minutes after the break and a fairly comfortable victory could have been foreseen. Not a bit of it. The belief Thomas Frank’s players have in themselves is immense and the way they laid siege to Chelsea’s goal in the last 20 minutes a that easily could have seen them come away with three points let alone one. Many new grounds are criticised for a sanitised atmosphere but the Brentford Community Stadium is a cauldron which only adds to the intensity this wholehearted side plays with and the difficulty away teams have in dealing with them.

MAN OF THE MATCH – EDUOARD MENDY (CHELSEA)

Even though he was awarded the goalkeeper of the season last year by UEFA for his exploits in the Champions League, it still feels like Mendy may be a little underrated. There cannot have been a more English test for the Senegal international goalkeeper than the launching of long throws and corners into the box but if anyone left doubted his capability to excel in these circumstance, he allayed them here.

His reactions to get to the dropping ball to smother efforts at goal were exceptional, as was his tip over the bar in injury time. Mendy’s distribution may not be at the level of the Brazilian goalkeepers at Liverpool and Manchester City but if Chelsea are to be denied the Premier League title by one of these sides it will not be due to the difference between the sticks.

PLAYER RATINGS

Brentford: Raya 7, Zanka 6, Pinnock 7, Jansson 6; Canos 6, Jensen 7, Norgaard 7, Onyeka 6, Henry 6; Mbuemo 6, Toney 6.

Subs: Forss 7, Ghoddas 7

Chelsea: Mendy 9*, Chalobah 6, Christensen 6, Sarr 6; Azpilicueta 6, Loftus-Cheek 7, Kovacic 6, Kante 7, Chilwell 7; Werner 6, Lukaku 6.

Subs: Mount 6, Havertz 6, James 6.

KEY MOMENTS

21′ OFF THE POST! There is some pinball in the area and then Mbeumo shoots against the post.

45+1′ GOAL FOR CHELSEA! A fine finish on the half-volley from Chilwell after Azpilicueta’s cross towards Lukaku is cleared to the edge of the box by Jansson where the England full back rifled the ball into the top corner.

75′ OFF THE POST! Mbeumo hits the post again! Forss managed to poke the ball beyond the Chelsea defence for him and Mendy was beaten but it came back off the post.

84′ A diagonal ball is inadvertently flicked by Sarr towards Ghoddas at the far post but his effort is blocked by Mendy and then Forss squeezes the ball goalwards and Cholobah clears off the line.

87′ It is all Brentford. The ball falls to Jansson four yards out and he looks certain to score but Mendy denied him with a superb block with his head.

90+3′ Wonderful overhead kick from Norgaard but Mendy again is equal to a Brentford effort and tips over the bar.

KEY STAT

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Mourinho 'clash' forced Salah and De Bruyne out of Chelsea, says Newton

Chelsea’s former loan technical coach Eddie Newton thinks Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne were “more than good enough” to play for Chelsea and didn’t do so because of a “clash” with Jose Mourinho.

De Bruyne and Salah both struggled to secure a first-team role at Chelsea during Mourinho’s second spell at the club from 2013 to 2015.

De Bruyne left in 2014 and is now shining with Manchester City while Salah joined Roma in 2016 and has developed into one of the best players in the world at Liverpool.

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“For me, I think Salah and De Bruyne wasn’t about talent,” Newton told Goal.

“It was a personality clash [with Jose Mourinho]. I just didn’t think it was working at the time. I think they were more than good enough, but it was the manager who didn’t see eye-to-eye with them, so it wasn’t going to work.”

Romelu Lukaku was in a similar position to De Bruyne and Salah after joining Chelsea as an 18-year-old in 201 as he was unable to get into the first team and had several loan spells before leaving to join Everton.

He returned to Stamford Bridge this summer in a £97m deal following a successful two years with Inter Milan.

Newton worked at Chelsea from 2012 until 2020 and says Lukaku needed to “learn his craft” elsewhere rather than following in Didier Drogba’s footsteps.

“He wasn’t ready at the time, and I don’t care what anyone says. He just wasn’t ready to be the main No 9 up front and carry that platform like Didier. He was always going to be compared to Didier and it wasn’t fair to him at that time. It was different situations for different players.

“He was a great kid with bundles of enthusiasm who wanted to impress. He was sometimes too desperate to impress that it went against him. I think he needed to come out of Chelsea and learn his craft elsewhere, which he did on loan at West Brom. My former team-mate Steve Clarke was looking after him.

“It was well documented and he will say it himself: he had the power and pace, and when he was younger he got away with blowing people away with his physicality, outrunning people in behind and scoring that goal.

“When he got to the top level, he couldn’t do it as much anymore. He hadn’t developed how to play with his back to goal. Every time the ball came to him, a defender would get tight and it would bounce off him. He gave it away a lot and it was frustrating.

Romelu Lukaku celebrates

Image credit: Getty Images

“That’s why at Chelsea it would have been hard for him, because there was an expectation on him to hold up the ball, find the players then get back in the box to finish. That’s what Didier did and it left massive pressure. It was better to go away and develop it at West Brom.

“He got to Manchester United, didn’t take off as he would have hoped, but Antonio Conte had him at Inter. He was a pain for Lukaku and forced him to complete the journey with his back to goal. He worked tirelessly with him until he got his just rewards. It was a major factor on why he didn’t establish himself at the highest level earlier.

“He is now back at Chelsea, more mature and a senior player who can play with his back to goal and score. He is now ready to complete that journey and fair play to him. A lot of hard work went into where he is now.”

Chelsea’s loan strategy over the last 15 years has been criticised as they often send a number of players out on loan spells for several years in a row.

However, Newton says there has been positive feedback from players over time.

“We spoke about people not understanding the loan programme at the start, but the players didn’t either. After a season or two, they were coming to me and saying they get it now and appreciate it. The agents and parents’ feedback started coming and it was positive. These were their careers that we were helping.

“I know they all wanted to play for Chelsea, but not everyone can. I was just being honest with them and they appreciated that honesty. The club did a lot for these players.”

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FRIDAY’S BIG STORIES

Bobby Martinez Sings Les Bleus

Football, so the old saying goes, is a game of one half and then another half, and the two are often quite different. And the wisdom of those timeless words was shown to us last night, when Belgium and France took it in turns to take each other apart.

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Nobody ever thinks about the fans in these games. One end of the ground saw five whole goals. The other saw one, and that was taken away a few seconds later. It’s a cruel sport.

Roberto Martínez will agree with that sentiment, we’re guessing. The first half was a fizzing display of all the things that have taken Belgium to the top of FIFA’s rankings: overbearing pressure, fluid attacking, the sense that a goal could be coming from any angle. And Romelu Lukaku being brilliant.

Hugo Lloris made one wonderful save, a couple of decent ones, and still got wrongfooted by Yannick Carrasco — we’re blaming the defenders here; those long barriers were all over the place — and then nearly decapitated by Lukaku. It’s a tough life, being a goalkeeper. It’s a nice life, being a social media intern.

Maybe Juventus’ stadium is on a slope. Maybe — thinking outside the box here — the teams swapped shirts at half-time, couldn’t be bothered to switch back, and just decided to play on as each other. Or maybe Didier Deschamps found a way to remind his players that there was a football match going on and it would be quite nice if they could get involved. “We’ve come all this way in a busy season, lads.” But in French.

Whatever happened, it worked for France, who took the initiative, and then the ball, and finally the game. Though there’s probably an important distinction to be made here between Belgium’s collapse and the eventual result. After all, if Lukaku had timed his run just a little more precisely, and Belgium’s third had been allowed to stand, they’d almost certainly have won. Unlike most football what-ifs, this happened late enough in the game to be decisive.

Paul Pogba of France celebrates during the UEFA Nations League 2021 Semi-final match between Belgium and France at Juventus Stadium on October 07, 2021 in Turin, Italy

Image credit: Getty Images

But even if he had done that, Belgium still would have been a team that fell to pieces. They’d have gotten away with falling to pieces, sure. But we’d still be worried about that soft centre, that creaky defence, that certain knowledge that things are going to go Extremely Martínez. How seriously history will take the Nations League remains to be seen, but here in the moment it seems important to all four semi-finalists. And so this goes down in the record books as another Belgian nearly, another Belgian not-quite.

Of course it also goes down as a very good France comeback. Karim Benzema’s goal was the catalyst, and it was a beautiful thing: he’s facing the wrong way, he’s closely marked, and in four delicately precise touches he’s got the ball in the net. In those moments, you can see why Didier Deschamps made the maverick decision to recall the guy who has nearly 300 goals for Real Madrid.

This is going to sound like an insult, and it isn’t meant as one. But Belgium are the perfect team for a third-place playoff. Overwhelming in attack, wobbly in defence: 90 minutes of this lot against Italy sounds like a good time for the neutral. As for the final, Spain against France, we’re predicting another game of two halves. Bold, but there we are.

#AshleyOut

Well, that all wrapped up rather quickly. 18 months of tense and occasionally unpleasant negotiations, with the prospect of lengthy legal battles to come, and then we went from “It’s on!” to “It’s happened!” in less than a day. Not very Newcastle.

Not very Mike Ashley’s Newcastle, we should say. That strange, alienating institution where things were allowed to drift, to linger, to rot; where nobody important seemed to care about any of the important things; where decisions, when they came, were enervating or bizarre or just downright stupid. That institution no longer exists. That’s a good thing, in isolation.

But nothing happens in isolation. The musings from Steve Bruce about whether he’ll be keeping his job — “New owners normally want a new manager” — are jostling for space with statements from Amnesty International, which is a neat and dispiriting illustration of football’s place in the modern world.

The key distinction on which all this pivots is that PIF — the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, chaired by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman — is a distinct entity from Saudi Arabia the country and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The former will not be influenced in all matters Newcastle by the latter. The Premier League’s fit-and-proper-persons people have satisfied themselves on this point, and its their satisfaction that matters.

Cleverer people than the Warm-Up have pointed and laughed at this manoeuvre, and we’re not going to argue with them. But while the juxtaposition of celebrations outside St. James’ Park with the pleas of Jamal Khashoggi’s former fiancée is a profoundly uncomfortable one, it’s this cowardly sophistry and the lack of accountability — the Premier League has justified this decision with three paragraphs and no questions, for example — that are really concerning.

Football fans are intelligent people that can and should be guided in their support and their affection by more than just: player buying machine goes brrrrr. All decisions are moral decisions. But it’s not the job of any football fan to hold this line, and that Newcastle’s fans are being asked to is, more than anything else, an abject failure of governance. A sign that nobody else will.

Whatever you might think of the choices being made by Newcastle fans, collectively or individually, the significant failings here have come well above our heads. As we saw during the Ashley years, when it comes to the power to guide and shape their football clubs, the fans — happy or unhappy, present or absent, enthused or reluctant — are the least important people in modern football.

IN OTHER NEWS

Antoine Griezmann: footballer, Football Manager player … prophet?

RETRO CORNER

On this day 16 years ago, Real Madrid’s David Beckham returned to Old Trafford as England captain. A big day for him, and one ultimately ruined by the referee: by our reckoning, these two challenges barely add up to one yellow card, let alone two. But it secured him a place in history, as the first player to be sent off twice for England.

HAT TIP

Make some time for this exceptional interview: Sid Lowe, in the Guardian, talking to Iñaki Williams about his parents’ journey to the Basque country and his journey into the Athletic first team.

[His mother] told him how they had left Ghana and crossed the Sahara without food or water, about those who didn’t make it and how that could have been them. How they hid things the only place they could. How, pregnant with him, she climbed the fence into Melilla, Spain’s north African enclave. And how she and [his father] were arrested, a lawyer whose name he still doesn’t know and, to his regret, never will providing a lifeline, a way of reaching the city where he was born. His place, where he has made history.

COMING UP

While we wait impatiently for the Nations League final to roll around, there’s some World Cup qualifying to tide us over. Wales travel to the Czech Republic, Turkey play Norway, and the Louis van Gaal reinvention rolls on as the Netherlands visit Latvia.

Have a good weekend. Tom Adams will be here on Monday with that sweet Nations League content.

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3:2 nach 0:2! Frankreich nach wilder Aufholjagd im Nations-League-Finale

Frankreich ist Spanien ins Endspiel der Nations League gefolgt. Das Halbfinale gegen Belgien gewann die Equipe Tricolore nach spektakulärer Aufholjagd spät mit 3:2.

Schlusspunkt eines Spektakels: Theo Hernandez bejubelt mit Karim Benzema das Tor zum 3:2.

Schlusspunkt eines Spektakels: Theo Hernandez bejubelt mit Karim Benzema das Tor zum 3:2.

Icon Sport via Getty Images

Beide Nationaltrainer hatten ihr erstes Aufgebot ins Rennen geschickt, entsprechend hoch war das Tempo in der Anfangsphase – und entsprechend spektakulär die erste Chance der Partie. Nach einer unglücklichen Abwehraktion von Koundé kam De Bruyne aus kurzer Distanz zum Abschluss und hämmerte aufs kurze Eck, Lloris verhinderte mit einer sensationellen Parade die frühe belgische Führung (4.).

Belgischer Doppelschlag vor der Pause

Auch in der Folge ging es zunächst munter rauf und runter, beide Teams feuerten abwechselnd in Richtung gegnerisches Tor. Ab Mitte des zweiten Durchgangs nahm das Tempo jedoch sukzessive ab, die taktische Komponente trat in den Vordergrund. Die Franzosen, die erstmals mit dem Brüderpaar Theo und Lucas Hernandez antraten, zeigten einige technisch ansehnliche Kombinationen, das Offensiv-Trio Griezmann/Mbappé/Benzema wechselte häufig die Positionen.

Zielstrebiger war allerdings Belgien, das über etwas mehr Ballsicherheit verfügte und situativ mal anzog – und genau auf diese Weise in Führung ging: De Bruyne verlagerte nach rechts zu Carrasco, der in die Mitte zog und Lloris mit einem noch leicht abgefälschten Schuss ins kurze Eck komplett auf dem falschen Fuß erwischte (37.). Frankreich hing nun merklich in den Seilen und kassierte gleich das zweite Tor hinterher: Nach erneutem De-Bruyne-Anspiel kam Lukaku viel zu einfach an Lucas Hernandez vorbei und hämmerte den Ball dann aus spitzem Winkel über Lloris hinweg unter die Latte (41.). Hazard hätte noch vor dem Pausenpfiff sogar für das dritte Tor sorgen können, diesmal war Lloris jedoch zur Stelle (45.).

Frankreich wie verwandelt – Doppelschlag zum Ausgleich

Die Halbzeitpause tat Frankreich gut, der Weltmeister kam wie verwandelt aus der Kabine – und kam gegen zu passiv agierende Belgier nun seinerseits zum Doppelschlag: Nachdem Griezmann bereits eine riesige Chance vergeben hatte (58.), zeigte Benzema seine ganze Klasse und traf umzingelt von vier Belgiern aus der Drehung zum Anschluss (62.), nur wenig später verhängte der deutsche Schiedsrichter Daniel Siebert nach VAR-Eingriff einen Elfmeter für ein Foul von Tielemans an Griezmann – Mbappé verwandelte zum 2:2 (69.). 

Spektakuläre Schlussphase: Theo Hernandez setzt den Schlusspunkt

Die Schlussphase wurde dann noch einmal richtig spektakulär: Beide Teams spielten auf Sieg, wollten eine Entscheidung noch vor der Verlängerung erzwingen. Lloris gegen De Bruyne auf der einen (73.) und Courtois gegen den eingewechselten Tchouameni auf der anderen Seite (77.) zeigten überragende Paraden, Mbappé schoss knapp links vorbei (86.), ein Lukaku-Tor wurde vom VAR wegen Abseits aberkannt (87.), Pogba schlenzte einen Freistoß ans Lattenkreuz (90.).

Die große Krönung des wilden Auf und Abs sollte aber noch folgen: Mit Ablauf der regulären Spielzeit stieß Pavard noch einmal über rechts nach vorne, Alderweireld wehrte seine Flanke vor die Füße von Theo Hernandez ab – und der Milan-Spieler hämmerte die Kugel aus rund 15 Metern ins lange Eck (90.). Sein erstes Länderspieltor war gleichbedeutend mit dem Schlusspunkt – und dem Finaleinzug für die Franzosen.

Tore und Karten

1:0
Carrasco (37′, Rechtsschuss, De Bruyne)

2:0
R. Lukaku (41′, Rechtsschuss, De Bruyne)

2:1
Benzema (62′, Linksschuss, Mbappé)

2:2
Mbappé (69′, Elfmeter)

2:3
Theo (90′)

Tore und Karten

1:0
Carrasco (37′, Rechtsschuss, De Bruyne)

2:0
R. Lukaku (41′, Rechtsschuss, De Bruyne)

2:1
Benzema (62′, Linksschuss, Mbappé)

2:2
Mbappé (69′, Elfmeter)

2:3
Theo (90′)

Belgien

Vertonghen (67. )


Belgien

Belgien


Belgien

Belgien

Aufstellung

Einwechslungen

Reservebank

Trainer:


Frankreich

Frankreich


Frankreich

Frankreich

Aufstellung

Einwechslungen

Reservebank

Trainer:

Schiedsrichter-Team
Daniel Siebert

Daniel Siebert
Berlin

Schiedsrichter-Team

Daniel Siebert

Daniel Siebert
Berlin

Spielinfo


Stadion

Allianz Stadium

Spielinfo


Anstoß

07.10.2021, 20:45 Uhr


Stadion

Allianz Stadium Turin


Eckenverhältnis

4:2

Im Endspiel trifft die Equipe Tricolore am Sonntag (20.45 Uhr, LIVE! bei kicker) auf Spanien, das am Dienstag Italien besiegt hatte.

Was Lukaku antreibt: “Ich will ein Turnier gewinnen”

Am Donnerstag trifft die belgische Auswahl um 20.45 im Halbfinale der Nations League auf Frankreich. Ohne den verletzten Thomas Meunier, aber mit einem titelhungrigen Rekordtorschützen.

Romelu Lukaku (2.v.r.) bejubelt seinen Treffer mit Youri Tielemans, Hans Vanaken und Timothy Castagne (v.l.n.r.).

Romelu Lukaku (2.v.r.) bejubelt seinen Treffer mit Youri Tielemans, Hans Vanaken und Timothy Castagne (v.l.n.r.).

picture alliance/dpa/BELGA

Bereits am Freitag hatte der belgische Nationaltrainer Roberto Martinez seinen Kader für das Final Four der Nations League nominiert. Eigentlich sollten diesem auch die Dortmunder Thomas Meunier und Thorgan Hazard angehören, die sich durch zuletzt gute Leistungen im Trikot der Borussen für das Nationalteam empfehlen konnte. Doch sowohl der 30-Jährige Rechtverteidiger als auch der kleine Bruder von Real Madrids Eden Hazard fallen aus. Bei Meunier hatte die medizinische Abteilung der Belgier bereits am Montag entschieden auf Einsätze zu verzichten. Nun reiste auch Hazard ab, den erneut Sprunggelenksbeschwerden plagen.

Lukaku will den Titel

Fit und in Topform ist dagegen Belgiens Rekordtorschütze Romelu Lukaku. Der Mann, der diesen Sommer zum FC Chelsea zurückkehrte, macht seinen historischen Torriecher nach anfänglichen Startschwierigkeiten gegenüber uefa.com besonders an seiner Lockerheit fest: “Ich habe nicht von Anfang an so viele Tore für das Nationalteam geschossen, das hat ein wenig gedauert. Irgendwann habe ich aufgehört zu zählen und einfach nur noch gespielt.”

Dennoch stehe für ihn der Erfolg des Teams über eigenen Errungenschaften: “Ich hasse es, zu verlieren, und es ist auch genauso schrecklich, zu verlieren, wenn man getroffen hat.” Dementsprechend erfreut sei er natürlich über die vielen Siege, die er bereits mit dem Nationalteam in seinen 100 Länderspielen einfahren konnte. Eine Marke, die dem großgewachsenen Stoßstürmer sehr viel bedeute, täte man als junger Spieler doch alles dafür, sie zu erreichen. Letztendlich ginge es ihm aber dennoch um mehr: “Jedes Mal, wenn ich für das Nationalteam spiele, will ich gewinnen. Und ich will ein Turnier gewinnen”, formuliert der Spieler der abgelaufenen Serie-A-Saison seine Wünsche deutlich.

Am Ende will man einfach einen Titel gewinnen. Das ist meine Motivation.

Romelu Lukaku

Helfen könnten dem gebürtigen Antwerpener dabei neben den Weltstars um Kevin de Bruyne und Eden Hazard auch einige Bundesligaakteure. Unter anderem Dodi Lukebakio vom VfL Wolfsburg, der sich durch den starken Saisonstart der “Wölfe” das erste Mal seit Oktober 2020 wieder in den Fokus der Nationalmannschaft spielen konnte. Begleitet wird er dabei von seinem Teamkollegen Koen Casteels, der jedoch wohl hinter Thibault Courtois auf der Bank Platz nehmen wird. Ebenfalls erneut nominiert ist der junge Charles de Ketelaere vom FC Brügge, der erst vor wenigen Wochen gegen die Schweiz sein Debüt gegeben hatte. 

Ob es diesmal für einen Titel der vielzitierten “Goldenen Generation” der Belgier reicht, bleibt abzuwarten. Mit der “Équipe Tricolore” aus Frankreich wartet im Halbfinale in Turin ein starker Gegner, ehe in einem möglichen Finale Spanien folgen würde. Lukaku jedenfalls, so viel ist sicher, wird alles für den Gewinn des Pokals geben. Schließlich treibt ihn diese Sehnsucht an. 

Exclusive: Lukaku has reached another level working with Henry – Martinez

For Roberto Martinez every moment is a learning experience.

The former Swansea, Wigan Athletic and Everton boss sat down with Maxime Dupuis of Eurosport France ahead of the Nations league finals. He discussed near misses as Belgium boss, Italy’s brilliance at the Euros and how Thierry Henry has helped develop Romelu Lukaku into a more aware forward and a leader for the next generation of Red Devils’ players.

THE IMPORTANCE OF RESILIENCE

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Under Martinez, Belgium finished third at the 2018 World Cup, and reached the quarter-finals in the two European Championships either side of that tournament. But that is not enough for those who deem this Belgium squad more than capable of winning something. He will get that chance now having reached the UEFA Nations League finals, where they will face France in their semi-final.

Roberto Martinez was tight-lipped on the Bracelona rumours

Image credit: Getty Images

It is a repeat of the 2018 match-up, where Didier Deschamps’ side emerged victorious before going on to win the World Cup for a second time. What did Martinez learn from that game?

“For us we had to improve. Whenever you are in a tournament and whenever you lose, things need to be analysed. It was important to get a team or squad that was more balanced. That was the biggest lesson.

“Against France we went into the game with one of our wing backs [Thomas Meunier] suspended and I felt that it disrupted [our flow] too much. Since 2018 we’ve developed more players for that wingback role, which is so unique and we have a bigger pool of players who can play the way we want them to play. Since 2018 that’s been accelerated – more younger players have come to the national team.

Also, we’ve learned to be ready for big games.You have to learn to be resilient in those games, and I think that loss helped us a lot in that respect.

ITALY DESERVED TO WIN THE EUROS

If Belgium beat France, they could face Italy in the final, who face Spain in the other semi-final. The Azzurri knocked them out at the quarter-final stage of Euro 2020. Again Belgium were beaten by the eventual winners. But why?

Belgium’s Spanish coach Roberto Martinez reacts on the touchline during the UEFA EURO 2020 quarter-final football match between Belgium and Italy at the Allianz Arena in Munich on July 2, 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

“The difference was the first half we were not ourselves [against Italy],” Martinez says.

“It was a difficult start for us. For the first 45 minutes we did not perform as we can. We feel a little bit sad about it because when you go into a major tournament you have to be yourself, but Italy had incredible momentum, they hadn’t lost for a long time and they adapted to the game better.

“The second half was better, we were taking control of the game, we created enough chances to score, but football is a low-scoring sport and unless you take the chances, you can’t show you deserve to win or not.

We were more mature in that game but clearly we faced an opponent that deserved to win the Euros.

Has Belgium’s moment passed? The list of players into their 30s is long. Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Meunier, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard just in this squad alone. Thomas Vermaelen, Nacer Chadli and Dries Mertens all missed out on selection for varying reasons.

Roberto Martinez et Eden Hazard

Image credit: Getty Images

There are bright hopes, though. Youri Tielemans, Alexis Saelemaekers, Dodi Lukebakio, Charles De Ketelaere, Zinho Vanheusden, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Yari Verschaeren and Jeremy Doku are all 25 or under.

So where does Martinez feel the team is at in its cycle?

“I think it’s in the middle. Every individual is on a different route. I would consider players over 30, they are in the peak of their careers.

“Others are still growing. What’s important is we don’t work with one generation, we use one generation to prepare the next, which is why we called 31 players [in September]. We played three games in seven days, there’s a lot of matchday-plus-one training sessions.

A player could have that experience to be with the golden generation, and that’s part of their development, they don’t need to play the games.

“The older players want to pass their experience to the next generation. I want them to have that role now to help younger players, to help them feel what to do to be the number one in the world, and then be coaches for the next 20 years”

‘PEAK’ LUKAKU AWARENESS ON ANOTHER LEVEL

And what about Lukaku? At 28 he’s a few years younger than some of the older players and is one of the key figures for this team both now and in the future.

Lukaku en discussion avec Martinez

Image credit: Getty Images

“I think my relationship with Romelu Lukaku goes a long way,” Martinez says of the player he first worked with at Everton.

“At 19 I worked with him at club level and we ended up spending a record fee to bring him to the club. He had to grow, at 16 he was scoring for Anderlecht and got a massive move. As a young player he had to grow under the main lights, and didn’t have a period to just progress without the attention of the world. He always had big transfer fees and big numbers.

“Romelu is an exceptional goalscorer. And now we see a player in the peak of his career who has added part of his game: hold-up play, well-timed runs, taking responsibility in dead ball situations in both boxes. It affects players around him.

“He did huge things in the Premier League and the move to Italy came at the right time with the right coach and right challenge.

He took his awareness to another level – we’ve seen the relationship between Thierry Henry and Romelu Lukaku.

“Romelu can get that bit of advice [from Henry] or share thoughts with someone who was expected to make the final pass of the ball into the net, and the expectations that come along. It’s helpful in key moments of your career, especially when representing your national team.”

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“No poder ver feliz a Hazard en el Real Madrid es una pena”

Roberto Martínez (Balaguer, Lleida, 1973) se ha convertido en uno de los técnicos más pretendidos del mundo. Sonó para el Madrid y en los últimos días también para el Barça. Él se centra en la Nations League en lo que puede significar su primer título con Bélgica. Método español, pero con influencia Premier.

La pregunta del millón: ¿tres centrales o línea de cuatro?
Depende. Diría que lo que mejor se ajuste a tus jugadores. Mi primer partido con Bélgica fue con línea de cuatro en un amistoso ante España y no dimos el nivel. Hicimos una reflexión interna. Teníamos cuatro centrales espectaculares y nos faltaban laterales. Así que para potenciar a nuestros jugadores apostamos por el 3-4-3 y desde entonces nos fue francamente bien.

Sin embargo, dos años después, ante Brasil en el Mundial, volvió a los cuatro defensas y dejaron un partido para la historia del fútbol belga.
Hay que ser flexibles. La filosofía como equipo no cambia, sólo cambian las estrategias. Da igual que juegues con un dibujo u otro. Tampoco es lo mismo tener enfrente a Brasil que ser tú el favorito. En cualquier caso, lo importante es ser fiel a un estilo más que a un esquema. Yo los tres centrales los empecé a emplear en 2009 con el Wigan. ¡Éramos el único equipo de la Premier que jugaba con ese dibujo! Ahora, en las últimas cuatro o cinco temporadas, se está viendo una tendencia por usarlo. Estoy convencido de que cambiará otra vez. Las tendencias son así. Por eso yo no creo en utilizar jugadores según un esquema, sino en utilizar un esquema según los jugadores.

Al menos le dio tiempo a inventarse un carrilero en Carrasco.
Era la forma de poder ver a Hazard y a él juntos en la misma parcela. El primer partido de Carrasco con nosotros actuó de extremo derecho. Se perdía su capacidad de poder desbordar hacia dentro y lo tuvimos claro. La única manera de hacerle cohabitar con Hazard por el otro lado fue utilizándolo de carrilero. Su adaptación fue muy buena y su crecimiento personal, también. Fue más la presencia del propio jugador lo que le hizo crecer, no su posición.

“Cruyff fue mi referente; influyó en el fútbol como nadie más ha hecho”

¿Cuáles fueron sus referencias como técnico?
La primera, impactante, Johann Cruyff. Supuso un cambio drástico. Introdujo conceptos que antes no se veían. Influyó en el fútbol de una manera que nadie más lo ha hecho. Hay muchas figuras que han influido a una corriente o a un sector, pero él lo hizo en todos: los que le seguían y los que trataban de contrarrestarlo. Era una fuerza mayúscula en el juego, en defender con balón, en ejercicios de superioridad numérica, en la calidad técnica del jugador… Trajo algo que me influyó muchísimo. Y otros entrenadores siempre me han fascinado por momentos o lugares en los que destacaron: Toshack, Maturana, Sacchi…

Como Cruyffista, ¿le halaga que el Barça piense en usted?
Mire… Llevo muchos años fuera de casa. No hay demasiados aficionados que sepan de mi carrera, ni de que estuve siete años seguidos en la Premier. Me hace hasta gracia esto. Creo que hubo un cambio en el Mundial 2018. Tuvimos el cariño de aficionados españoles, yo lo noté enseguida. Para mí, fue una gran ilusión. A partir de ahí, los entrenadores siempre estamos en los rumores. Cuando el equipo gana suenas para otros proyectos y cuando el equipo pierde estás al borde del cese. Te acostumbras y vives al margen de todo esto.

“No me planteo si es el Barça es una oportunidad. Los técnicos siempre estamos en los rumores”

¿Ir ahora el Barça es una oportunidad o un marrón?
No me lo he planteado, la verdad. Llevo un año y medio pensando en la Nations League y eso es ahora lo que me preocupa. Mi opinión sería bastante desajustada.

¿Cómo vivió la marcha de Messi del Barça y los grandes fichajes que hubo?
Como un aficionado más. La situación de COVID afectó a los clubes y el tema de la Superliga ayudó a que todo fuera más anormal este verano. Normalmente el fútbol de élite tiene una consistencia y todo está bastante calmado, pero hemos vivido cosas que seguramente no hubiéramos visto sin pandemia.

¿No le pica el gusanillo de los clubes? Es joven para ser seleccionador y no tanto para no haber debutado ni siquiera en la Champions…
Yo también pensaba que una selección era el final de un trayecto. Tenía la expectativa de que con los años es mejor usar la experiencia y la perspectiva que te permitan entrenar unas veces al año, no a diario. Mi situación fue atípica, sí, pero esta Bélgica también era muy atípica. Podía intuir que se estaba creando un gran proyecto, además de disfrutar de momentos únicos como participar en Mundiales y Eurocopas.

¿Por qué nunca ha dirigido en España?
No soy el que decide eso. Yo siempre voy a un proyecto si miro a los ojos a quien me lo ofrece y tengo tiempo para poder trabajar y cuajar en él. Creo en esa relación humana dentro del proyecto. Una vez así, puedes dirigir en cualquier liga y en cualquier faceta. Pero, créame, soy muy malo planeando el futuro (risas).

Tuchel, Klopp, Nagelsmann… ¿Hay una ‘alemanización’ del fútbol?
Sí, puede ser. Todo nace con esa arrogancia sana de poder dar entrenadores muy jóvenes a equipos poderosos. El fútbol alemán está muy bien estructurado, con una liga saneada, y nos ha ayudado a poner el enfoque en lo que hacen los equipos cuando no tienen el balón. Nosotros venimos de una cultura en la que pensamos más en qué hacer con él, no sin él. Allí se ha desarrollado un tipo de entrenador preparado para la presión alta, para abrir los partidos, para ser dinámico… Esto es bueno para el fútbol en general.

“¿Por qué Bélgica? Que un país de 11 millones aporte jugadores tan distintos me intrigó”

¿Qué le intrigó de Bélgica?
Yo estaba dirigiendo a tres jugadores belgas en el Everton (Fellaini, Miralles y Lukaku) y nadie hubiera dicho que venían del mismo país. Me preguntaba: ‘Cómo siendo sólo 11 millones pueden producir jugadores tan diversos y con estilos de fútbol tan distintos’. En otros equipos también había jugadores belgas excepcionales. Era una generación espectacular. Fui aprendiendo más sobre ellos: su educación en tres idiomas, lo que les permite adaptarse más rápido en el extranjero, su rápido calado en los vestuarios, en los equipos grandes…

¿Necesita un título esta generación?
Necesitar es una palabra muy dura. En el fútbol las cosas se merecen, se intentan. Esta generación ha hecho precisamente eso. Ha mejorado a través de su filosofía de club, más que de selección. Ha tenido compromiso y ha crecido. Si eres técnico de clubes te das cuenta de que se puede crecer en el día a día; en el fútbol de selecciones esto es distinto. No hay tiempo. Por eso valoramos lo que ha hecho este equipo. Es una generación especial. Sería bonito, y creo que lo merece, un torneo que les liberara a ellos y al futuro del fútbol belga.

¿Hay una cultura Premier en todos ustedes?
Sí, y fíjese que fue algo inesperado. El trabajo empieza después de la Eurocopa de 2000 y se buscan influencias holandesas y francesas, no inglesas, para crear un ADN y un estilo de futbolista belga. Pero lo que nadie planea es hacia dónde va el jugador. Y llegó un momento en el que todos los buenos jugadores belgas fueron a la Premier. Eso permitió que se desarrollara un tipo de futbolista muy técnico, pero en una liga física y de transición como es la Premier.

Dice que son 11 millones de belgas, es casi como la Uruguay de Europa. ¿Cómo es posible que entre tan pocos surja tanto talento?
Pues mire. Hay 24 clubes, 6 ó 7 academias de buen nivel que puedes visitar con facilidad, la del Brujas, la del Anderlecht… Hay muy buena relación entre clubes. Eso ayuda. Y luego está la faceta humana. En Bélgica cohabitan tres lenguas y el ambiente de país es muy diverso. La mentalidad es abierta y de respeto por lo diferente. Por eso mismo, los jugadores están muy bien preparados –sin ser conscientes– para ir al extranjero.

¿Lukaku es el ejemplo de esto?
Sí, sin duda. A los 16 años estaba preparado para la élite y se le confió poder ser la referencia de un equipo como el Anderlecht. Pero donde de verdad ha crecido ha sido fuera del país. Yo pude disfrutar de él a los 19, primero cedido y luego como parte del traspaso más caro de la historia del Everton. Siempre tuvo la obsesión de los goles. Es un 9 que puede jugar de espaldas, penetrar los espacios, que tiene una estupenda condición física, pero sobre todo el gran talento de su capacidad goleadora. Sus cifras así lo demuestran.

“Es cuestión de tiempo que veamos en España la mejor versión de Hazard”

Usted sigue siendo fiel defensor de Hazard
Eden ha tenido dos años muy duros de lesiones. A veces se buscan razones para esto y simplemente no las hay. Nosotros lo analizamos desde otra vertiente. He visto a Hazard ganar la liga en Francia, la Premier con dos proyectos distintos, marcar diferencias en el desborde y el uno contra uno, brillar técnicamente en una liga tan física como la inglesa… Y luego, a nivel de selección, Hazard es único. Es una pena no poder haber visto en los dos últimos años a un Eden feliz o jugando más. No ha podido estar a su mejor nivel en el Madrid y no se ha visto el gran potencial que tiene.

¿Le ve frustrado o con ganas de reivindicarse?
Él es muy tranquilo. Le da normalidad a todo, por eso entiende que el futbolista se lesiona. También tiene un carácter que le hace levantarse rápido. Es un líder, el capitán de Bélgica, y ha sido una influencia muy importante para este equipo. A nivel humano puedes confiar en Eden y a nivel futbolístico no hay debate. Es cuestión de tiempo que veamos en España la mejor versión de Hazard.

“Courtois va camino de ser la mayor leyenda en un país con un gran historial de porteros”

Le quiero preguntar por Courtois. ¿Cómo se puede ser uno de los mejores porteros de la última década sin dominar el juego de pies –algo tan demandado ahora–?
Ufff, yo no estoy de acuerdo en que no sea bueno en el juego de pies. Al revés. Para ser una persona de tanta altura y presencia posee muy buena coordinación. Tiene una gran capacidad para entender la salida de balón. Puede ser más estilista o menos, pero cuando tienes un equipo que quiere jugar desde atrás Thibaut sabe hacerlo perfectamente. En el Mundial 2018 fue el mejor portero y ahora está consistentemente entre los dos o tres mejores del mundo. A su edad eso quiere decir que tiene mucho aún por delante. Es una referencia en un país con muy buen nivel histórico de porteros, incluso con leyendas, y él va camino de convertirse en la mayor de todas.

Su padre fue jugador y entrenador, Roberto.
Sí… Yo no tenía otra salida que el fútbol (risas). Nos sentábamos a ver partidos. Es algo que recordaré para siempre. En vez de verlos como un aficionado los veía desde un punto de vista táctico. Él tuvo mucha culpa de todo esto.

¿En la época de los Guardiola, Zidane, Simeone… les perjudica a otros técnicos como usted no haber sido un jugador de renombre como ellos?
Yo creo que no. Es más, diría que para un entrenador que ha sido élite como futbolista debe ser frustrante ver a jugadores que no pueden hacer lo mismo que hacían ellos. El entrenador nace en un momento en el que debe llevar unas disciplinas que no tienen nada que ver con lo hecho anteriormente. Depende mucho de cómo quieres dirigir un grupo, cómo organizarlo en el campo… son dos roles tan distintos que es difícil decir si ayuda o no.

Hazard dijo de usted que es un técnico de “estilo español”, pero lo cierto es que estuvo 21 años amamantando fútbol en el Reino Unido.
Soy una víctima de mis experiencias, la verdad. Yo nazco en un fútbol de cultura de posesión, de técnica, de querer jugar. Y luego crezco en otro que es al revés: lanzar el balón te permite llegar más lejos, el balón dividido es una oportunidad para llevártelo… La gran ventaja es que empecé en una forma de entender el fútbol y me llevaron enseguida a la contraria. Entiendes rápido que no hay un correcto y un no correcto. Debes desmenuzar en lo que eres bueno y no tan bueno. La diversidad es lo que me ha ayudado. Es muy difícil describirme como entrenador porque tengo una mezcla de mis experiencias.

'I'm fighting for my son' – Lukaku urges social media CEOs to meet players to stop online abuse

Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku believes that a meeting between players, social media CEOs, governments and governing bodies could help in the fight against online abuse.

Lukaku has been abused by fans in the past, both online and on the pitch, and has previously stated that he feels racism in football is at an “all-time high”.

Social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, have implemented measures in an attempt to curb online hate but players in both the men’s and women’s games continue to be subjected to vile abuse.

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AN HOUR AGO

“I have to fight,” Lukaku told CNN. ”Because I’m not fighting only for myself. I’m fighting for my son, for my future kids, for my brother, for all of the other players and their kids, you know, for everybody.

“The captains of every team, and four or five players, like the big personalities of every team, should have a meeting with the CEOs of Instagram and governments and the FA and the PFA, and we should just sit around the table and have a big meeting about it.

“How we can attack it straight away, not only from the men’s game, but also from the women’s game.

“I think just [get] all of us together and just have a big meeting and have a conference and just talk about stuff that needs to be addressed to protect the players, but also to protect fans and younger players that want to become professional footballers.”

Lukaku’s club Chelsea launched a ‘No To Hate’ photography competition earlier this year in the wake of racist abuse received by Reece James in January.

The club hope the competition can celebrate the diversity of its support and Lukaku says the fight against racism is one that he will never grow tired of.

“At the end of the day, football should be an enjoyable game,” he said. “You cannot kill the game by discrimination. That should never happen.

“Football is joy, it’s happiness and it shouldn’t be a place where you feel unsafe because of the opinion from some uneducated people.”

Lukaku’s comments come in the week that team-mate Marcos Alonso made headlines for not taking a knee ahead of the Premier League match at Tottenham last weekend, instead remaining standing and pointing to the anti-racism message on his sleeve.

Alonso’s rationale, although he did not discuss it with his fellow Chelsea players prior to kick-off, is that taking a knee is “losing a bit of its strength”.

Lukaku appeared to echo the Spaniard’s sentiment when he questioned the effectiveness of the gesture.

“I think we can take stronger positions, basically,” he said. “Yeah, we are taking the knee, but in the end, everybody’s clapping but … sometimes after the game, you see another insult.”

According to the CNN report, both the Football Association (FA) and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) have reached out to Lukaku.

In January, key footballing authorities and governing bodies, including Kick It Out, the FA, the Premier League and the PFA met with social media companies to discuss ways to combat online hate.

Facebook removed more than 33 million pieces of hate speech from its platforms between January and March this year.

“No one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere, and we don’t tolerate it on Facebook and Instagram,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We remove racist content as soon as we see it and respond to valid legal requests to help with police investigations.

“We’ve also built the Hidden Words tool to prevent people from seeing this abuse in their comments and in DMs and encourage everyone to use it. People can also limit comments and DM requests during spikes of increased attention.

“No one thing will fix this challenge overnight, but we’re committed to continuing our work with the Premier League and others to help keep our community safe from abuse.”

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