Leaving Manchester United for Inter Milan has reinvigorated Romelu Lukaku and the striker is happy and hungry as he enters an important phase of his playing career, Belgium manager
Belgium international Lukaku joined Inter last month, ending a two-year spell at United, which began well, but ended with him battling for a place.
Belgium Training The 26-year-old has scored two league goals in as many games in Italy and Martinez is confident Lukaku’s bright start to life in the Serie A can translate into success for the national team.
“This is the first time I’ve seen him free and happy. Going back to many camps, I’ve not seen Rom so focused, so happy, so refreshed by the new challenge,” Martinez told reporters ahead of Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Scotland.
“I think he’s now ready to face one of the biggest chapters in his career with the Inter move. He’s driven to be as good as he can for the national team… I’ve been impressed.”
Lukaku’s short time in Italy has not been without problems, however, with the striker subjected to racist abuse by Cagliari supporters last week.
But Martinez said the incident had not affected Lukaku’s mood during international duty.
“I haven’t seen a difference,” Martinez added.
“It’s true he was sad with the episode he had to go through, but I’m sure that is something that everyone… will try to help him with, and try to eradicate. “There’s no tolerance for that kind of behaviour.”
Many Are In Trouble In road To Euro 2020. PLUS: Neymar returns to action, Samuel Eto’o retires
It’s the international break but that doesn’t mean there’s a break in the Monday Musings! Gab Marcotti is here to recap the big stories around soccer.
Germany in trouble?
Suddenly, Germany’s trip to Northern Ireland on Monday looms large. A stumble in Belfast and things can get really complicated. That’s because after the 4-2 defeat against the Dutch on Friday, Jogi Loew’s men are behind on the head-to-head tiebreaker. They’re still three points up on the Dutch (who have a game in hand), but three behind Northern Ireland.
Glass-half-full man says “kein Problem. The Irish have played the weakest teams, we’ve had to deal with the Dutch twice.” Glass-half-empty man says “nicht so gut. A mistake in Belfast means we may need to win out, or for the first time in our history we’ll miss out on a major tournament.”
And frankly, the prospect of this German team winning out isn’t great. It’s not an issue of talent. Loew’s new-look Germany, with its 3-4-3 “transition” (read: defend-and-counter) has plenty of it. The issue though is that when you’re set up to play without the ball — lest we forget, that’s a major departure from the past — it can be extremely frustrating against teams who are also happy to sit and defend. News flash: that’s what Northern Ireland, Belarus and Estonia, the other sides in the group, are likely to do.
Only the top two qualify directly and getting there via the playoffs is far from straightforward given that Germany were relegated from their Nations League group, which is the main criteria to establish who get a second crack at Euro 2020. That’s why Loew says three points against Northern Ireland is a must, but his new approach has plenty worried.
It’s not the way most of these players play for the club sides. The set-up not only doesn’t have room for the veterans he dumped, but it also didn’t feature Kai Havertz, possibly Germany’s brightest attacking prospect. Most of all, having reinvented the national side tactically some 15 years ago as the brains behind Jurgen Klinsmann’s operation, he’s now doing a 180-degree turn in the aircraft carrier that is Die Mannschaf.
Few coaches can manage even one massive U-turn in their career. Trying two of them may be a little too far.
Meanwhile, The Dutch Are Looking Good
As for the Dutch, the combination of Ajax’s run to the Champions League semifinal, the concurrent emergence of Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van de Beek and Frenkie de Jong, as well as the Nations League final, has stoked plenty of enthusiasm after missing out on consecutive major tournaments, something that had not happened in three decades.
They’re nicely stacked in some areas of the pitch (central defence and midfield) and less so in others. Ryan Babel, at this stage of his career, and Quincy Promes can only take you so far. But if Donyell Malen lives up to the hype and becomes a viable foil for Memphis Depay, they could get very good, very quickly.