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2018 World Cup preview: Belgium

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Getting to know Belgium: If there’s a country that needs to validate itself in 2018 it is Belgium. Many nations go through phases of “golden generations” and for the Red Devils, that time is now. In Brazil, Belgium earned its best finish since the 1986 World Cup, when the team reached the quarterfinals. However, expectations have risen further for Roberto Martinez’s side as they approach this summer as one of the tournament’s favorites.

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A host of Premier League stars, including Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku lead a front line for Belgium that might be unmatched in the global game. Meanwhile, familiar faces in the back like Jan Vertonghen and captain Vincent Kompany provide a stable defensive unit to sit in front of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

For more on Belgium’s history, click this link.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

What group are they in? The Red Devils reside in Group G with England, Panama and Tunisia. That makes Belgium — currently ranked third in the latest FIFA World Rankings — the clear-cut favorites to top the group.


Game schedule – Group G – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Monday, June 18: Belgium v Panama, Sochi 11 am, ET

Saturday, June 23: Belgium v Tunisia, Moscow  8 am, ET

Thursday, June 28: England v Belgium, Kaliningrad 2 pm, ET


Projected lineup (3-4-3)Check out the 23-man squad list in full

Courtois

Alderweireld ——- Kompany ———- Vertonghen

 Meunier —– De Bruyne —- Witsel —— Carrasco

Mertens —- Lukaku —- Hazard

 


Star player: Kevin De Bruyne — This is so tricky because you could easily make the case for four or five players in Belgium’s squad, but after the season De Bruyne had at Manchester City, a lot will be expected of the playmaker in Russia. He’s quick, skillful and deadly accurate in distribution, which makes him one of the most interesting talents to watch at the World Cup.


Manager: Roberto Martinez — Although he often receives heat for some of his past inconsistencies at Everton, Martinez has done quite well under Martinez’s brief tenure. That said, he hasn’t had the opportunity to manage a major competition to this point, and with the amount of skillful players in the Red Devils squad, he could be on a short leash.


Secret weapon: Michy Batshuayi — For all the skill and grace in the Belgium starting XI, there is a bit of a drop off on the bench, particularly in terms of attacking players. Batshuayi is an intriguing player because he was brilliant after moving to Borussia Dortmund on loan in 2017-18. An unfortunate injury halted him from having more success, but if he can regain his form from the Bundesliga side, Martinez could have a legitimate threat off the bench or potentially use him alongside Lukaku up front.

AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Prediction: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Belgium should be among the favorites to hoist the World Cup, which would be the nation’s first in its history. They’re getting out of the group stage, and probably unscathed. England is solid, but if Belgium is at their best, they’re winning that match. If things shape up as expected, the Red Devils could get Brazil in the quarterfinals, which would obviously be tricky, but there’s strong belief from us that they could get beyond the last eight.

The 2 Robbies: Talking Liverpool, Manchester, Spurs at Man Utd

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle wrap up a great weekend of Premier League action. Liverpool took all three points against Crystal Palace. The guys chat about the mood in the United dressing room (12:40) and the opposite feelings across Manchester as Man City thrashed Huddersfield (25:30). We wrap up looking ahead to the big one: Manchester United vs Tottenham next week (33:30).

[ RECAP: Palace 0-2 Liverpool ]

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5 p.m. ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Report: Woodward to appoint director of football at Manchester United

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Manchester United CEO Ed Woodward is readying a change to the hierarchy at Old Trafford as he attempts to steady the ship, and it’s not the removal of controversial manager Jose Mourinho.

The Manchester Evening News is reporting that Woodward will appoint a director of football at the club to help ease the burden after growing frustration from Mourinho and supporters following a summer with few transfer buys.

[ MORE: Klopp on beating Palace ]

Mourinho lamented the lack of additions in the summer after he gave a specific list of center back targets to Woodward and got exactly zero of them.

Now after beating Leicester City and losing at Brighton, United could be in a bad position early if they cannot manage a positive performance against visiting Tottenham on Aug. 27.

And MEN reports that Woodward is eager to get himself out of “the firing line.”

United have not held back when it comes to issuing press releases boasting about their many commercial partners, but there has been a quiet revamp of the club’s academy, scouting network and training ground facilities behind the scenes.

One of the final steps is bringing in a director of football – something many United fans have been crying out for following the club’s patchy transfer record with Woodward at the helm.

Woodward is not going to appoint anyone who would undermine his decisions, and the hire could speak volumes about Mourinho’s future, short or long.

Second week second-guessing Premier League table predictions

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The transfer window had just closed when ProSoccerTalk’s staff made their predictions for the 2018-19 season.

For the most part, the first two weeks of the Premier League season have cemented this writer’s faith in his projections.

[ RECAP: Palace 0-2 Liverpool ]

In four cases, however, being allowed some Monday mulligans would have me moving teams more than one spot in my predicted table.

Moving up

Spurs (Predicted 6th; New spot 3rd) –> The worries I have about Dele Alli returning to world-beating status have been quelled by Lucas Moura‘s newfound comfort in creating Premier League chances. Tottenham’s defenders the same. Next Monday’s trip to Manchester United will say a lot about both clubs. And hanging onto Toby Alderweireld instead of allowing him to steady Manchester United’s creaky back line was smart.

Watford (Predicted 18th; New spot 12th) — Don’t get us wrong, the Hornets have not done much yet. Beating a Europa League weary and shallow Burnley isn’t a great feat, though their home defeat of Brighton is a bit more impressive after the Gulls knocked off Man Utd. That said, Javi Gracia‘s men have a clear plan to get service to Troy Deeney and Andre Gray, and terrific playmakers in Roberto Pereyra and Abdoulaye Doucoure. They are better than relegation fodder, and should finish 7-10 points clear of the drop.

Moving down

Manchester United (Predicted 2nd; New spot 5th) –> United probably would’ve drawn Brighton on Sunday had they a few extra minutes on the clock, but there’s a chance Leicester would’ve done the same to them on Opening Day if afforded the same opportunity. Is Eric Bailly the proactive wall we saw versus the Foxes or, well, the reactive problem he was at Brighton?

I believed the start of the season and return to fitness for so many World Cup players would dispel the odious scent from Jose Mourinho’s offseason obnoxiousness. It hasn’t, and it’s going to cost the team the Top Four. That said, I’ll hedge a little and say United’s players may make a decent Champions League run if given a good group stage draw.

Wolves (Predicted 13th; New spot 17th) –> I thought Wolves had enough firepower to challenge for a top half spot, but Nuno Espirito Santo’s side looks incapable of keeping dangerous chances away from goalkeeper Rui Patricio, who can only do so much.

Klopp: Let’s not worry about sending statements to Man City

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Jurgen Klopp thought both his Liverpool and hosts Crystal Palace were feeling exhausted in the second half of the Reds’ 2-0 win at Selhurst Park, so he loudly threatened to murder his players.

Okay, okay, that’s not exactly true, but you be the judge: He got a goal out of it.

[ RECAP: Palace 0-2 Liverpool ]

“In these moments the fuel is really low and maybe the players need a bit of help from an angry manager, ‘Run or I will kill you,’ and they did that with a fantastic counter attack,” Klopp said.

Cool. That said, Klopp pointed tot his team’s commitment to fitness as a reason for their win.

“Second half both teams, you could see Crystal Palace maybe struggle a little bit more than we did but it was for us very intense as well,” he said. “We had these big chances, didn’t use them. They had their moments when Alisson had to make a few saves. The save on the free kick was outstanding. I know we have to play much better but for tonight I’m absolutely fine with that.”

Klopp bristled when asked about meeting Man City’s 6-1 defeat of Huddersfield Town with a fairly complete performance against Palace.

 “I am not interested in sending statement to Manchester City or anyone else. We want to win football games and that’s what we did tonight.”