Belgium are currently the number one ranked side in world football, overtaking superpowers like Brazil who they eliminated from last year’s World Cup. Simply put, no country per capita is remotely producing as many top footballers as they are. So what’s their secret?
Following the traditional ‘slamming shut’ of the transfer window, albeit at the markedly un-traditional time — before a ball has been kicked in anger — attention can now turn to how teams will line up and not to what gaps still need to be filled.
And then there was one. Well, two actually, but the World Cup third-place play-off is definitely one of those nominally competitive fixtures which presents a fairly robust challenge to my old friend Declan Lynch’s wise maxim that there’s never a good reason not to watch a football match.
The vagaries of the group stage format at a Fifa World Cup were laid bare in the final round of fixtures as England’s reserves laboured to a 1-0 defeat against Belgium, safe in the knowledge that finishing second in Group G probably opens up a better route to the final.
Chelsea produced the kind of attacking performance in Europe that Manchester United fans were screaming for 24 hours earlier, but found centurion Lionel Messi was still too good for them, as they lost 3-0 in the Nou Camp in what was the harshest of Champions League lessons.
And then there were four. Four games and 12 points which Pep Guardiola and Manchester City require to make mathematically certain of the Premier League title after Bernardo Silva’s goal allowed his team to open up an 18-point lead at the top of the table.
Antonio Conte may have seen his long-running feud with Jose Mourinho come to an end at Old Trafford but it may also have been the afternoon when the Chelsea manager saw his team’s hopes of a Champions League place similarly disappear into thin air.
If there were any suggestions that Manchester City’s solo waltz to the Premier League title would take all the drama out of 2018, then Arsenal and Chelsea provided the perfect riposte with a wonderful match full of skill, resolve, and scintillating football — from two teams who know they cannot win the big prize.
Eden Hazard maintaining his fitness and form is clearly key to Chelsea hanging on to the coattails of what passes for a title race this season. Getting him to stay at Chelsea long-term is central to any future success the London side might challenge for.
Eden Hazard scored twice as Chelsea battled to a 3-3 draw with Roma to stay top of Champions League Group C. Chelsea had surrendered a two-goal lead to trail 3-2 with 20 minutes remaining after former Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko’s quick-fire double.
They are supposed to be embroiled in yet another ‘crisis’ at Stamford Bridge, but a dramatic victory over London rivals Tottenham at Wembley, inspired by two-goal Marcos Alonso, showed pretty emphatically that the Chelsea spirit is very much alive, even in the post-John Terry era.