Axel Witsel (32) seems confident in midfield. Who should become the man next to him is still open. “I feel just as good next to Hans, Youri or Kevin…” Remarkable: Witsel forgot – perhaps unconsciously – Amadou Onana.
Pieter-Jan Calcoen in Doha
He himself has “no preference”, Axel Witsel said about who should become his partner in midfield. Because his role “will not change anyway”, it sounded. “More than ever I play like a number six. At the World Cup in Brazil I went up and down, up and down, up and down… (laughs) Those days are over now. I am convinced that I am still as good as in 2014, but I am not the same player anymore. Am I still smart? (grins) Yes, it is. But for the rest I fill it in differently than eight years ago.”
There are several options. Two got their chance against Egypt: Hans Vanaken and Youri Tielemans. The latter has been on an excellent form in the Premier League in recent weeks – he impressed with his long shots -, but he started in Kuwait on the bench in favor of Vanaken. The Limburger, who previously proved to be an added value for the national team, was not good, as hardly anyone was. Then Tielemans had more impact after the break.
It remains to be seen whether one of those two will get a basic place against Canada. White does not matter. “Because I feel just as good next to Hans, Youri or Kevin,” said the Atlético Madrid player, who indicated “maybe finishing his last World Cup”. It was striking that Witsel did not mention Amadou Onana in his summary. An omission – can happen – or the signal that Witsel does not think Onana is eligible? For the outside world, the Everton midfielder, who did not get any minutes against Egypt, is nevertheless a potential titular. There are votes to put it on Wednesday.
When Witsel was asked what Onana can teach, he was full of (mean) praise. “We will be able to put him to good use. Amadou looks a bit like Marouane Fellaini. He is strong and big, can force something. His profile is unique, and that’s interesting.”
There is something to be said for each of the three. Tielemans has the good feet and the great shot. Vanaken the peace and the nose for goals. Onana the youthful enthusiasm and specific qualities.
De Bruyne a row backwards?
But it doesn’t stop at three names. As Witsel rightly pointed out, there is also the option of pulling Kevin De Bruyne out of ‘the pocket’ and placing him in central midfield. That could enable Roberto Martinez to keep Eden Hazard in the eleven, together with, for example, Jérémy Doku or Leandro Trossard. In any case, Witsel likes to play with KDB – should it be surprising? “Kevin is primarily a teammate and a friend, but he is also perhaps the best midfielder in the world.”
Another thing: in theory Leander Dendoncker could also do it, but when Martinez gave his 26 selections for the World Cup, he divided the West Fleming among the defenders. A Dendoncker-Witsel midfield would therefore be surprising.