The 2014 World Cup is on the horizon, and Belgium manager Marc Wilmots has a crucial decision to make – whether to choose Aston Villa's Christian Benteke or Romelu Lukaku of Everton as his leading striker.
Both players have taken the league by storm since arriving from Belgium last summer. Benteke almost single-handedly kept Villa in the Premier League with 19 goals following a £7m move from Genk in August last year. He's continued that sensational record this season, with four goals in just five games in the division (an efficiency strike-conversion rate of one goal every 97 minutes).
Meanwhile, Lukaku was sent out on loan to West Bromwich Albion after his £17m switch from Anderlecht to Chelsea, and bagged 17 league goals – outscoring all of Chelsea's strikers in the process. Expected to make an impact at Stamford Bridge this season, Lukaku slipped down the pecking order upon the arrival of Samuel Eto'o and was subsequently loaned out to Everton, where he has already scored three goals and notched an assist in only two league games.
Both players are young and talented, but Wilmots prefers to use a 4-3-3 formation with one central striker, meaning one of them would miss out…
THE CASE FOR BENTEKE
Of the eight qualifying games Belgium have played so far, Benteke has started all but one – the opening fixture against Wales, where he was an unused substitute. Heading into a tournament where Belgium are dark horses, Wilmots will want to keep as much continuity as possible, and the 22 year old's regular action in qualifying stands him in good stead for the World Cup. Benteke also possesses the better scoring rate at international level of the two, whilst Lukaku has earned himself a reputation as a 'super-sub' at West Brom and Everton, and his impact off the bench will be valuable to Wilmots and Belgium.
THE CASE FOR LUKAKU
Lukaku's raw athleticism makes him a headache for defenders, and his combination of speed and strength will tire defences out in the Brazilian heat, allowing the speed of Eden Hazard and Kevin Mirallas to exploit the space behind the back four. Whilst Benteke is arguably the superior of the two players in the air, Lukaku is more adept with the ball at his feet and shows better control in possession.
THE CASE FOR BOTH
The two players offer similar attributes – strength, athleticism and predatory instincts, but Wilmots experimented with a two-man strike-force in a recent friendly against the United States, and the Benteke-Lukaku duo was too much to handle for Jurgen Klinsmann's side, as Benteke bagged two goals in a 4-2 victory. Could any defence handle these two together? Moving away from their usual 4-3-3 formation would be unlikely unless they were trailing, but it's an option that Wilmots has at his disposal.
Given Wilmots' preference in qualifying, it seems Benteke has the upper hand as things stand. Lukaku's impact off the bench could be vital to Belgium's chances of success at the tournament, but it would be a major shock if Wilmots deviated from his usual system. Benteke's superior goalscoring record at both club and international level makes him the clear favourite, but with around eight months to go until the World Cup begins, can Lukaku force himself into the starting line up?
Who would you choose to lead the line for Belgium – Benteke or Lukaku? Comment with your opinion...
image: © little-pete