Low country for young men

Posted by Martin Laurence, WhoScored.com

Jan Vertonghen celebrates after he fired Spurs into the lead at AnfieldGettyImagesJan Vertonghen celebrates after he fired Spurs into the lead at Anfield

The development of an increasingly impressive footballing nation is taking centre stage in England right now, as Belgium attempt to make up for a decade of hurt on the international scene.

Four of the 18 goals netted in just six matches in the Premier League this weekend came from Belgians, and the English top-flight is currently home to a crop that is catching the eye. An unlikely Jan Vertonghen double wasn't enough for Spurs to take anything from their match at Anfield, but goals from Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku ensured wins for their respective Midlands employers.

Elsewhere, Swansea loanee Roland Lamah would have made the aforementioned Lukaku rue a second half penalty miss at the Hawthorns had it not been for a terrible offside call given against him, while Chelsea's Eden Hazard inspired an impressive comeback for the Blues at Old Trafford with a wonderful curling effort.

This weekend's exploits from the Belgian contingent certainly weren't a one off either, with four players from the nation making their way into WhoScored.com's top 20 players thus far this season. The highest rated of those actually had a weekend to forget, with Everton's Marouane Fellaini (7.63) subject to some jeers after a lackadaisical performance in the shock defeat to Wigan which saw him substituted.

The Toffees subsequently cancelled a meet and greet with the fans from their afro-clad midfielder and his future at the club looks increasingly in doubt. Elsewhere on Merseyside the 25 year old's compatriot Kevin Mirallas has made a good impression, and we've yet to mention the likes of Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen and Mousa Dembele, while Simon Mignolet has arguably been one of the league's best keepers this season.

Indeed, you could field an entire XI of players from Belgium to have started matches in the Premier League and, from the look of the line-up below, they'd give any team a run for their money.

 

Only English and Spanish players have netted more goals in England's elite division than the 49 shared out between just 12 Belgians to make an appearance this season. When considering that the tally scored by players from England (234) has been shared out by almost 190 players and the 66 from Spaniards have come from 27 it's clear that there's real quality at national team coach Marc Wilmots' disposal.

With the likes of Alderweireld, van Buyten, Witsel, De Bruyne and Mertens all thrown into the mix, the chances of them reaching the 2014 World Cup look strong, despite the fact they have failed to qualify for a major tournament since they made it to the World Cup in 2002. If they were to progress to the competition in Brazil they could even be a dark horse for some, with the oldest player in the above Premier League line-up just 27 (Vermaelen).

Taking a brief look at WhoScored's top 5 rated Belgians, we start with Fellaini whose 11 goals include a joint league high of five headed strikes. He's found himself in great positions this season, particularly from crosses - recording the joint second most headed attempts (23) - and will feel hard done by not to have scored more, having had the joint most shots from inside the six-yard box blocked (4), while only van Persie has hit the woodwork more times (5).

Tottenham's Vertonghen has quickly established himself as one of the league's most solid centre-halves, racking up the fourth most interceptions (73) in the league, and the most tackles (73) and clearances (213) for Spurs this season. The fact that he struck twice at Anfield is also less surprising when considering that he's had the second most shots from set pieces in the league (10).

Aston Villa's top-flight safety surely relies on the continued form of Benteke. Only Liverpool’s Luis Suarez has more goals in the division since the turn of the year than the big man's seven, and the 22-year-old has won the most aerial duels by a distance (225). He’s also scored the joint-second most right footed goals (10) and accounted for 43% of Villa's overall goal tally (12 of 28) - the highest contribution in the division.

Dembele joined Vertonghen at White Hart Lane in the summer and his performances have been up there with those of the centre-back, with Bale perhaps Spurs' only superior player this season. The midfielder ranks among the top 10 players in the league for pass accuracy (90.9%) and successful dribbles (46), as well as the top 20 for tackles (67) and key passes (44).

While his form hasn't been consistent this season, Hazard's brilliant performance from the bench at the weekend is not something new to Chelsea fans. He is the club's third top scorer in the league, with seven, and ranks second in the top-flight in terms of assists from open play (7). Like Dembele he is also among the top 20 for key passes (48) and successful dribbles (42) and certainly has time on his side to become a world-class player at Stamford Bridge.

Whether Belgium could actually mount a serious challenge for major international honours in the future remains to be seen, but the groundwork and potential is there as more and more of their stars make the move to top European sides.

*All stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

ESPN Conversations