Martinez: I’ve been so impressed by Witsel

Roberto Martinez has applauded Axel Witsel and admitted he doesn’t know how he will fit the returning Kevin De Bruyne into his Belgium side.

“Axel Witsel has such an impressive personality,” said the 43-year-old Spaniard. “He’s someone who’s been playing in Russia for a long time and is very reliable. In Russia they love him. He won’t miss a minute – he’s always there. That shows how intelligent he is.

“I’ve been very impressed by Axel. With his tactical intelligence he can adapt to different systems.”

Dries or KDB? A hamstring injury ruled Kevin De Bruyne out of Belgium’s last two 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifiers. Martinez selected Dries Mertens in his place, and the Napoli winger excelled in a 4-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina and a 6-0 defeat of Gibraltar.

Since returning to the Manchester City side, De Bruyne has notched assists in his last two Premier League appearances and scored a free-kick in a surprise 3-1 win over Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League. So who will Martinez select for the friendly against the Netherlands on Friday and the Russia 2018 qualifier at home to Estonia four days later?

“It’s a big problem,” conceded the former Everton manager. “Kevin is having probably the best season of his career. We couldn’t wait until he was fit again.

“But Dries Mertens has done exceptionally well. He was probably our most impressive player in recent matches. And he’s been doing well for his club. Dries is in good form and we should take advantage of this.”

Belgium head Group H in Russia 2018 qualifying, above Greece on goal difference and Bosnia-Herzegovina by three points.

Only Brazil (20), Germany (18), Italy (18), Argentina (16) and Mexico (15), England (14), France (14) and Spain (14) have participated in more World Cups than Belgium (12).