Chelsea's star playmaker Eden Hazard may have to be content with a place on the bench when Belgium host Scotland in a World Cup qualifier after coach Marc Wilmots raised questions over his willingness to track back, defend and help his team mates.
Hazard, who joined the Stamford Bridge club for £32m in the summer, has had to face similar criticism on a few other occasions this season, most notably when the Belgian FA's vice-president, Philippe Collin, said the youngster needed a "kick up his ass".
"He has technique, explosiveness and positioning. At some point he will have to work on defending, and he has no choice with that. But I have confidence that [Belgium manager] Marc Wilmots will occasionally give him a kick up his ass," Collin explained, adding, "The learning process is slow but good. If Messi should work for the team and defend, then I see no reason why Hazard should not do likewise."
Wilmots appears to agree with his chief's sentiments and pointed to the effect of tactical changes involving Hazard and PSV Eindhoven midfielder Dries Mertens (a reported target for Liverpool) in the Red Devils' 3-0 win away to Serbia in Friday's qualifier. Hazard started the game but was substituted after 55 minutes for Mertens.
"On Friday I had to move him away from the centre and put him out on the flank to restore the balance in the centre with [Nacer] Chadli, [Mousa] Dembele and [Axel] Witsel. I spoke to him after the game," Wilmots, who made 70 appearances for the Belgian national team, said after the Serbia game, adding: "Eden should know that, in football today, changing from defence to attack and from attack to defence are essential. But I support him. Step by step, we will get there."
Wilmots also insisted that nobody, not even Hazard, was guaranteed a place in the first team, and that he expected all his players to work as hard as they could in every game.
Belgium presently top Group One, with seven points from three games. Wilmots' will prepare his side for Scotland's visit (the Scots are fifth with two points from three games and in need of a morale boost, after a Home Nations derby defeat to Wales) before a double-header against Macedonia in March next year.