The Good, the Bad and the Opposition: Observations from England’s 2-1 win over Belgium in UEFA Nations League Group A play.
England 2-1 Belgium
Wembley Stadium, England
October 11th, 2020
By Stewart Flaherty (@stewartflaherty)
England moved into first place in UEFA Nationals League A group 2 with a 2-1 comeback win over Belgium courtesy of Mason Mount’s winning goal. Belgium started the game impressively and took the lead courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku penalty, England winger Marcus Rashford replied from the penalty spot before Mount scored the decisive goal in the 65th minute.
You can find a full game report on the BBC website here.
1 – RESILIENCE AND ADJUSTMENT
England were thoroughly outplayed in the first 20 minutes and Belgium had the better of the first half overall. The Three Lions went a goal down and Belgium also had a Yannick Carrasco goal disallowed for offside in a dominant spell for the visitors. Rashford’s penalty leveled matters before Southgate made adjustments and rallied his troops at the interval.
During the second half, Mount scored from Kieran Trippier’s assist to cap a comeback win, and in a reflection of England’s improvement, Belgium’s xG rating fell from 1.45 in the first half, to only 0.67 in the second period. In the final stages of the game. England did more than just hang onto their lead in the late stages with Harry Kane heading a corner wide before Declan Rice carried the ball forward and teed up Rashford to fire wide with a golden opportunity to kill off the game.
England defended strongly in the second half, pressing more aggressively and giving some physical treatment to Lukaku who had been so dominant in the first half. The ability to blunt the Belgian attack and step more aggressively to win the ball by England was a key factor in the post halftime shift in momentum.
2 – RETURN OF JORDAN HENDERSON
Henderson receives more criticism than you would expect for a player who has so recently won the FWA Footballer of the Year. One of the biggest indicators of Henderson’s value is displayed when he is missing from the lineup.
Without their captain in Iceland and Denmark last month, the England midfield was labored and lacked energy in many phases of both games. Henderson made an impact on his return, winning plenty of ball, connecting passes throughout and also winning the penalty Rashford equalized from when he was dragged down in the penalty area by Thomas Meunier.
3 – TOP OF THE TABLE
The win puts England on top of the table at the halfway stage of this UEFA Nations League campaign. Gareth Southgate’s team will enter their upcoming midweek clash with Denmark with a one point lead at the top of the table, while Belgium will look to return to winning ways as they face Iceland.
1 – DEFENDING THE WIDE CHANNELS
England have played a 3-4-3 of late and one potential flaw of that formation is the wide channels. The back three is forced to slide over in quick and organized fashion if an opponent breaks quickly, or the wide midfielders Alexander-Arnold and Trippier can be pinned into a back five if they track opposing runs as shown below.
Belgium had a lot of joy in the first half attacking the England flanks with Lukaku heading wide, Carrasco having a goal disallowed from Mounier’s cutback and Lukaku winning his penalty with a dribble in the wide channel all during the first 15 minutes.
2 – KANE FITNESS
Star striker Kane is struggling for fitness with his club manager Jose Mourinho publicly questioning how long England should use him for. Kane put in a 25 minute cameo appearance off the bench here and it remains to be seen what part he will play in the upcoming Denmark game.
3 – STAR FULLBACK OUT OF POSITION?
Liverpool right back Alexander-Arnold spent last season racking up 4 goals and 13 assists as his club surged to the Premier League title. With England of late, he has played in the right of midfield in a 3-4-3. There are some subtle differences between the two roles that make it harder for Alexander-Arnold to be as impactful going forward with England.
In Liverpool’s system, the attacking fullback goes forward when the opposition fullback is already occupied marking right winger Mohamed Salah. In this game, England winger Mount floated more central and it was much easier for the opposing defender to pick up Alexander-Arnold when he was the first player entering the attacking channel on his side.
In addition it is more common to receive the ball standing still wide in midfield as opposed to overlapping with a full head of steam out of a back four.
England have incorporated diagonal balls out to Alexander-Arnold in the game plan noticeably in the game plan in both this game and the previous 0-0 draw in Denmark, but his service into the box has been limited and he has registered only one assist to date in his England career to date during a 7-0 win over Montenegro (where he played in a back four).
THE OPPOSITION – BELGIUM
1 – LUKAKU SPEARHEADING ATTACK
Belgium striker Lukaku received a lot of criticism during his time in England despite registering a very respectable 42 goals and 13 assists during his recent stint at Manchester United. Lukaku has got off to a blazing start at current club Inter Milan by racking up 39 goals and 6 assists in his first 56 games.
The powerful striker reminded English fans of his quality here, leading the line with a performance full of pace, strength and quality. Lukaku showed the ability to drop deep to link play and showcased his speed when he embarked on a long dribble into the England penalty area before being brought down by Eric Dier to win a penalty. His subsequent goal from the penalty spot was his 53rd in 86 games for Belgium, and ended a run of 6 straight clean sheets for the Three Lions.
2 – STAR PLAYMAKERS FITNESS AND FORM DIP?
Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard have been the playmaking fulcrum of this Belgium team over the past few years, combining as a pair for 51 goals and 69 assists for the Red Devils. Hazard did not make this squad due to injury and registered only one goal in limited action during the recent 2019/2020 La Liga campaign with Real Madrid.
De Bruyne is coming off a stellar 2019/2020 season where he tallied 13 goals and 20 assists for Manchester City on the way to being named PFA Player of the Year. In this game, De Bruyne played wide right in a front three as opposed to his more familiar central role.
De Bruyne played well but when he received possession he was almost always under tight pressure and regularly forced into less dangerous passes, or suffocated by the English defensive numbers. Questions about De Bruyne’s fitness were also raised when he was subbed off in the 73rd minute with Belgium chasing a goal to equalize.
3 – DROP TO SECOND PLACE
Going into UEFA Nations League A play Belgium were widely tipped to win this group, they will now likely need to beat England in the upcoming November rematch in Belgium to stay on track for first place and advance to the semi-finals of the competition.
16’ BEL Romelu Lukaku PK 0-1
39’ ENG Marcus Rashford PK (Jordan Henderson) 1-1
65’ ENG Mason Mount (Kieran Trippier) 2-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#11 F Marcus Rashford (England) – Impressive display from Rashford who equalized from the penalty spot and showcased excellent 1v1 attacking ability throughout.
3: F Marcus Rashford – Man of the Match.
2: F Mason Mount – Mount showed quality on the ball and floated central to good effect, capped a quality performance with the winning goal.
1: CM Jordan Henderson – All action display from Henderson who made his presence felt all game and won the penalty that tied the scores going into halftime.
3: CF Romelu Lukaku – The Inter Milan striker terrorized England’s backline with his pace and strength, also showing quality on the ball as he linked the attack and combined with his wingers.
2: LM Timothy Castagne – A thorn in England’s side down the left flank consistently, Castagne penetrated well and showed quality on the ball.
1: F Kevin De Bruyne – Playing wide left rather than his more familiar central role, De Bruyne linked play well and provided good service to striker Lukaku.
ENG: Pickford, Dier, Maguire, Walker, Trippier, Henderson (Philips), Rice, Alexander-Arnold (James), Mount (Sancho), Rashford, Calvert-Lewin (Kane).
BEL: Mignolet, Aldeweireld, Denayer, Boyata, Meunier, Witsel, Tielemans, Castagne, Carrasco (Doku), De Bruyne Verschaeren), Lukaku.
Game highlights can be found on the England YouTube page here.