The Good, the Bad and the Opposition: Observations from England’s 2-0 defeat in Brussels to give Belgium pole position in UEFA Nations League A Group 2.
Belgium 2-0 England
UEFA Nations League A
November 15th, 2020
Koning Boudewijn Stadion, Brussels
By Stewart Flaherty (@stewartflaherty)
Belgium seized the upper hand in UEFA Nations League A Group 2 with a convincing 2-0 win over England in Brussels. Youri Tielemans opened the scoring with a shot from the edge of the penalty area, before Dries Mertens.curled a free kick past Jordan Pickford to give the Red Devils an unassailable first half lead.
The result means Belgium need a win or draw in their final Group 2 game at home against Denmark, while the Danes know only a win will be enough to see them top the group and move into the semi final stage. England are eliminated from final four contention, and will be looking to restore pride by ending their campaign with a home win over pointless Iceland.
You can find a full detailed match report on the BBC website here.
PRESS SUCCESSFUL IN SPELLS
England were second best in this game, so the positives is more like an exercise in signs of quality that could aid future success, rather than what achieved a result on this day. England played in their much discussed but now familiar 3-4-3 shape, and showed signs of an organized and aggressive press that was able to unsettle Belgium’s attempts to build from the back at times and create turnovers. According to Wyscout statistics, England achieved 27 ball recoveries in the attacking half, as opposed to Belgium’s 11.
HARRY KANE AND JACK GREALISH COMBINING WELL
England’s brightest attacking spells came via the combination of central striker Kane and left winger Grealish. Both players found pockets of space between Belgian lines well and showed the ability to create shots, both for themselves and each other while also showing a good understanding of each other’s movement.
While they did not create a goal here, the pair did show the ability to spark an England attack that has now scored only 3 goals in their 5 UEFA Nationals League games to date.
ADDED MIDFIELD STEEL OF JORDAN HENDERSON
While his minutes are being managed, the return of Jordan Henderson to England’s central midfield department is visibly important to the Three Lions. In his absence against Iceland and Denmark to open group play, England toiled in midfield and were able to possess but had trouble breaking lines and moving the ball up the front three effectively, even against last placed Iceland.
England’s home win against Belgium was the only game Henderson played over 45 minutes in this campaign (66 minutes) and Henderson played a key role in England’s best result of the campaign so far. Following that game, Henderson played only 14 minutes off the bench as Christian Eriksen dominated England’s midfield and Denmark gained all three points at Wembley Stadium.
In the 45 minutes Henderson played here before being replaced at halftime by Harry Winks, the Liverpool captain displayed the defensive steel he adds when part of the engine room, winning the ball and tracking opposing runs to good effect. The defensive strength of Henderson takes on added importance in England’s 3-4-3 formation, as the Three Lions often face opposition with an extra man in the central midfield department. Just as with his club team, it is likely the presence of Henderson will be a key factor if England are to have success in the European championship tournament next summer.
England turned the ball over in dangerous spots throughout the game, including a costly loose pass out of the back by Eric Dier that led to Belgium’s opening goal. Kyle Walker also struggled in possession and was credited by Wyscout with 14 giveaways, 5 of which came in his own half.
The strength of Gareth Southgate’s team is their front three, but it is important that England show more consistent quality in possession when they face top level opposition. The inability to effectively possess the ball through the thirds has contributed to the misfiring offense on display during this campaign.
ELIMINATED FROM CONTENTION
The hopes of winning this tournament are now over for England, with only Belgium and Denmark standing a chance of qualification into the semi finals. This win gave Belgium pole position in Group 2 with 12 points, while Denmark beat Iceland 2-1 courtesy of two penalties from Eriksen. The result leaves the Danes in second place with 10 points, knowing a final day win over Belgium would see them nick top spot and move on to the final stages.
The 1-0 home defeat to Denmark combined with this result means England can have no complaints, and the Three Lions will be looking to bow out of the tournament with a strong performance at home against Iceland.
GOALS DRIED UP
This shutout means England have now netted only 3 goals in 5 UEFA Nations League games, a stark contrast from the 37 goals in 8 games netted during Euro 2020 qualifying. Captain and 2018 World Cup Golden Boot winner Kane led the way in qualifying with 12 goals, but has yet to find the net in any of his 5 appearances during UEFA Nations League A play this term..
THE OPPOSITION – BELGIUM
POLE POSITION IN GROUP 2
Group 2 leaders Belgium go into their final home game against Denmark knowing a win or draw will be enough to seal top spot and qualification into the semi finals. The Red Devils will go into that game without suspended midfielder Axel Witsel, but coach Roberto Martinez has the option of moving Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne into a central position or calling upon Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Leander Dendoncker as cover.
ORGANIZED DEFENSIVE UNIT
When people speak of Belgium, the attacking stars such as De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku are often the first players discussed. While those players lead the way, the Red Devils have shown themselves to be a stubborn defensive force, conceding only 4 goals in their 5 UEFA Nations League games to date.
In front of a quality back three, Tielemans and Witsel keep a solid shape and forced many of the England turnovers highlighted in the video above, while allowing their more attack minded teammates to roam into dangerous areas up front.
RED HOT STRIKER
As opposed to England captain Kane’s reduced production, Belgium hot shot Lukaku is going from strength to strength. In seemingly every game he plays, the powerful Inter Milan target man exhibits good movement, quality hold up play and is in red hot scoring form. Lukaku has scored 3 goals in his 5 games so far this campaign, bringing his career total with the Belgian national team to an eye popping 55 goals in 88 games. During this game, Lukaku even displayed his defensive value with a goal line clearance to deny opposite number Kane in the 12th minute with the score at 1-0.
10’ BEL Youri Tielemans (Romelu Lukaku) 1-0
24’ BEL Dries Mertens (Kevin De Bruyne) 2-0
MAN OF THE MATCH
#9 CF Romelu Lukaku (Belgium) – An exhibition of dynamic movement and quality holdup play from the striker, capped off with assisting Tielemans on the opening goal to send Belgium on the way to all three points.
3: CF Romelu Lukaku – Man of the Match.
2: CD Jason Denayer – Quality defensive performance from Denayer playing in the center of the Red Devils back three. Tightly marked and held scoreless World Cup Golden Boot winner Kane, and showed quality playing out of the back against an aggressive England press.
1: CM Youri Tielemans – Recycled possession consistently all game and provided a defensive shield in front of the back three alongside Witsel. Joined the attack well and scored the opening goal with a quality finish from 20 yards out in the 10th minute.
3: F Jack Grealish – Played on the left wing and found pockets of space all game, showed world class ability on the ball and combined well with striker Kane in the spells of attack England did have.
2: CF Harry Kane – Held off the scoreboard for the 5th consecutive time in this tournament, but Kane held the ball up well throughout in a difficult game and showed an understanding with Grealish that will excite England fans.
1: CM Jordan Henderson – Played only half a game, but a shining light on the defensive end and his role is vital to an England team struggling to master the 3-4-3 shape currently adopted by Southgate.
BEL: Courtois, Vertonghen, Denayer, Alderweireld, Hazard, Tielemans, Witsel, Meunier, De Bruyne, Mertens (Praet), Lukaku.
ENG: Pickford, Walker, Dier, Mings, Chilwell (Saka), Henderson (Winks), Rice, Trippier (Sancho), Mount (Calvert-Lewin), Grealish, Kane.
You can find full highlights on the England YouTube channel here.