England and Belgium will both be looking to top Group G and win bragging rights over the other in their final group stage match at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
England have been brimming with confidence in Russia, especially after the nervy 2-1 win over Tunisia. The near-costly mistake from Kyle Walker seems to have sprung everyone into their best form at the World Cup. Gareth Southgate though, will be looking to address the open play situation, with England creating just seven clear chances from open play, the lowest after Panama.
Talking about chances from open play, Romelu Lukaku has been receiving some quality service from his compatriots upfront. This has seen the Manchester United striker come into his own after a belligerent first 45 minutes in Russia. Lukaku has repaid the faith being put in him by the manager and his teammates, with 4 goals to his name so far.
The match, while equally important in terms of getting the top spot, will also provide the opportunity to rotate and experiment with the lineup, something Southgate is more likely to do, compared to Roberto Martinez.
It will be interesting to see what lineup each manager decides to name as we take a closer look at the two squads.
Team News & Tactics
Gareth Southgate will not want to experiment much and risk losing the rhythm of the squad. But, what he would like is to give an opportunity to the other players to grab some much needed experience of playing at such a big stage while also look towards establishing a better open play rhythm, something which has been lacking in the two games so far.
John Stones should retain his place, but we should see Phil Jones and Gary Cahill come in on either side of him. Ashley Young should also be given a rest, with Danny Rose coming in on the left. Same should be the case with Kieran Trippier, with Trent Alexander-Arnold likely to be handed an exciting chance to make his presence known in Russia.
Marcus Rashford should come in to partner Harry Kane up front, who will be one of the few stars to be safe from any possible rotation that might happen.
Two players that need an extended run and are likely to be afforded the same are Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard. While the latter did well, Alli is yet to come out of his shell and the match against Belgium could be a nice occasion for the Tottenham man to come into his own.
Alli though, is doubtful for the match and we could see a start for Ruben Loftus-Cheek should the Tottenham midfielder not be fit enough to feature from the get-go.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Pickford; Jones, Stones, Cahill; Alexander-Arnold, Loftus-Cheek, Dier, Lingard, Rose; Kane, Rashford
Roberto Martinez does not seem to be that big of a fan of rotating things when it comes to managing the Belgium National Team. Still, he has to bear in mind that there is only a fine line between resting someone to restore their energy and risk losing someone’s sharpness.
The same is the case with Romelu Lukaku. Ideally, Lukaku should be rested. But, Martinez is unlikely to risk the probability of Lukaku losing his form that he has shown over the two games so far. However, should the striker not recover full fitness in time, Michy Batshuayi should start upfront for the Red Devils.
One of the major rotations might come at the back. Vincent Kompany, if fit, will be given a chance to get minutes under his belt so that Martinez can assess his viability for the Round of 16.
Another player that is likely to be rested is Dries Mertens, with Thorgan Hazard expected to be given a chance of partnering his brother in the two-pronged attack behind the leading striker. But, Eden Hazrd should be rested for the tie and we should see Thorgan partner Youri Tielemans.
We should see Mousa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini come into the midfield in place of Axel Witsel and Kevin De Bruyne.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen; Meunier, Dembele, Fellaini, Carrasco; Thorgan Hazard, Tielemans; Batshuayi
1. Belgium have won just 1 of their 21 meetings with England. (D5 L15)
2. England managed to win all three games of the group stage at a World Cup in just the 1982 edition.
3. Harry Kane has scored in each of his last five appearances for England. The last player to score in six consecutive matches for England was Tommy Lawton in 1939.
4. Romelu Lukaku has scored 4 goals from 4 shots on target so far at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
5. Romelu Lukaku has faced an opposition with Jordan Pickford in goal 3 times in his footballing career and has a record of 5 goals to show for his efforts.
Player to Watch
It has to be the golden boy of Manchester United. Marcus Rashford already showed what he is capable of in the warmup games before the World Cup. While the player has not been afforded a start so far by Gareth Southgate, the Manchester United prodigy will be looking to change his manager’s mind with a driven performance against Belgium.
Bear in mind that this is Rashford’s first World Cup and every minute he spends on the pitch will aid his development immensely. His club teammate Jesse Lingard has already left his imprint on the World Cup with a special goal. Time for Rashford to do one of his own?
England 2-2 Belgium
On paper, this is a cakewalk for Belgium, with England not posing as much of talent in all corners, compared to Martinez & co. But, matches are not won on paper. Genuinely, this will be either nation’s first real test. But, with both qualified, it is unlikely to be as enticing as the situation demands.
Despite the rested players though, we are likely to see the players on the pitch give it all, to win and impress their managers enough to consider them for the Round of 16.
Expect England and Belgium both to be a bit clumsy. As they say, sloppy, imperfect football often makes for the most entertaining of matches. And we should be in for one right here in Group G.
Both England and Belgium are expected to score and barring any piece of magic from either side, we should see the two teams end their respective group campaign with a draw, in which case it will be tricky to differentiate their standing and decide who tops the group.
England and Belgium are equal on goal difference and should they play out a draw, they will be unable to be separated on Head-to-Head basis either. With equal goals scored and conceded so far, it will be interesting to see how the top spot will be decided, with fair play the final differentiating factor.