England will have a brilliant opportunity to go top of Group 2 of UEFA Nations League A as they go head-to-head current table-toppers Belgium on Sunday.
Belgium had narrowly missed out on the Championship playoffs of UEFA Nations League A in the 2018/19 edition, with Switzerland edging them on goal difference in Group 2 on the back of a last-match 5-2 win over the former. The Red Devils will now hope that history doesn’t repeat itself, with Belgium currently leading Group 2, amassing three wins in four matches so far.
England, though, are the only team to inflict a defeat to Belgium in this iteration of the UEFA Nations League A Group 2 and will hope for a repeat as it would see them topple Belgium and maybe even top the group, depending on how the match between Denmark and Iceland goes.
The current leaders warmed up in a rather cagey manner, narrowly beating Switzerland 2-1 in an international friendly on Thursday. England, on the other hand, recorded a rather convincing 3-0 win over Ireland, with captain Harry Maguire scoring on his first game in charge of the armband since the incident in Greece.
A draw here will not do England any good and that sets this fixture up rather well for a Sunday treat coming our way from the King Power Stadion in Leuven. Let us take a closer look at the two squads.
Team News & Tactics
Manager Roberto Martinez will be without the services of Timothy Castagne and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, while Alexis Saelemaekers, Leandro Trossard and Hendrik Van Crombrugge have all withdrawn due to injury. Star man Eden Hazard is unlikely to be involved, having recently tested positive for coronavirus, while Thomas Kaminski is also set to miss out for the hosts on Sunday evening.
Roberto Martinez fielded a second-string side in the friendly encounter against Switzerland earlier in the week, but we can expect him to recall all the heavy-hitters when England come visiting. Thibaut Courtois is yet to play in the current edition of the Nations League and that should change this weekend, with the Real Madrid set for his first appearance in the competition.
The three-man backline of Toby Alderweireld, Jason Denayer and Dedryck Boyata pretty much picks itself, with Jan Vertonghen unlikely to feature against a pacy England attack. Thomas Meunier is a certainty as the right-sided wing-back while the absence of Carrasco and Castagne means Thorgan Hazard is a shoo-in as the left wing-back for the Red Devils.
There is no looking past the central midfield duo of Youri Tielemans and Axel Witsel, both of whom have been in impressive form for Leicester City and Borussia Dortmund respectively. The creative responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of Manchester City stalwart Kevin De Bruyne, who will slot in as one of the attacking midfielders, along with Napoli’s ace forward Dries Mertens.
Star striker Romelu Lukaku is the obvious choice to spearhead the Belgium attack, although Michy Batshuayi and Jeremy Doku are viable alternatives that the manager can call upon.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Denayer, Boyata; Meunier, Witsel, Tielemans, Hazard; De Bruyne, Mertens; Lukaku
England will have to make do without a number of their regulars for the game against Belgium. Manager Gareth Southgate will be without Liverpool duo Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold while Marcus Rashford has also withdrawn due to injury. In addition, Wolves skipper Conor Coady also misses out while Harry Maguire and Reece James are out because of suspension.
While there were some standout performers in the friendly win against Republic or Ireland, the manager is expected to recall his regulars for the important game this weekend. This would see Jordan Pickford reclaim his spot in goal from Nick Pope, while Eric Dier and Kyle Walker should start in the three-man backline, with Tyrone Mings retaining his place in the side.
With no James or Alexander-Arnold available, Kieran Trippier is expected to slot in as the right-sided wing-back while Chelsea’s in-form defender Ben Chilwell should get the nod on the left. Vice-captain Jordan Henderson ought to pair up with Declan Rice, who is on the radars of Chelsea, in the centre of the park.
Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling ought to start in the wide-attacking midfield roles for the Three Lions while captain Harry Kane spearheads the England attack against the Belgians.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Pickford; Walker, Dier, Mings; Trippier, Henderson, Rice, Chilwell; Mount, Sterling; Kane
- This will be the 25th meeting between Belgium and England. The Three Lions have the clear upper-hand when it comes to head-to-head record, having beaten the Red Devils on 16 occasions previously (D4 L4).
- The last six encounters between these two nations have seen each pick up three victories each. There have been no drawn games between the two in their last seven clashes.
- England have lost just two of their last twelve matches in all competitions (including friendlies). Gareth Southgate’s side have come out on the winning side in nine of those matches.
- Belgium, on the other hand, have tasted defeat in just one of their previous sixteen encounters. However, that loss came against their Sunday’s opponents in the ongoing edition of the UEFA Nations League.
- Only Norway (11) have managed to outscore Belgium (10) in the current edition of the UEFA Nations League so far. In contrast, England have netted just three goals so far in the competition.
Player to Watch
The England skipper has enjoyed a stellar start to the 2020/21 campaign, racking up 13 goals and 10 assists in 14 matches across all competitions for Tottenham Hotspur. In the process, the 27-year-old has also reached the 200-goal mark for the club, while also netting his 150th Premier League goal earlier this month.
Given the kind of form that he has been in, Kane, without a doubt will be the biggest weapon for England and the greatest threat to Belgium’s hopes of racking up a victory, when the two teams battle it out in Leuven.
Belgium 1-1 England
England came from behind to beat Belgium 2-1 last time out and come into the weekend’s game on the back of a strong win against Ireland in a friendly. Belgium, on the other hand, have registered two wins in two since that defeat to England, although they were tested by Switzerland in their most recent outing.
Both teams are in a good moment heading into the fixture and with most of the regulars set to be recalled to the respective lineups, it will be a tough match to call. England might not be the most fluent attacking sides currently but have been rigid and robust defensively, which might be a major hindrance in Belgium’s pursuit of a win. The Hard Tackle, thus, predicts this one to end in a 1-1 draw.