FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 – England vs Belgium PREVIEW
As expected both England and Belgium have picked up 6 points from the first two fixtures against the weaker Tunisia and Panama. Where as England struggled against Tunisia, Belgium destroyed them. However England smashed Panama by a bigger margin than Belgium scoring the tournament high 6 goals in a game. Both sides are equal on points, goal difference, goals scored and goals against. England are edging Belgium at the top due to disciplinary table by having one less booking. Both sides have great attacks and their strikers Kane (5) and Lukaku (4) are banging goals.
So far so good for England. Tied for a highest scoring team in the tournament with 8 goals with Russia and their opponents Belgium. Now, although many would say they’ve only beat Tunisia and Panama, you can’t deny the fact that England have looked better than they have in the recent tournaments and have actually avoided any silly defeats like they’ve been doing in recent tournaments. They were put to a mental test against Tunisia with them working every dirty trick in the book which England overcame winning 2-1 late, then they smashed Panama 6-1 scoring 5 in the first half.
This system that Southgate implied them to play has worked and although there’s been a little shakiness at the back which we’ll get too later in the preview. England’s attacking play has been ruthless. Harry Kane has came to play scoring 5 goals in two games, a hattrick against Panama with a bit of luck, but the way he’s been firing them in so far you’d have to think the confidence than Kane is riding right now is all time high. Lingard has looked sensational so far, probably England’s best player all around, played good against Tunisia and had a MOTM worthy performance against Panama including his top class finish. England’s main strength at scoring has been set pieces scoring the tournament high 6 goals from set pieces alone, corners and penalties have been very good for England and that’s something teams will need to work out.
Now let’s talk about a few weaknesses. Raheem Sterling’s confidence seems a little shaky right now, he hasn’t performed on the highs he did at City and it’s disappointing because he was scoring for fun and now he can’t, don’t be surprised if Rashford took his spot eventually. The other weakness is their backline. England have allowed both Tunisia and Panama to score so coming up against bigger teams it’s a little worry for England. They haven’t been yet tested at the back by a better team so we don’t really know much about the backline. They’re dangerous from set pieces, but there has been shakiness from the back 3, we may see Gary Cahill slot in at some point, but so far the backline is expected to stay the same. Coming up against Belgium, it’ll be a very good test for England’s backline allowing us to evaluate it better. So far their backline is questionable.
The world cup for Belgium has been pretty much the same as it’s been for England, except they put both of their opponents to bed early unlike England with Tunisia. Belgium beat Panama in the opener 3-0 which still led to criticism because they looked a little uninterested at times. However, Belgium heard their critics and put in a much better performance in a 5-2 win against Tunisia. Just like with England, their striker Lukaku has been banging goals for fun, scoring 4 but he has picked up a little knock, could miss out this game however Belgium have a good replacement in Batshuayi who is hungry for goals and has already scored one coming off the bench against Tunisia, he could’ve and probably should’ve had a hattrick in the game.
Belgium’s attacking players have been on fire so far. As mentioned Lukaku has banged them in, however Eden Hazard has been sensational too. He scored a brace past Tunisia and set up one goal against Panama. Eden has been pretty much unstoppable in this tournament he probably should have more assists than 1 in the tournament. Mertens has also looked decent and KDB has had his moments, especially late against Tunisia when he got put in his preferred position he showed his qualities. KDB’s positioning has to be sorted out by Martinez, he has to play further forward than CM. Overall looking Belgium’s attack looks hungry and is in great form. They’ve also scored 8 goals and will look to get a few here against England to keep the momentum.
Belgium’s weakness so far would have to be the defensive line and wing backs. Although Vertonghen and Aldeweireld have been good, Boyata Meunier and Carrasco have been shaky. Carrasco at wing back is the biggest weakness, he can’t defend he’s never been a defender and in this tournament we’ve seen it when he switched off a few times including leading to one of the Tunisia’s goals. Belgium don’t have an actual left back so that side defensively is awful and could get exposed by better teams. Meunier hasn’t been great either, better than Carrasco, but could do better and finally Boyata. The only reason Boyata has played is because Vermaelen and Kompany have been hurt and Boyata has been awful. However Belgium are expecting Kompany back so he’ll sure up that weakness which will leave Belgium with two exposable full backs. Roberto Martinez must find a way to get Carrasco away from that wing back position, maybe a change to a back 4 and move Vertonghen to LB which he’s capable of playing and he may sure up that side a little more because they just can’t let Carrasco get constantly exposed on the left side.
This is a very hard game to predict when it comes to tactics. Both managers are expected to make rotational changes and we may not even see the likes of Hazard, Kane, De Bruyne, Lingard, Lukaku. Lukaku is pretty much guaranteed to miss out because he’s picked up a knock and Martinez won’t risk him in a game which doesn’t mean much. We’ll probably see both sides play attacking football, it’s a game where there’s nothing to play for other than 1st place, but even that doesn’t really matter because whoever you meet in Group H are going to be tough regardless. Both sides have shaky defences and good attacks so in that case both sides are evenly matched and have similar weaknesses. We’ll probably see Michy Batshauyi start at striker for Belgium, a very good striker who is hungry for goals and England must make sure to not let him free because he’s clinical. As for England, they’ll probably sit Harry Kane too. We expect to see the likes of Rashford, Cahill, Rose, Vardy to get game time in this game. England do have more depth if you compare the sides which is the reason why they’ve been moved as favourites in this game. To summarise, tactically we can expect both sides to rotate but still play attacking football. Both have good talented players and an attacking mindset so the fans can only expect entertainment between two evenly matched teams. The keys for both teams is just to continue improving defensively and for players who get a chance they have to shine to give their managers a selection headache coming into R16.
As mentioned, we can expect a match up where both sides are rotated and that should favour England. England have more depth on the bench and we expect them to put the better side out there. It will still be an entertaining game, might not be as entertaining as first expected with stars rested, but these sides have enough talent to still put on a good game for the fans. In the end we think this game will end in a high scoring 2-2 draw. These teams are very evenly matched and have performed on a similar level which makes it hard to pick one between the two of them. Hopefully we do see some stars get a run out coming off the bench late.
1 England 6 pts +6 GD
2 Belgium 6 pts +6 GD
3 Tunisia 0 pts -4 GD
4 Panama 0 pts -8 GD
ODDS – Decimal (WilliamHill)
England Win – 2.62
Draw – 3.00
Belgium Win – 2.87
KICK OFF – 28th June 2018 – 7pm UK Time