Analysis: Belgium vs England

By Luismi Loro

17-November-2020 on Analysis

12 minute read

In our weekly series of tactical analysis, professional analyst Luismi Loro uses Nacsport, in conjunction with InStat and KlipDraw to break down some of the weekend’s biggest games.


This week, with domestic competitions on hold, we turn our attentions to the international arena to look at Belgium vs England, as voted for by Nacsport users on our Twitter channel.

 

Over to Luismi…


Note: This article was translated from Spanish and pics are captioned in Spanish. We have provided a translation for captions in italics beneath each picture.

Introduction

 

This match was a fascinating prospect, featuring two teams battling to advance to the final stages of the UEFA Nations League. A game in which Belgium, currently ranked number one in the world by FIFA, would initially dominate an England team, suffering from the loss of Sterling and Rashford, and effectively close out the match with two goals in the first half before shutting up shop. 

 

The final result was woeful for England leaving them with zero chance of progressing to the knockout stages, even with one game left to play, whilst Belgium put one foot over the finish line.

 

Both teams lost key players from their squad in the run up to the match but, nevertheless, there was still a wealth of talent on the pitch at both ends. Let’s take a closer look at the match...

 

Keys to the Game

 

Overlapping Systems

 

During the first half, both teams came out with similar formations with slight differences and nuances within their systems in the variety of moves or characteristics of players.

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 1

 

Initial line-ups and formations courtesy of InStat

 

Undoubtedly, Belgium were the dominant force in the first half, although they did have some problems at the very beginning of the game. They went on the attack with 3-4-3 which occasionally mutated into a 3-4-2-1 when Mertens and De Bruyne dropped back into a more midfield position.

 

England made it difficult for them to get the ball out by pairing their 3 forwards (Mount - Grealish - Kane) with the Belgium’s 3-man defensive line (Alderweireld - Denayer - Vertonghen) to put some direct pressure on the Belgians as soon as they began their build up.

 

When Belgium tried to play it out wide, they encountered the same pressure as wingback covered winger and vice versa. Thus these overlapping systems and formations favored effective pressure.

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 2

 

Belgium's attacking formation - 3-4-3 changing to 3-4-2-1

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 3

 

Belgian Dominance

 

Off the ball, England stuck with a 5-2-3 formation which converted to a 4-3-3 as soon as Belgium tried to play it wide, with one of the defensive line pushing forward to meet the winger in midfield.

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 4

 

High pressure en 5-2-3 changing to 4-3-3 on the wings

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 5

 

Despite Belgian dominance in the first half, the first opportunity of the match came from an individual play by Harry Kane shortly after kick-off. Belgium had to wait until the 10th minute of the match, soaking up high pressure, before scoring their first goal and asserting themselves as the dominant force.

 

During this initial period of pressure, the Belgians positioned themselves at 3-4-3, with the two wingers practically shadowing their English equivalents and the forward line of Mertens, De Bruyne and Lukaku man marking England’s back line. 

 

A loose pass from Dier to Mount was pounced on by the Belgian defense and turned into a quick counter-attack in which they took advantage of England being open in their own half. The ball was slotted forward to Lukaku who laid it off to Tielemans who duly slotted the ball past Pickford from outside the area, via a slight deflection from Mings.

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 6

 

Belgian defensive formation 5-2-2-1 (5-4-1)

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 7

 

Belgium in midfield at 1-0

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 8

 

Lukaku lays of to Tielemans for first goal

 

Soon after, England had the opportunity to tie the game from a corner. Kane again beat his marker and the resultant header had to be cleared off the line by Belgian centre-forward, Lukaku. This chance came from good movement by England, pulling and manipulating Belgium into giving them enough room to engineer an opportunity.

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 9

 

Pulling the defense towards front post leaving Kane in space for a free header

 

A Poor Refereeing Decision

 

The second Belgian goal game slap bang in the middle of the first 45 minutes and in the midst of a period of sustained pressure from an English team trying desperately to get back into the game.

 

One of Belgium’s greatest resources is Lukaku. Faced with high pressure from England, Belgium tried to free up space in order to get the ball up to Lukaku, who managed to continue the move up front.

 

On one of these occasions De Bruyne was trying to link up with Lukaku in a dangerous position outside the box and was “brought down” by Rice at the edge of the area. Watching the replay, it’s clear that Rice won the ball cleanly and the referee’s decision was a poor one. Nevertheless, the free-kick was given and Mertens converted emphatically to put the score at 2-0 and the match almost out of England’s reach.

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 10

 

Direct free-kick to make it 2-0

 

The Unsuccessful Dominance of England

 

From this moment on, Belgium allowed their opponents to dominate the game. England tried to get back into it by using the mobility of their players to generate dangerous attacks. They utilized the tactic of dragging out and opening up Belgium effectively but with little success in the goal department.

 

To do this, one of the midfielders would drop back momentarily to generate a triangle with which they generate a 3 vs 2 superiority in midfield and allowing the ball to be fed forward to the forward line much more efficiently. 

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 11

 

Free man

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 12

 

As the second half rolled around, the script didn’t change drastically. Belgium retreated to their own half to defend in a 5-2-3 (5-4-1), looking for a quick counter in the form of a lonely looking Lukaku up front.

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 13

 

England kept looking for space between the Belgium lines and trying to steal the ball as high as possible. This led to one of their clearest chances of the match when a quick recovery after a loss led to a rapid assault on the unbalanced Belgian defense.

 

Harry Kane took advantage of the free space left when the Belgian centre-back pushed forward to Mount who produced a lovely little flick into the path of Kane, just inside the box. However, the resultant shot was weak and comparatively easy for Courtois to gather up.

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 14

 

England had a few decent chances to get on the scoreboard from free-kicks in dangerous positions but couldn’t take advantage of these either.

 

Saka and Sancho entered the game for England, which improved their individual performances and verticality. They played out the dying minutes of the match in a 4-4-2, continuing to open up the field well and playing deep on the outside.

 

Tactical Analysis - Belgium vs England - 15

 

England end the match in a 4-4-2 formation

 

Despite this, England failed to make a mark on the scoreboard, even with Belgium constantly pegged back in their own area.

 

Conclusion

 

• The match was all but decided in the first half when Belgium dominated.


• Belgium took advantage of the chances they were gifted...England didn’t.

 

• After going two goals behind, the deficit seemed insurmountable for England.

 

• England were presented with some clear chances but couldn’t convert.

 

• Belgium killed the game within 25 minutes with their superior offensive ability.

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