Ruben Loftus-Cheek battles with Mousa Dembele during England 0-1 Belgium at the World Cup.

England 0-1 Belgium: lack of a number ten

The three lions lacked a number ten and were made to pay as it finished England 0-1 Belgium in the table-topping World Cup Group G decider.

Both teams made changes. However, facing a step up in level of opponent, England’s lack of a number ten really showed. The pivotal match to see who topped World Cup Group G ended England 0-1 Belgium giving Gareth Southgate plenty to ponder.

Pressing matters

Both England and Belgium opted to use a back three, but in different ways. England played a 3-5-2 setup whereas Belgium used a 3-4-2-1 formation.

England’s lack of a number ten hurt the team in both the defensive and attacking phases. The team opted to use very little pressure with the front two of Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford splitting the gaps between Belgium’s back three rather than push an extra player up and press them man-for-man.

Lack of pressing pressure from England 0-1 Belgium in the World Cup.

Lack of pressing pressure from England.

Behind Vardy and Rashford, the midfield trio played far too flat. Eric Dier and Fabian Delph are more defensive players. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was the more attack-minded selection, but he played in an inside right position. This setup meant there was no number ten to push up and help Vardy and Rashford close down. As a result, Belgium could easily pass the ball around their back three and play out.

The lack of pressure meant that Belgium could easily get Mousa Dembele on the ball. We know how difficult it is to get the ball off Dembele. Allowed freedom and space, he could dictate the tempo and build-up through midfield.

Vardy and Rashford splitting the Belgium trio of centre backs, along with a flat midfield trio gave Dembele all the space he needed.

Dembele in space due to the defensive setup during England 0-1 Belgium in the World Cup.

Dembele in space due to the defensive setup.

England lack a number ten in attack

Belgium’s 3-4-2-1 setup allowed them to build much easier, but also permitted them to close down quicker. Without the ball, Belgium pushed Marouane Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj up alongside Michy Batshuayi to press our three centre backs.

Effective press to shut down centre backs during England 0-1 Belgium in the World Cup.

Effective press to shut down centre backs.

As a result, England frequently had to move the ball through one touch passing to get out. The England midfield trio of Eric Dier, Fabian Delph and Ruben Loftus-Cheek being so flat helped, but they also hindered. The lack of any of them taking up the number ten position meant that Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford were often left isolated. Both strikers like to run-behind and as a result a huge hole appeared between them and their midfielders.

Huge hole between midfield and strikers up front during England 0-1 Belgium in the World Cup.

Huge hole between midfield and strikers up front.

Long passes over the top of eth Belgian back line became prevalent as neither England striker wanted to come towards the ball.

Belgium attacks the wingbacks

In attack, Belgium had created the better openings through two methods.

The first was long shots. England’s midfield dropping off meant that they were too deep and open to conceding shots from outside the box. Secondly, Marouane Fellaini was trying to position himself on the shoulder of wingback Trent Alexander-Arnold and dominate aerial battles.

Attacking our wingbacks was a constant Belgian ploy. Going at left England wingback  Danny Rose would see them eventually take the lead. The passage of play started with Rose losing the ball and Belgium being able to play out far too easily due to a lack of England pressing.

The ball was then advanced forward and Rose was caught twice. Firstly putting in a soft tackle on Michy Batshuayi. Rose then tracked the centre forward when he should’ve have passed him on to centre back Harry Maguire.

Rose tracking Batschuayi leaves space for Januzaj during England 0-1 Belgium at the World Cup.

Rose tracking Batschuayi leaves space for Januzaj.

Danny Rose was now out of position, allowing Youri Tielemans to pass out to the wide-open Adnan Januzaj. In trying to recover, Rose allowed Januzaj to jink inside him rather than showing the Belgian down the line. Fabian Delph then failed to offer the necessary help. Delph got his body position and weight on the wrong foot, leaving him in no man’s land.

Delph doesn't help Rose stop Januzaj's shot during England 0-1 Belgium at the World Cup.

Delph doesn’t help Rose stop Januzaj’s shot.

Januzaj curled a sumptuous shot in to the top corner past the helpless Jordan Pickford. The England keeper took a lot of criticism, but short of being and extra step across to his right, he couldn’t have done much more. Suddenly it was England 0-1 Belgium and we were on the back foot.

Lack of a number ten stifles attack

England had lacked a cutting edge in attack due to not having a player in the number ten position. Responding to going a goal behind saw us briefly offer a threat as Jamie Vardy started to fill that void.

Both Rashford and Vardy had both wanted to constantly run in-behind the Belgium defence. However, in dropping short, Jamie Vardy created two great chances for Marcus Rashford.

The first move saw Rashford try and curl a shot from the angle in at the far post. The second was by far England’s best chance of the match. Vardy came short to receive the pass from midfield, spun and laid the ball in perfectly for Rashford racing beyond the back line.

Vardy comes short to release Rashford for a glorious chance during England 0-1 Belgium at the World Cup.

Vardy comes short to release Rashford for a glorious chance.

Rashford contrived to miss the opportunity, neither putting a decent shot on goal nor squaring for Ruben Loftus-Cheek who had a tap in. The score remained England 0-1 Belgium and the match drifted to its inevitable conclusion.

England 0-1 Belgium overall

England really suffered for not having a player in the number ten position in this match.

The lack of player in this role meant it was more difficult to stop Belgium’s back three playing out easily. It also hindered our attack. Eric Dier and Fabian Delph were too defensive. The most attacking midfielder, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, was operating in an inside right role. As Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford wanted to run in-behind all the time, we lacked a man to link the play between them and the midfield. Only when Jamie Vardy started to come short did we begin to create any sort of real opportunities.

Gareth Southgate has gone without a number ten to link the play throughout this World Cup tournament. It is a big reason why Harry Kane has been starved of chances from open play. Kane has four goals from set pieces and one that flicked off his heel.

As England face better opponents, a player in the number ten role will become vital. Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard have been running off Harry Kane and beyond the defence so far in this tournament. Therefore, it may well be up to Harry Kane to drop in more and become this link player if Southgate continues with the current personnel and system.

Final score: England 0-1 Belgium.
MOTM: Marouane Fellaini.



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15 Responses to England 0-1 Belgium: lack of a number ten

  1. Grum 29th June 2018 at 7:48 pm #

    Excellent analysis as usual Mark. I was trying to point out to my wife why we weren’t making any chances – no one got between the lines.

    The reason that Southgate is going without a number 10 is that we don’t have one, it’s one of the reasons I would have taken a chance on Shelby. Deli is the nearest we have and he tried to fulfil that roll in the Tunisia match but then it limits his ability to get beyond Kane, which is one of his strengths, although Lingard also does that.

    I suspect this and our defensive frailty will limit our progress in the tournament. Rose and Young are both coverted wingers and I think it shows. Rose just hasn’t got back to the level he was at before his knee injury. They both allow the opposition too many crosses. Walker isn’t a centre back – let’s be honest, he was never the best defender positionally but got away with a lot because of his recovery speed.

    I really hope the team proves me wrong.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th June 2018 at 8:15 pm #

      We don’t really have that type of player in the squad which is why I found it strange we didn’t take a gamble on including someone like Lallana for that reason. Ross Barkley was another that sprang to mind, but I don’t actually know if he was fit towards the end of the season?! Shelvey is a bit of a liability for me. He’s not really got the experience of playing in big matches for either club or country and he’s a serious hot head too!

      • Carrigbawn 30th June 2018 at 12:01 am #

        Is Kane being expected to fill a “Teddy Sheringham” type role and drop deeper now and again thus allowing both Lingard & Deli to go beyond Kane, Mark? Kane has the passing ability to play a “Teddy Sheringham” type role. That seemed to be the plan to me in the opening 20 minutes against Tunisia and very effective it looked to be, until Deli got his knock which limited his influence on the match for the rest of the time he was on the pitch. Against Panama R L-C took the Deli role with a measure of success. I expect the same team to play against Colombia that started against Tunisia.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 30th June 2018 at 12:36 am #

          I think that is the plan to use the speed of Lingard, Dele and Sterling to hit defences that may over focus on stopping Kane. He hasn’t been dropping in short all the time, but he has held his position to keep defenders on him, allowing others to run past and look for the ball over the top.

          Fully expect Dele to return and we go with the same lineup as the opening match for the game with Colombia.

  2. Carrigbawn 29th June 2018 at 11:40 pm #

    “The England keeper took a lot of criticism, but short of being and extra step across to his right, he couldn’t have done much more.”

    He made the mistake of trying to save with his wrong (left) hand instead of using his nearest (right) hand. It looked odd and if he had gone with his nearest (right) hand he might have saved the shot because it would have got him nearer to the ball.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th June 2018 at 11:45 pm #

      I think he went with the correct hand as his left was higher. Had he tried to save with his right hand then it would have been at a lower position and he’s also trying to claw the ball back from behind himself.

      Seen plenty of support for this amongst the goalkeeping community and have to agree.

      For example this piece by former PL goalkeeper and now coach David Preece:
      https://inews.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup/gary-neville-jordan-pickford-england-v-belgium/

  3. Carrigbawn 29th June 2018 at 11:46 pm #

    “Rashford contrived to miss the opportunity, neither putting a decent shot on goal nor squaring for Ruben Loftus-Cheek who had a tap in.”

    R L-C looked to be in an offside position when Rashford reached the ball (later than the positions shown in your still photo) and was then able to square it to R L-C.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th June 2018 at 11:57 pm #

      When Rashford was entering the penalty area to take his shot, RLC was ahead of the defenders but behind the ball and therefore onside. He was livid with Rashford for not squaring it to him as his reaction showed.

      • Carrigbawn 30th June 2018 at 12:02 am #

        Fair point, Mark.

  4. Carrigbawn 30th June 2018 at 12:18 am #

    “As England face better opponents, a player in the number ten role will become vital. Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard have been running off Harry Kane and beyond the defence so far in this tournament. Therefore, it may well be up to Harry Kane to drop in more and become this link player if Southgate continues with the current personnel and system.”

    I believe Southgate has said Kane is prepared to sacrifice himself for the team. Does that mean he’s agreed to play a “Teddy Sheringham” type role (a number 10)? On the evidence of England’s first two games against Tunisia and Panama that seems to me to be the case. Did he play that role before for Spurs when Soldado was playing as the lead striker during Pochettino’s early days in charge at Spurs? Also when Adebayor was Sherwood’s favourite striker? I’ve got an idea he did.

    There’s no doubting the excellent passing ability of Kane when he does come deeper. He has the ability to see a defence splitting pass, rather like Sheringham (or Gascoigne for that matter).

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 30th June 2018 at 12:38 am #

      Kane has played that role for Spurs where he was a number ten behind Soldado. He never really looked comfortable in it for me and seemed more at home when he was the number nine up top.

  5. Matt 30th June 2018 at 6:54 am #

    Kane would play in goal if asked; but while his ability as a 10 is undoubted, we have one chance if winning the WC. Get the ball to the best striker in the world. Dropping him into the 10 role isn’t as bad as him taking corners; but it’s getting there. Dele needs to play that role I think.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 30th June 2018 at 9:55 am #

      I completely agree. It has looked as if Kane is not playing as a 10 but more as a number 9 that is dropping off a bit in order to allow others to run past him. He has done it for Spurs when he was being tightly marked and tracked by centre backs. Drifting towards the area of the opponent’s defensive midfielder gave them a decision to make of whether to go with him. This opened up space for others to run in to when the centre backs got drawn out.

      Will be keeping a close eye on Kane to see how we play him against Colombia as sure Davinson will be giving them tips on how to stop him.

  6. brian 2nd July 2018 at 3:47 am #

    As per usual Mark a very good summing up,of the game.And while many opposition fans decried Eric Dier;s performanve,Yes he was not at his best.But come off it.How about Lofus Cheek;s ,non contribution too the game.Too put it bluntly,he was bloody pathetic.Could:nt pass.lost the ball on many occaisions.Plus i felt really sorry for Jamie Vardy.He worked his socks of,without any support what so ever,And by the way.markus Rushford,needs too learn to use his left foot.,with the gaping hole on his left side,he picked out the right side,when the Beguim keeper was.;Not very intelligent move that one…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd July 2018 at 12:14 pm #

      I didn’t think Dier got too much help from those around him to be honest. Delph didn’t really seem to know his role and it was a similar case with Loftus-Cheek who took up those positions as an inside right. I’d like to see how Dier would play with Sterling and Lingard as then he becomes the defensive midfielder, as those two both want to attack from central locations, so are more like second striker number tens. Delph kind of wanted to play Dier’s position as he is not attack-minded so didn’t give a forward passing option for Dier. Loftus-Cheek was a kind of in-between player who didn’t take up central positions as either an on the ball number ten or a second striker number ten. So the lack of any kind of number ten player to be either a passing hub or a second striker really hindered Dier’s role and consequently his overall play.