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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.