Belgium v England
Sunday 15 November, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports Main Event and Premier League
England must deliver
It’s matchday five of the Nations League and that’s crunch time for England.
They may have beaten Belgium 2-1 in last month’s reverse fixture but the home defeat to Denmark which followed a few days later has left them struggling to qualify for next year’s Finals.
Lose in Leuven on Sunday night and their hopes will officially be over; draw and qualification will remain possible but out of their hands.
In reality, they’ll likely need to beat both Belgium and Iceland at home on Wednesday if they are to replicate their appearance at the inaugural Finals last year. Even that might not be enough.
That group situation needs to be taken into account when looking at this game from a betting perspective and indeed my bets have been tailored accordingly.
Belgians favourites for revenge
Belgium, who sit atop the FIFA rankings, start favourites at 2.447/5 but their boss Roberto Martinez was tactically out-thought by opposite number Gareth Southgate last month.
After starting well and going 1-0 up, Belgium failed to build on a solid platform with Southgate making his side more compact in the second half and denying Belgium the space to create opportunities. They really struggled to break England down after the interval with service to Romelu Lukaku (pictured below) severely restricted.
Here they will again be without Eden Hazard, while Yannick Carrasco and Timothy Castagne are two players who started at Wembley who won’t feature here due to injury.
On the plus side, Thibaut Courtois will be back in goal, while Dries Mertens is fit again and likely to replace Carrasco.
The Belgians are unbeaten in 23 at home, although significantly they are playing in unfamiliar surroundings. Leuven is usually their under-21 side’s base but with a 10pm curfew currently in operation in Brussels, the game has been moved east.
Repeat show for Three Lions?
England showed Belgium’s unbeaten run little respect last month – that loss remains Belgium’s only one in 16 games following Wednesday’s 2-1 friendly win over Switzerland.
Southgate’s side should be not ruled out of creating the upset again but 3.211/5 doesn’t look a hugely-appealing price given the level of opposition. As ever, England are too short thanks to the patriotic pound.
England did beat Spain away when their back was against the wall in the previous Nations League campaign and they certainly showed resolve against the Belgians at Wembley when it was required.
Expect the Three Lions to attempt a repeat of their successful tactics of a month ago, the defence pushing up to reduce the gap to the midfield, thus giving the likes of Kevin de Bruyne little room to operate in.
They’ll be much-changed from Thursday’s bloodless 3-0 win over Ireland and their starting XI seems unlikely to vary too much from last month’s against Belgium.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Marcus Rashford (both injured) and Harry Maguire (suspended) can’t play this time but Raheem Sterling and Ben Chilwell are back. Mason Mount seems likely to get the nod again ahead despite the clamour for Jack Grealish.
Goals on the cards
Both sides’ strength is in attack and with goal threat in the form of Lukaku, Sterling and Harry Kane on show, goals should be expected.
England have kept plenty of clean sheets of late but most have come against limited opposition. When up against high-quality opponents, keeping them out has been much more of a problem and since the World Cup they’ve conceded against Czech Republic, Netherlands, Croatia and Spain (twice).
All of those games have seen both teams score and it’s a pattern which also relates to the hosts.
The better sides have found a way to breach the Belgian defence – in the same time period, games against Switzerland, Netherlands, Russia (twice), England and Iceland (twice) have had both teams find the net. That’s now happened in their last five and seven of their last eight.
Throw in the fact that England really need a win here and can’t simply try to soak up what the hosts have to offer and both teams to score has potential at 1.738/11.
However, over 2.5 goals raises the price to 1.981/1 and given that’s something which has occurred in all bar one of those BTTS score games listed above, this looks the better option.
Both halves make whole lot of sense
Now that’s not a price for everyone but I’m also happy to try a small punt on Belgium to win both halves at 13/2.
A bad trait of England’s this season has been slow starts – that was the case in the reverse fixture and their worst spell of both recent friendlies against Wales and Ireland was the first 15 minutes.
If they fall behind here, then they’ll be forced to come out knowing a defeat ends their qualification hopes.
Clearly that would leave them open to the counter attack in the second half.
Essentially, there’s enough in the group situation for this option to look attractive at 13/2.
Belgium have suffered just one defeat in their last 16 matches across all competitions (W14 D1), though that defeat was against England at Wembley last month. Indeed, the Red Devils haven’t lost any of their last 23 games on home soil since a 0-2 defeat to Spain in September 2016 (W18 D5).
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