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27 Jun 2018

World Cup 2018: England vs Belgium - Lineups, Preview & Prediction

World Cup 2018: England vs Belgium - Lineups, Preview &
Prediction

Both assured of a place in last-16, these two sides meet in the final game of Group G to battle for top spot.

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19:00 BST, Thursday 28th June, Kaliningrad Stadium (Kaliningrad, Russia), ITV1

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Last Time Out

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England Lineup

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Belgium Lineup

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 Key Battle: Eric Dier (England) vs Axel Witsel (Belgium)

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Talking Points

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Prediction: England 2-1 Belgium

19:00 BST, Thursday 28th June, Kaliningrad Stadium (Kaliningrad, Russia), ITV1

With both Belgium and England already qualifying for the last-16, there's little to play for in this match beyond top spot in Group G and momentum heading into the next round.

However, finishing top, in a bizarre turn of events given the poor performances of Germany and Brazil, could land whoever does so with a significantly harder quarter-final tie, should either progress that far.

Nonetheless, for England it's an opportunity to test Gareth Southgate's new-look side against a far superior opponent to any they've previously faced in a competitive environment.

It's a chance, furthermore, to carry momentum forwards into the knockout rounds with three wins from three in the groups, something the Three Lions haven't done since 1982.

Last Time Out

England 6-1 Panama

The Three Lions secured their spot in the last-16 in style, recording their biggest ever win at a World Cup as they smashed six past a lifeless Panama.

Harry Kane was the name on everybody's lips once more, as the England captain netted a hat-trick to move himself one step closer to the Golden Boot.

The Tottenham striker netted two penalties - both powerful efforts finding the top left corner - before claiming his third after Ruben Loftus-Cheek's shot took a fortunate deflection off of him.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Manchester City defender John Stones also became the first England defender to score a brace at the World Cup with two headed goals - the second, in particular, was a wonderfully worked set piece routine straight off the training ground.

Jesse Lingard was, too, on the scoresheet with a brilliant curling effort from distance, after winning a penalty that Kane converted.

A completely confident performance, this sort of ruthlessness long been absent with England sides of the past will serve them well heading into the knockout rounds.

Belgium 5-2 Tunisia

Whilst Belgium's place in the last-16 wasn't secure until England beat Panama, they put themselves in the best possible position with an equally dominant win over Tunisia.

Romelu Lukaku clearly heeded the criticism of teammate Eden Hazard - who said the Manchester United striker was guilty of "hiding" in the first half against Panama - and popped up with a goal in the 16th minute, after Hazard himself won and converted a fifth minute penalty.

REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Dylan Bronn gave the Tunisians hope when he connected with a Wahbi Khazri cross just over a minute later, but the Red Devils turned the screw and Lukaku made it 3-1 with a dinked finish at the end of the first half.

Hazard added his second from Toby Alderweireld's through pass, before Michy Batshuayi made it five eventually, despite missing a handful of chances moments earlier.

England Lineup

Whilst it's important to keep players fit and out of harm's way ahead of the next stage, it's, too, vital to keep momentum going with the same group of players.

As such, Gareth Southgate will have to find a balance between change and continuity.

Dele Alli is fit again after a thigh issue suffered against Tunisia last week, whilst Marcus Rashford is still pushing for a start, as is Eric Dier and Danny Rose, which could see Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Ashley Young rested.

Belgium Lineup

Speaking after the game against Tunisia, Roberto Martinez said that he'd likely make "major changes" to keep everyone fresh for the knockout stage.

"The reality is that we have qualified - you are only as good as the 23 players. There will be opportunities for others," Martinez continued.

Lukaku (ankle), Hazard (calf) and Dries Mertens (knock) are doubts anyway, whilst Martinez suggested he will rest Kevin De Bruyne, Thomas Meunier and Jan Vertonghen as they are one yellow card away from suspension.

This could see Michy Batshuayi, Youri Tielemans, Vincent Kompany and Thorgan Hazard come into the XI.

Key Battle: Eric Dier (England) vs Axel Witsel (Belgium)

Gareth Southgate could opt to rest Jordan Henderson and give Eric Dier some minutes against Belgium to ensure he's match sharp, but the battle remains equally as important.

Dominating the midfield and exerting control over this third of the pitch is essential whether it be Dier or Henderson starting as the single pivot.

This is because both sides are 'active,' in the sense that they prefer to play their football on the front foot and retain possession in the midfield as a basis of launching attacking moves. This requires a strong presence in midfield, such as Axel Witsel, to stamp his authority on the game.

REUTERS/Lee Smith

However, playing in a 3-5-2 formation means the Red Devils' four-man midfield is outnumbered, leaving Henderson or Dier as the spare man, with attention frequently focussed on Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli.

It's their mission, therefore, to wrestle control away from Witsel and ensure their attacks are quelled before they have a chance to build, whilst setting the Three Lions up in this respect with moves of their own.

Ultimately, it's not the personnel that are important in this battle, rather the area of the pitch and subsequent effects this could have on the result.

Talking Points

Finishing first or second

Topping the group is naturally important for both confidence and momentum, but it would theoretically leave whoever was to do so on the harder half of the draw.

For example, if England were to finish first, they face either Senegal, Japan or Colombia in the round of 16. From there, either Brazil, Switzerland or Germany await in the quarter-final - should Die Mannschaft finish second, which is indeed possible - before a semi-final clash against Uruguay, Portugal or France.

REUTERS/Matthew Childs

FInishing second, by contrast, sets England up against Mexico or Switzerland in the quarter-final, before a semi-final against a struggling Spain, Russia, Croatia or Denmark.

The conundrum for both teams, therefore: Keep up momentum with a win - but face a harder run to the final - or play for the draw?

A chance to experiment

It's important to keep some semblance of continuity in the side to maintain momentum, which is why changes to the back five aren't expected - other than Danny Rose for Ashley Young to give Maguire some protection.

However, some changes are expected and Southgate can use this as a chance to experiment. For example, it's an opportunity to see if Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford can perform together up front, or how Fabian Delph plays as one of the attacking midfielders instead of Jesse Lingard.

REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Perhaps the biggest experiment Southgate could attempt is a reverting back to a double-pivot. The Three Lions boss states before the tournament that he would only use one pivot in England's opening games, but this is a chance to test a Dier-Henderson screen for matches against bigger teams with more attacking talent.

The key will be whether England can find a harmony between attack and defence. Essentially, if a double pivot disrupts their attacking fluency.

Prediction: England 2-1 Belgium

Roberto Martinez will rest a majority of his players ahead of the knockout rounds, so England will face a drastically different side to the one that beat Tunisia and Panama in the previous two fixtures.

The Three Lions are playing confidently and fluidly, and addressed the criticism arising from their win against Tunisia - that being their inability to take their chances - by smashing six past the Panamanians.

If England start quickly against a weakened Belgian side and get the first goal, Southgate's men can make it three wins from three games.

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 13 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.