Rating the players: England 2-1 Belgium

Matt Stead

England beat Belgium 2-1 at Wembley, but who impressed and who did not?


Had 77 quiet minutes. Conceded a penalty that had absolutely nothing to do with him and saved a tame De Bruyne effort. Came out to punch a deep, out-swinging corner. Missed. Called for and comfortably claimed a corner three minutes later. Raved. Will consider his evening a success.


The wait for one of England’s most gifted players to produce a good performance for his country goes on. Alexander-Arnold retains that same creative freedom he enjoys for Liverpool but without anything close to the inventive brilliance that defines him at club level. His passing accuracy (64.7%) was easily the lowest of any player for either side as his many risks resulted in almost no reward. The one positive moment he could claim a part in was Mount’s goal and even then his deep cross was salvaged by Trippier. Combined with a non-existent impact in defence, the 21-year-old managed to be the worst of 427 right-backs on the pitch despite playing the closest to that position of anyone.


Dig the waistcoat out from the back of your wardrobe, dust off that Atomic Kitten CD and prepare to wastefully launch your beverage in the air because it’s 2018 all over again, baby. It feels like a bit of a sideways step to stick Walker in a back three, particularly considering his international career was over only six months ago. And there will be a game in which his tendency to rely on pace to rescue any situation will result in montage-fodder hilarity. But he was actually pretty excellent in a defence that really needed him to be, helping weigh the balance of that battle against Lukaku back in England’s favour when both Dier and Maguire toiled. Should a 30-year-old right-back be our best centre-half? Does it matter?


That wasn’t pretty. Lukaku was in some mood in the first half but Dier essentially submitted himself to the striker, exposing not only a lack of pace but also a deficit in awareness and game intelligence. Lukaku was on his wrong foot at a tight angle and thus had no real opportunity to shoot or even cross, so his only option was to continue running and try to tease the defender into a tackle before putting his body in the way of the ball. Dier was all too willing to cooperate and the slight nudge before he went to ground was enough to draw the foul. It was amateurish. His positioning also opened up a chance for Carrasco late on. Managers love him but it is worth wondering whether the outfield Pickford – excellent distribution that comes with at least one potentially fatal mistake – is someone England cannot improve upon.


One of the many reasons Manchester United sought to dispense with Lukaku was his lack of mobility. For 45 minutes his former club’s captain, the most expensive defender in the history of the game, made him look like Billy bloody Elliot. Maguire stepped out of position every time he scented a forward pass from Belgium, but was so often turned or bypassed with a simple first-time ball that took him out of the game completely due to his non-existent recovery pace. He was like a diligent but ultimately useless firefighter for England: rushing to the scene of any cloud of smoke before managing to set his own arm alight. His passing was at least very good, one first-half ball into Calvert-Lewin standing out in particular as it travelled more than five yards to its destination. Maybe don’t build your entire defence around him based on that, mind.


It is simultaneously true that he should never play on the left for England but was also decent enough there against ostensibly the best team in the world – even if that description is somewhat invalid when their manager is Roberto Martinez. Trippier essentially comprised the entire flank at times with Maguire behind him and either Mount or Rashford drifting central ahead of him, yet he still managed to fare well in defence while becoming a key attacking outlet later on: no player made more accurate crosses than his three. His assist for Mount’s deflected goal also deserved far more credit than it received. Just stop playing him at left-back and put him on the right where no-one has proven themselves to be better.


That first half was a big nope. Belgium played around, over and through Rice with consummate ease and he offered approximately nothing. But that second half was wonderful. He was proactive rather than reactive, sensing when to press and when to sit. One late instance saw him intercept a pass out from the Belgium defence before instantly recycling it and helping create an opportunity Rashford almost took. That was him at his most effective: positioned correctly and aware enough to simultaneously strangle one attack and breathe life into another. The challenge now is to build on it but it can no longer be said that he hasn’t done it for England against elite opposition. The holding midfielder held his own.


England’s best player in the first half, and by quite a margin. It says plenty about the side selected that a nominally reserved central midfielder was the source of most of the hosts’ attacking inspiration. There was a moment just before the two corners that led to his very Latin earning of a penalty when Henderson injected a little urgency into a languid performance, flicking one ball first-time around the corner and continuing his run into the box to try and jolt Belgium out of their comfort zone. His contribution after kick-off following Rashford’s goal was to block a Carrasco shot in a decent position, which rather summed up a display where he laid more groundwork than anyone for a professional and battling victory. England as a whole looked great when leading but only Henderson can claim to have done himself proud when behind or level.


Even with little to no service he is an absolute nuisance. There were a couple of bright sparks that could have led to something more – he should have done better when Rashford returned his excellent flick early in the second half, and did very well to win a first-half corner from Alderweireld that was promptly wasted – but this did nothing to either further or damage his England prospects in reality. He won at least five more headers than any other player and had a match-leading four shots, so cannot be accused of shirking his opportunity at this level.


Dunno. Really dunno. Does a deflected goal justify a selection and define an entire performance? Mount went long periods without even touching the ball but a lesser player might have let that knock their confidence. He still took up good positions and made searching runs even when he looked like little more than a well-dressed pitch invader everyone was trying to ignore. He completed 14 passes and lost the ball about as much. But again, he did a goal. So have that, Jack Grealish.


He had 72 touches, which seems remarkably high for an attacking player. But that encapsulates Rashford’s influence throughout as a player who tested Belgium more than most. There was something lacking in his end product aside from the penalty, seeming sluggish when released behind the defence by Calvert-Lewin before being caught quite easily, then narrowly missing five minutes from full-time. But yeah, he was and is quite good.


KALVIN PHILLIPS (on for Henderson, 66)
The absolute definition of ‘late introduction to shore up the midfield – 6/10’.


HARRY KANE (on for Calvert-Lewin, 66)
Missed a free header from a corner. Laid on a late chance that Rashford almost scored. Is nothing without Heung-min Son.


REECE JAMES (on for Alexander-Arnold, 78)
Joined the right-back party after a late invite. Completed more tackles in 12 minutes than any teammate. Fair enough.


JADON SANCHO (on for Mount, 90)
Had two touches. One was defined by Opta as ‘unsuccessful’. Managed not to contravene government rulings during a pandemic.

Matt Stead