How Did England’s Change of Tac­tics Lead to Defeat Against Belgium?

How Did England’s Change of Tac­tics Lead to Defeat Against Belgium?

It was a game arguably nei­ther side mind­ed to lose, but there were still key find­ings from this match as we analyse England’s change in tac­tics and Belgium’s will­ing­ness to exploit them.

How did Eng­land approach this game dif­fer­ent­ly to the last?

Our Sports­code out­put win­dow shows Eng­land pos­sessed only 46.8% of the ball in this match and their aver­age length of pos­ses­sion was 9.1 sec­onds, com­pared to 10 sec­onds and 53.2% pos­ses­sion for the Belgians.

With Kane rest­ed, the faster options of Vardy and Rash­ford in the for­ward posi­tions changed the approach from England.

It was less pos­ses­sion and more long balls from the back as the Three Lions sat much deep­er than against Tunisia and Pana­ma where they claimed the Lion’s share of the ball.

Eng­land had the beat­ing of Bel­gium in balls won in the tack­le (11 to 4), and aer­i­al duels (13 to 6), but upon win­ning pos­ses­sion would fire the ball long, explain­ing such a low pos­ses­sion rate for a team that was able to win the ball back with regularity.

Between Jones, Cahill, Dier and Stones (lat­er Maguire), 13 long pass­es were attempt­ed in the match — more than the rest of the Eng­land team combined. 

Our Sportscode output window shows England could win the ball, but not hold it. Also Belgium moved the ball forward more and backwards less.
England line-up with their now-familiar 3-5-2, but the introduction of the faster Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford over Harry Kane led to a more direct approach.

What hap­pened to England’s build up play from the Tunisia and Pana­ma games?

There was cause for con­cern over the lack of England’s attack­ing threat and cohe­sion between mid­field and defence when on the ball.

On sev­er­al occa­sions England’s mid­field­ers were too far away from the back­line, result­ing in pass­es being in dan­ger of interception.

After set­ting a strong stan­dard as a pos­ses­sion-based team in their first two match­es, Eng­land must adapt to be able to play this style against sides with bet­ter quality.

A lack of midfield options for the central defender to distribute to was a key problem in England's build up play.

How did Eng­land defend?

Out of pos­ses­sion Eng­land dropped their wing­backs in to form a 5 – 3-2 formation. 

England’s mid­field­ers strug­gled to screen pass­es into Belgium’s front three. With Eng­land play­ing 3 at the back, and wing­backs Rose and Alexan­der-Arnold being occu­pied by Belgium’s wide mid­field­ers, England’s cen­tre backs were forced to step on to Bat­shuayi, Januzaj and Fel­lai­ni, leav­ing space in behind.

Gary Cahill at centre back has to step out of the back line to engage a Belgian attacker, leaving space in behind.

England’s press misfires

England’s front 3 pressed aggres­sive­ly and attempt­ed to lock Bel­gium into one side of the pitch when play­ing out. How­ev­er, the wing­backs strug­gled to lock on to the oppo­si­tion full­backs as the dis­tance was sim­ply too big.

The mid­field three of Dier, Delph and Lof­tus-Cheek had to work hard to sup­port the press, but often there was too much space between cen­tral mid­field and defence.

How­ev­er, when Bel­gium went long to Fel­lai­ni or Bat­shuayi and played over the top to of the press, the mid­field trio had huge dis­tances to recover.

Fel­lai­ni and Bat­shuayi led all play­ers in Aer­i­al Duels (8 and 6 respec­tive­ly), and con­test­ed 22 attack­ing duels between them over the course of the match, win­ning 15 of them.

Fellaini prepares for another aerial duel, while the large distance between England's midfield and defence can be seen here.
Fellaini and Loftus-Cheek were busy in both distribution and gathering possession in the midfield.

Post-match review

Eng­land were some­what exposed in their inabil­i­ty to play their pos­ses­sion-based sys­tem against a qual­i­ty oppo­nent — a sys­tem that worked so well in the wins against Tunisia and Panama.

The return of Har­ry Kane for the Colom­bia match will almost cer­tain­ly sig­nal a return of play­ing to feet, with the exper­i­ment of using Vardy and Rashford’s pace in behind unlike­ly to be a use­ful tac­tic to start with against a Colom­bian team that will look to first and fore­most not concede.

To learn more about how Hudl uses ana­lyt­ics to fuel the mod­ern game, you can sign up to one of our online class­es or check out our pro­fes­sion­al case stud­ies here.