England renew their rivalry with Belgium on Sunday when the familiar foes face off in a crucial Nations League tussle at Den Dreef in Heverlee.
The increasingly intimate enemies will meet for the fourth time in a little over two years when they lock horns this weekend, and with top spot in Group 2 the prize for the victor, their latest skirmish promises to be intense.
Belgium and England continue to rank among international football’s most highly-rated sides, though both teams, considered underachievers, also have reputations they’d like to shake off.
Ahead of what promises to be an enthralling evening of Nations League action on Sunday, we’ve picked our way through five of the biggest talking points ahead of Belgium’s tussle with England.
Looking for betting tips for the game? Then check out our detailed Belgium vs England predictions.
Keep reading to discover our tasty looking 40/1 #OddsOnThat five-fold for Sunday’s contest too!
Southgate’s limping Lions
England conquered Belgium when the well-accustomed antagonists faced off at Wembley last month, though Gareth Southgate’s depleted side will be without three of the players that started and one of the substitutes that featured in their October triumph for Sunday’s rematch.
Key centre-half and mid-week goalscoring hero Harry Maguire is serving a suspension following his dismissal in England’s shock 1-0 reverse at home to Denmark in their last Nations League assignment, while Chelsea starlet Reece James – sent off in the same game – will also be forced into a watching brief.
Set-piece specialist Trent Alexander-Arnold is sidelined through injury, while his Liverpool clubmate Joe Gomez, who was injured while training with England, looks set to miss a large chunk of the campaign.
Conor Coady’s enforced absence due to COVID-19 protocols adds another layer to Southgate’s already mounting personnel issues in defence, while Marcus Rashford – who notched England’s opener against the Belgians last month – also misses out with a shoulder complaint.
International game with a Premier League flavour
Sunday’s showpiece international skirmish has been likened to a Premier League All-Stars extravaganza – and with good reason.
Naturally, the England squad is packed to bursting with representatives of the country’s elite division, and just three members of Southgate’s 24-strong roster – Kieran Trippier, Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho – currently ply their trade outside their homeland.
Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld, Wolves’ Leander Dendoncker, Man City’s Kevin de Bruyne, Leicester pair Youri Tielemans and Dennis Praet, and Crystal Palace duo Christian Benteke and Michy Batshuayi could turn out for Belgium, while a whole host of De Rode Duivels stars also carry Premier League experience into battle.
Goalkeepers Thibaut Courtois and Simon Mignolet spent several seasons with Chelsea and Liverpool respectively, while Jan Vertonghen, Dedryk Boyata and Thomas Vermaelen all enjoyed spells with Spurs, Man City and Arsenal earlier in their careers.
In midfield, Nacer Chadli was an English top-flight regular with Tottenham and WBA between 2013 and 2018, while Belgium’s leading marksman Romelu Lukaku has a long and chequered association with the Premier League following his time with Chelsea, Everton and Manchester United before his career revitalising move to Italy.
Harry Kane reaches a half century
Talismanic England centre-forward Harry Kane will reach another superb career milestone on Sunday, when the 27-year-old represents the Three Lions for the 50th time.
The Spurs superstar currently sits sixth on England’s all-time top scorers list with 32 goals, with ex-Liverpool frontman Michael Owen eight goals ahead of Kane in fifth.
Kane needs to bag 22 more goals for England before he retires from international football to replace Wayne Rooney (53) as the nation’s most prolific ever striker, and while that seems like a mammoth task, the stats suggest that a haul that big could be attainable.
Harry Kane’s 0.65 goals per England cap ratio is a vastly superior strike rate when compared to Rooney’s 0.44 efforts per appearance for the Three Lions, though both marksmen fall way short of former international and the country’s 10th highest scorer of all time, Vivian Woodward, who hit an incredible 1.26 goals per game in his 23 run-outs between 1903 and 1911.
Can Grealish stake a claim?
With a Marcus Rashford sized-hole to fill on the left-hand side of England’s attack, in-form Aston Villa schemer Jack Grealish could be Gareth Southgate’s problem solver.
The 25-year-old oozed class when he started for the Three Lions in their comfortable 3-0 friendly win against the Republic of Ireland on Thursday, and though a game against a much stronger Belgian outfit represents a different, more difficult challenge, Grealish has the skills to shine.
With four goals and five assists in seven appearances, Grealish has set sky-high standards in the Premier League this season, and the attacking midfielder’s ability to carry the ball through packed defensive lines makes him an effective and unique operator.
Grealish – who is averaging 2.7 key passes per game this season – brings something completely different to the table than England’s other options in the middle and final thirds, and Southgate could choose to unleash the innovative Villains chance creator against Belgium.
Nations League A Group 2 outlook
England’s coupon-busting loss at home to Denmark last month opened up the race to win Nations League A Group 2, and the Three Lions are locked with the Danes on seven points behind leaders Belgium after four rounds of matches.
Roberto Martinez’s team took maximum points in three of their first four Group 2 fixtures, with Belgium’s solitary defeat so far coming at Wembley against England in October.
While the result of Sunday’s rematch between Belgium and England could prove pivotal, the Danish dark horses have a massive opportunity to seize control of the section ahead of their rivals.
If Belgium and England share the spoils in Heverlee, a win for Denmark at home to Group 2 whipping boys Iceland would see Kasper Hjulmand’s side draw level at the summit of the table on 10 points alongside the Belgians.
That would set up a tantalising climax on match day six, when Denmark travel to play Belgium on Wednesday (Nov 18th), with England – who finish up at home to Iceland – lurking with menace in third and within striking distance of first.
FST’s 40/1 Belgium vs England #OddsOnThat
Belgium to win
Belgium are one of international football’s most formidable teams, and their superb record of 14 wins in their last 16 matches highlights just how potent a force they can be.
In total, De Rode Duivels were beaten just three times in 48 games since September 2016, and against an England team shorn of several first team players, Belgium look favourites to triumph.
Both Teams to Score
The Belgians have looked less than cementitious at the back over the past 12-months however, and it’s interesting to note that both teams scored in seven of their last eight assignments.
With Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, and the red-hot Dominic Calvert-Lewin to call upon, England have an abundance of quality in attack, and the Three Lions should be able to test the leaky home defence.
Keeping Belgium out at the other end with so many important defenders out should prove next to impossible for Gareth Southgate’s patched up rearguard however, making goals at both ends likely in Heverlee.
Romelu Lukaku to Score Anytime
Branded a Premier League flop following his ill-fated spell with Manchester United, Romelu Lukaku has rebuilt his reputation on Italy, and the Belgian targetman will take to the field on Sunday as one of the continent’s most feared attackers.
The prolific 27-year-old has notched 15 goals in 12 appearances for club and country this season, and having hit the net against England in Group 2 once already, Lukaku will be confident that he can bully a weakened Three Lions defence in this weekend’s return fixture.
Jordan Henderson to be Carded
Hard-working Liverpool combatant Jordan Henderson will be tasked with adding some bite to the Three Lions’ midfield on Sunday, and the 30-year-old’s disciplinary record at international level marks him out as one to watch in the cards market this weekend.
Henderson was booked in three of his last five appearances for England, and the marauding midfielder was cautioned in his last run-out against Denmark, despite featuring in just 14 minutes of his team’s shock defeat.
1+ penalties awarded during the game
The Premier League’s pen-demic this season has been well documented, though the rise in spot-kicks in football hasn’t been an exclusively English event.
Five penalty kicks have already been awarded in Nations League A Group 2’s fixtures so far, and two of those were conceded when England and Belgium met at Wembley last month, when Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku dispatched both efforts from 12 yards in the Three Lions’ eventual 2-1 win over the Belgians.
Belgium and England come into Sunday’s return match wielding a number of high-class, quick-footed forwards, and with football’s new handball rules adding a fresh dusting of spot-kick spice, the chances of another penalty being award at Den Dreef feels high.