Roberto Martinez’s Red Devils dominated the first half of the game – living up to the hype as FIFA’s top-ranked team – but were only able to gain a lead through Romelu Lukaku’s penalty.
Ten minutes before the half ended, England drew level through their own spot-kick from Marcus Rashford, and midway through the second half, Mason Mount’s heavily-deflected goal was able to win the game for The Three Lions.
On that note, here are five talking points from England’s win over Belgium.
#1 England had a highly fortuitous win
England fans will be happy with tonight’s result. There can be no doubt about that. Gareth Southgate’s side were able to defeat FIFA’s top-ranked side in the form of Belgium, picking up three valuable UEFA Nations League points in the process. On paper at least, this was probably their best win since their 3-2 victory over Spain two years ago.
However, if we’re honest, this was a massively fortuitous victory. If you go by the stats, this was an even game – England had 47% possession and nine shots, three of them being on target - while Belgium enjoyed 53% possession with 11 shots, with two of them being on target.
The truth, though, is that Belgium bossed the first half, with Romelu Lukaku bullying Eric Dier and Kevin de Bruyne buzzing around looking dangerous as he created chances aplenty for Lukaku and Yannick Carrasco.
Sure, England were much improved in the second half – largely stifling Roberto Martinez’s side - particularly when De Bruyne was withdrawn after 73 minutes. But they still struggled to actually create chances, and when you consider the fact that their goals came from a penalty and a deflected shot, it was hard to really be impressed with Southgate’s men.
#2 Is England’s old fear of flair returning?
In his 2017 book Fifty Years of Hurt, popular journalist Henry Winter devoted an entire chapter to what he described as England’s 'fear of flair'.
In this chapter, Winter discussed and essentially bemoaned the fact that for reasons unknown, England managers have traditionally distrusted naturally talented flair players or mavericks, with names like Glenn Hoddle and Matt Le Tissier mentioned.
The issue hasn’t reared its head in recent years, largely because since Paul Gascoigne’s England career ended in 1998, England haven’t had many true mavericks to call upon. Now though, it unfortunately appears that Gareth Southgate is following in the footsteps of his predecessors.
Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish has enjoyed a fantastic start to his 2020-21 campaign. He’s already scored three goals and registered as many assists in the Premier League, and in England’s friendly win over Wales on Thursday, he set up Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s goal and was named the Man of the Match.
Given Raheem Sterling’s absence, it felt like the game against Belgium would’ve been the perfect stage for Grealish to shine. And yet Southgate didn’t select him from the start nor did he introduce him from the bench despite making four substitutes.
What was his justification for this? It’s hard to say. Fans and pundits alike were calling for the Villa man to start, and yet Southgate selected Marcus Rashford – who has hardly been in form – and Mason Mount, a more natural midfielder, ahead of Grealish.
Basically, the decision didn’t make any sense at all. If Southgate starts Grealish against Denmark on Wednesday, the critics may quieten, but if we’re treated to a repeat of tonight’s game – even if England win – then it’d be hard to suspect anything but the boss being afraid to use a maverick talent.