Red Devils lost at Wembley as Gareth Southgate’s men takes over pole position to qualify for next year’s finals after a 2-0 defeat in the play-off for third place at the 2018 World Cup.
England fringe players stake a claim
England fans will be buoyed by Thursday’s 3-0 friendly victory over Wales after lacklustre displays against Iceland and Denmark.
A Three Lions side consisting largely of fringe players gave Southgate a selection headache, with Jack Grealish and debutant Dominic Calvert-Lewin (pictured above) putting in particularly impressive performances.
Despite opening his international account, Calvert-Lewin, 23, will have a tough time usurping Harry Kane in England’s best XI but it is looking increasingly difficult to ignore Grealish’s case for a starting berth.
Aston Villa’s captain and talisman assisted the Everton striker’s opener and put in a man-of-the-match display that will surely put him in contention to face Belgium.
Red Devils taking the Nations League by storm
Belgium top the FIFA world rankings having won their last 12 competitive internationals and have taken maximum points from two Nations League matches.
The Red Devils opened their campaign with an impressive 2-0 win in Denmark before hammering Iceland 5-1.
England, on the other hand, scraped a narrow 1-0 victory over Erik Hamren’s men and were held to a goalless draw by the Danes.
Roberto Martinez’s side managed 15.5 shots per game across those two matches — compared with England’s 9.5 — and no team has passed the ball more accurately than them, with an 87.8% completion rate versus 86% for the Three Lions.
Martinez’s key men at Wembley
Chelsea may not have seen the best of him but Michy Batshuayi is hoping to show his worth in the Premier League this season during a second loan spell with Crystal Palace.
Batshuayi, 27, netted twice for his country against Iceland and has taken more shots than any other player in League A Group 2 so far with six. He also scored on Thursday night as Belgium were held 1-1 by the Ivory Coast.
A familiar threat will come from Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, who contributed two assists against Iceland.
De Bruyne, 29, was crowned the 2020 PFA Player of the Year last month, which came as little surprise considering the midfielder notched an incredible 13 goals and 20 assists in just 35 league appearances for City last season.
Will Southgate turn to Phillips once again?
Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips is beginning to show he can dictate play for his country like he does at club level.
After a tricky start to his international career against Denmark, the 24-year-old enjoyed a 93.8% passing accuracy and managed 73 touches of the ball against Wales.
Kane the star man
It is impossible to ignore the importance of Kane to England’s chances of victory.
The in-form striker, 27, has already scored eight goals and provided seven assists for Tottenham in all competitions this season.
And after resting him for the friendly with Wales, Southgate is ready to unleash his skipper.