KATHRYN BATTE: England's shock loss to Belgium had been coming

KATHRYN BATTE: England’s loss to Belgium had been coming after wasteful displays in attack and struggles against a low block… it’s hard to believe this is a team that nearly won the World Cup 72 days ago

  • England suffered one of their worst defeats against Belgium on Tuesday night 
  • This loss has been a long time coming after recent sloppiness from Lionesses   
  • Click HERE to listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s ‘It’s All Kicking Off’ 

It is hard to believe that England were on the cusp of winning a World Cup just 72 days ago.

As shocking as the Lionesses’ defeat by Belgium was, there was also a feeling that this was a result that had been coming for a while. Sarina Wiegman was visibly unhappy with her teams’ display, with cameras catching the manager turning away in anger and appearing to mouth the words ‘what the f***’ after England had conceded.

Wiegman described her team’s display as ‘sloppy’ and insisted they have work to do. Players looked almost puzzled at full-time, as if they could not quite believe what had happened.

‘You learn a lot from defeat, that’s how the greats are made, that’s how great teams are made,’ vice-captain Mary Earps said after the game. ‘Life isn’t easy, football isn’t easy.

‘You have to earn it. I think we are working hard but we have to find a way to win – and we are just missing that at the minute.

England 3-2 loss to Belgium was a shock – but it was a long time coming for the Lionesses 

Sarina Wiegman admitted her side were ‘sloppy’ but has been unable to change her side’s attacking struggles in the last year 

‘You are not always going to be at the top of your game all the time. How many times do you say the great teams find a way to win even when they are not playing well, and we have done that previously.

‘Sometimes that keeps everybody happy. I don’t think it is anything to panic about or be thinking it’s a wake-up call or anything like that. I think it is just the reality of football. We know we can be better and that’s where it’s a good thing. We know that is something that we can control and we have to put right.’

Wiegman’s side have been struggling against mid-level opponents that sit back and defend in a low block for the last year and they do not appear to have found a long-term solution.

A number of teams ranked between 50 and 10th in the world have majorly improved in the last two years. The progression of countries like Morocco and Jamaica at the expense of Germany and Brazil at the World Cup was a great example of this.

They are now better at defending and have the players to cause problems on the break. This shows of the evolution of the women’s game and this is a good thing.

It’s hard to believe that this England team were on the cusp of winning the World Cup in August

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It means the bigger countries have to evolve. England were a penalty shoot-out away from suffering being eliminated in the last 16 after struggling against a Nigeria team who played on the counter-attack. If the African team had been more clinical, it could have been they who progressed to the quarter-final.

The first game were England seemed unable to solve the problem of a low-block, counter-attacking team, was when they were held to a 0-0 draw by the Czech Republic in October 2022. Wiegman noted their struggles but they encountered the same problem a month later in a 2-2 draw with Norway.

This issue has persisted, but a bigger problem is that England have also been wasteful with the opportunities they have created. The likes of Alessia Russo and Rachel Daly are snatching at chances they would have converted a year ago. 

This is not to say England are not, at times, still showing their strengths. Fran Kirby’s goal against Belgium was a perfect example of the football we have come to expect. But they are struggling to do it consistently.

England have been wasteful in front of goal and are known to struggle against a low block

It is not just in attack where there are problems. England have conceded six goals in four games in the Nations League and the majority have been from their own individual errors.

All three of Belgium’s goals came from errors. Chloe Kelly gave a needless free-kick away and then half of England’s wall failed to jump. Georgia Stanway’s stray pass created the second and the midfielder was then careless as she handled the ball in the penalty area for the third. Both of the Netherlands’ goals in last months’ 2-1 defeat came from England giving the ball away in their own half.

Teams are also realising that England’s defence is there to be got at. The absence of Leah Williamson alongside Millie Bright is proving crucial. England have not lost a game under Wiegman when they have both started at centre back.

What has been a pattern over the last 12 months is that England have found themselves pushed so high into the oppositions half that, if they give the ball away, their defence is left completely exposed. 

England need not panic – but they must ensure they improve significantly to get back on track

The problem here is that England do not possess the pace in defence to get back. Wiegman tried to counteract this by switching to a 3-5-2 at the World Cup, but that system does not suit the midfield and limits the impact of Walsh.

In the last three games, Wiegman reverted to 4-3-3, but England’s lack of pace in defence has remained an issue.

This was exacerbated against Belgium when Alex Greenwood was forced off with a head injury. Jess Carter came on to replace her, but she and Bright are almost too similar to play next to each other in a back four.

For the time being, this is a blip in England’s form. But with two must-win games against the Dutch and Scotland to come in December, they risk falling into a rut if they suffer another defeat.

Earps and Wiegman may insist there is no need to panic, but they both know performances need to be better.


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