Soccer

5 talking points as England’s Nations League hopes end with defeat v Belgium

England's hopes of qualifying for the Nations League finals are over after they fell to a 2-0 defeat to Belgium in Leuven.

Leicester's Youri Tielemans gave the hosts the lead on nine minutes after he found the bottom corner with a long range effort via a deflection.

Dries Mertens then doubled Belgium's lead with a superb free-kick to leave England with a mountain to climb.

The Three Lions improved after half-time but couldn't find a way through, and the result leaves Gareth Southgate's side unable to finish top of their group with one game to play.

Here are five talking points from a disappointing night for England…

Southgate with questions to answer

The most frustrating thing about England's defeat tonight was the fact they were not significantly worse than the No.1 ranked side in the world, and on another day perhaps could have got something from the game.

The Three Lions dominated possession for large spells, yet never truly looked like getting back in it, and ultimately much of the blame for the result must fall on the manager.

The 3-4-3 formation did not play to the strengths of the exciting attacking talent that the squad currently possess, and there often looked like a lack of ideas going forward.

Starting with two defensive-minded midfield players in Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson seemed like overkill, with the half-time introduction of Harry Winks not the solution most would have gone for.

Southgate must shoulder some criticism for his overly conservative approach, and a morale-boosting win and performance to boot over Iceland on Wednesday is a must if he is to prevent the pressure growing.

Doubts over Dier again

It was another difficult night in an England shirt for Tottenham's Eric Dier, who really struggled in the centre of the back three.

It was Dier who gave away a clumsy penalty in the reverse game between these two sides at Wembley, and he was at fault again for the first goal tonight, with his loose pass leading to Tielemans' opener.

It was not the only time Dier gave the ball away under little pressure, and he looked shaky all evening against the strength of an impressive Belgian attack.

Surely he will not keep his place once the likes of Harry Maguire and Joe Gomez return.

Time up for Pickford?

It wasn't his worst night by any stretch of the imagination, yet Jordan Pickford once again didn't cover himself in glory, particularly with Belgium's first goal.

Yes, Tieleman's strike took a deflection, but the fact is Pickford still managed to get a hand to the shot, and probably should have kept it out.

He had little chance with the second, but it still seems baffling that the Everton man is being selected over two goalkeepers who appear superior in every aspect in Nick Pope and Dean Henderson.

Southgate has to show some mettle and play one of those two against Iceland.

Grealish a bright spark

Despite the result, Jack Grealish did his chances of becoming a regular for England no harm at all on his first competitive start for his country.

In the second half in particular everything positive went through him, and in typical fashion he drew and won a number of fouls near the box which England should have made more of.

He also produced a wonderful flick on a counter attack to take the ball past Thomas Meunier, and if anybody was going to make something happen, it was Grealish.

He is quite simply becoming impossible for Southgate to leave out, despite the manager's initial reluctance to include him.

Lukaku still criminally underrated

Will Romelu Lukaku ever get the credit he truly deserves?

The former Manchester United and Everton striker was superb again tonight, and his assist for the opening goal means he has now been directly involved in 19 goals in his last 13 appearances for his national side.

His hold-up play in particular was fantastic tonight, and he won practically every ball launched long to him.

There is still an unfair impression in this country that Lukaku is not quite up there with the elite forwards of the world, yet his international form and his 34 goals in all competitions for Inter Milan last season tell their own story.

One of the most underrated players of his generation.

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