Meunier and Alexander-Arnold set to wing it in our Belgium v England key battles

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Belgium and England wind-up their World Cup 2018 commitments on Saturday in World Cup 2018’s third-place play-off.

Here are the key battles at Saint Petersburg Stadium:



How Belgium missed the suspended Thomas Meunier during their narrow semi-final loss to France.

The unavailability of the Paris Saint-Germain right-back afflicted the one area without any specialist cover in head coach Roberto Martinez’s squad.

Stand-in Nacer Chadli did a poor impression of the first choice’s work and was specially catered for by Les Bleus’ tactics.

They tightly marked Belgium’s main attacking threats, such as Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, allowing the ball to be funnelled to the ineffectual West Bromwich Albion reject. Meunier’s powerful runs from deep and punishing crosses could not be replicated.

The returnee will now look to utilise these strengths against England, bombing into the space vacated out wide in their 3-5-2 formation.

Few teenagers can match the composure of Liverpool and England defender Trent Alexander-Arnold.

No matter how grand the occasion has been in the 19-year-old’s nascent career, he’s responded with poise and self-assuredness. These character traits should be required, once again, in Saint Petersburg with first-choice right wing-back Kieran Trippier struggling with a groin complaint.

Three Lions head coach Gareth Southgate will not worry about Alexander-Arnold. He made his first Premier League start at bitter rivals Manchester United, struck an explosive free-kick during his Champions League debut in the play-off against Hoffenheim and became Liverpool’s youngest-ever starter in the final – May’s 3-1 loss to Real Madrid.

Having played 79 minutes against Belgium in the group stage, he’ll relish another chance to impress.



Belgium will look to Axel Witsel to win the midfield war against England.

Among the Red Devils’ first-choice players who’ve made five appearances in Russia, only centre-back Jan Vertonghen’s average of 1.8 tackles per game is better than Witsel’s 1.6. The Tianjin Quanjian battler’s pass accuracy of 93.5 per cent is the best among Martinez’s established XI.

A new face will lead the fight for the Three Lions at Saint Petersburg.

Dele Alli’s nagging quad injury should mean he drops out for Manchester City’s Fabian Delph. The 28-year-old started in a second string when Belgium won 1-0 when Group G wound up, plus has twice come off the substitutes’ bench.

His average of 2.1 tackles per game in the Premier League during 2017/18 should provide Southgate with a sense of security.



Kevin De Bruyne should have something to prove after his disappointing performance in defeat to France.

The Manchester City superstar was unable to showcase his genius at the semi-final stage, as attentions from the likes of Blaise Matuidi shut him down. He produced one key pass, a pass accuracy of 73.1 per cent and had just two attempts on goal.

Jesse Lingard is likely to retain his place in England’s XI, despite playing 483 minutes in Russia.

His role as a link man is shown by an outstanding pass accuracy of 92.6 per cent. Where frustration comes is that he couldn’t wrestle back control of proceedings in defeat to Croatia in the last-four, plus has only registered a single assist and goal at the tournament.

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