Thursday, July 19, 2018
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England and Belgium are neck-and-neck…

Six points apiece, eight goals each and two conceded. The only thing separating first from second in Group G is England’s two yellow cards to Belgium’s three. A draw in Kaliningrad tonight would mean England finish top thanks to an ever-so-slightly superior disciplinary record.

After the 6-1 rout of Panama, England fans are starting to believe football truly is coming home. “Who’s actually been better than us so far?” they ask. Well, one side right under their noses has been doing rather better than the Three Lions.

Belgium may not have outscored England, but they have outplayed them. It’s worth remembering that Gareth Southgate’s men toiled for long periods against Tunisia before Harry Kane’s late winner, and there weren’t many more chances than the six they scored on Sunday – and that’s if you call the ball striking Kane’s heel and rebounding into the net for his hat-trick a chance at all.

According to Opta’s expected goal (xG) data, which assigns a value to every shot based on the probability it will be scored – giving a better-quality chance a higher value – Belgium should have far outscored England. From the chances they have created, Belgium might reasonably have ‘expected’ to score 7.17 goals. England should only have scored 5.69 goals.

Southgate’s team are finishing off opportunities more effectively than Belgium, but maybe they’re not creating enough in the way of clear-cut chances.

England may take heart from the fact that they have done better than they ‘should’ have so far, that they have been clinical in front of goal. But will Kane and co. find the net with such ease against the better-quality defences they will face as the tournament progresses? Better teams will not capitulate in the way Panama did.

Football might come home this summer, and, regardless, it’s enjoyable to see England doing well, however the data suggests England have overachieved so far. Expectations should be tempered for now with expected goals not as high as their opponent’s. There are still improvements to be made.

Today’s trivia

4: Germany are the fourth defending champions to be eliminated in the group stage at the last five World Cups

1: Belgium have won just one of their 21 meetings with England (D5 L15) – a 3-2 victory in May 1936. 82 years ago!

10: James Rodriguez has been involved in 10 goals in seven World Cup appearances for Colombia (six goals, four assists)

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