The Three Lions face Les Bleus in their biggest match yet in Qatar. The quarter-final will be played at the Al Bayt Stadium at 7pm tonight. It doesn’t get much bigger than this.
Despite Gareth Southgate reaching a World Cup semi-final and the Euros final, this feels like the game for Gareth Southgate to prove doubters wrong and cement his place in the England history books, but it will not be an easy task.
England come into this game on good form, with no injuries and with three clean sheets in their last three games. The Three Lions have just come off the back of a convincing 3-0 win against Senegal.
France don’t look as convincing. They are obviously the world champions, but they have a few injury issues and have failed to keep just one clean sheet in the four games they have played in Qatar.
Despite this, the media is obsessed with how England will stop France, and betting sites are favouring Les Bleus. The main reason is this man, Kylian Mbappe.
The obvious change to deal with Mbappe, and his lightning pace, is to change to a back three. In this setup, England can deploy both Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker to double up on him at times.
This formation would bring a lot more stability to the defence and restricts the space in behind that Mbappe is allowed. England shouldn’t struggle too much with passing options from the three as France do not press too fiercely.
It should be worth noting that England beat Germany in Euro 2020 with a back three. The Three Lions were defensively compact but also had the attacking flair and brilliance to poke holes in the opposition defence.
The most important man in the England team will be Kyle Walker. The right-back, who is likely to play in centre back, is one of the only men in world football who has a chance of keeping up with the pace of the PSG superstar.
The problem with this formation is moving forward. There is a high possibility that England could isolate Kane, forcing him to drop deep and giving us no striker to hit. The passing options in midfield will be restricted and there is a risk that France will win the midfield – allowing them to dominate.
Jude Bellingham has been England’s best player in Qatar, but in a midfield two there is a chance he is caught out from his marauding forward runs, leaving Declan Rice on his own. If we don’t play Rice and Henderson alongside him, we would be taking away his license to show the attacking flair he has showcased all tournament. Could we play Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson, and Jude Bellingham, but just tell Jordan Henderson to keep a close eye on his right?
It won’t just be Henderson. England’s whole team will have to concentrate on not just Kylian Mbappe, but the likes of Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann. The multiple threats that the French side has is why they are an absolute nightmare to defend against.
Looking positively, there is a strong chance that England have attacking success if they are smart enough to sniff out the weaknesses in France’s defence; and there definitely are some.
Defending starts from the attack, and whilst Mbappe is their biggest threat, he is also their biggest liability. Tracking back is not something that he does often, and he puts all his energy in his excellent dribbling, tricky footwork, scorching pace and lashing shots.
With a back three, England are in the perfect position to double up on Hernandez in attack, creating a huge problem for French left-back Theo Hernandez. In addition to this, Rabiot would usually cover and help, but he has had the 2nd most touches in the opposing box in Qatar, proving he likes to get forward.
With Mbappe’s lack of tracking, Theo Hernandez’s high positioning, and Rabiot’s attacking positioning; Bukayo Saka should have so much joy down the right-hand side. The Arsenal youngster is blessed with amazing service from Bellingham and Rice, blistering pace and quick feet, so hitting France on the counter is where he can be effective.
England need to show confidence and courage against France, and it will take bravery, but could pay off. It will be so interesting to see how the tactics from Southgate and Deschamps play out.
Southgate’s man management has proven to excellent, but if he gets his tactics right, England can be victorious today. England can go for it today, and if they can outrun and outwork the French, they have as good of a chance as anyone else. There is a little bit of hope and belief in our side now, and the winner of this fixture would become one of the favourites for the trophy.
So, what should England do?
England should go for it and go for a 4-3-3. England’s best chance for this game is to be fluid with formations. When defending, almost go to a back three. Have Walker as your third centre back but have Saka tracking back as your right-wing back, with the support of Henderson as well. Move to a back 4 when in possession to give more passing options and control over possession in midfield. Let Saka run forward back into right wing and take advantage of his versatility. The midfield should stay as a three, as Henderson and Rice provide so much stability and leadership, allowing Bellingham to provide the spark that he has done so many times for us in Qatar. Start Foden, he is a generational talent and has creativity like no other player. His neat passing, his range of passing, and his composure to dribble in tight areas will be essential. Don’t let France change the attacking gameplan that we have played so well with this tournament. We have won the ball back high a lot, and if Mbappe doesn’t have the ball, he can’t be a threat.
The Football Debate Starting XI:
Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw, Rice, Henderson, Bellingham, Saka, Kane, Foden.