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How England can beat France: 3 ways that the Three Lions can upset Les Blues in the World Cup quarter final

The two meet on Saturday in what could be a World Cup classic


Kylian Mbappe

Amid the mouthwatering quarter-finals ties of World Cup 2022, perhaps the standout clash comes between World Champions France and England, statistically the best side at the tournament to date.

Both sides are bursting with talent, from domestic league top scorers to young prodigies and Champions League winners, meaning that it is certain to be a fantastic match-up from a tactical standpoint.

But how do the Three Lions roar past Les Blues and into a semi-final against one of Portugal or Morocco. 101 takes a look at the three key tactical ways Gareth Southgate can end up one step closer to bringing football home.

Walker vs Mbappe?

Much of the conversation ahead of the game has been about how to stop Kylian Mbappe, with Kyle Walker insisting that he will not ‘roll out the red carpet’ for the tournament’s top goalscorer.

A truly elite forward, Mbappe thrives most when there is space to run into behind defences, but is also capable of a moment of magic from nothing, as he has shown countless times for Paris Saint Germain.

It may not come to a battle with Walker, however, if Southgate sticks with a back four as he has so far this tournament. Though ostensibly a left-winger on paper, Mbappe’s best work comes when playing in tandem with Giroud, meaning that the 23-year-old often drifts off the touchline to find space more centrally.

Against Poland, for instance, Mbappe comes in off the wing to a more central area as Theo Hernandez provides the overlapping run, leaving Mbappe able to receive the ball in a more dangerous position.

In turn, he is able to thread a ball through to Olivier Giroud, who provides the finishing touch to put France 1-0 up. Were England to revert to a back three, as has been suggested (and as Poland set up in during their game against Les Blues). it would hand Mbappe even greater licence to drift inside, with Hernandez able to pin back his opposing wing-back. 4-3-3 seems the best option for success.

So, while all the attention is on Walker, it may be a mixture of John Stones and Jordan Henderson tasked with keeping the mercurial Frenchman quiet when the two sides meet on Saturday.

Turning France’s strength into a weakness

As already mentioned, Theo Hernandez gets forward a lot from left back to allow Kylian Mbappe to thrive more centrally, as his pass map from the round of 16 win over Poland shows.

On the halfway line (no.22), he gives the French defence a lopsided look to it, and it is one that England could look to exploit.

Against Senegal, the Three Lions were proficient on the counter-attack, and should they be able to replicate this in the quarter-final they could find real joy down their right through Bukayo Saka, whether that be one vs one with Hernandez or running into the space left behind by the AC Milan man.

On the opposite side, Jules Kounde (no.5), a central defender by trade, operates as an inverted full-back to leave France with three in the build up, but neither he nor Hernandez tend to get too much defensive support from Mbappe or Ousmane Dembele, which could often see England left 3 vs 3 in attack as they were against Senegal, something that they have the ability to exploit.

Late in the game, the pace of the likes of Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford could well come into their own too as Southgate will almost certainly look to exploit the flanks, which look to be France’s most obvious weakness.

England’s strength is France’s weakness

While there are undoubtedly a host of stars littering the Les Blues side, they will be fearful of England too.

Of the three non-penalty goals that France have conceded so far this tournament, one has been from a set-piece, one from a driving run from midfield and the other from a flashing cross across the box to the back post.

These are three things that England excel at under Gareth Southgate. So far, three of their goals this campaign have come from flashing balls across the box, whether it be to the front or back post, while their World Cup run four years ago made famous the ‘love train’ at set pieces. Nine of their 12 goals in Russia came from set pieces.

But take Phil Foden’s goal against Wales this time around as an example of the former. As Harry Kane flashes it across the face of the penalty area, the Manchester City man arrives at the back post unmarked to fire home a quickfire second goal and put England in the driving seat.

While Wales are far inferior opposition to what England will face on Saturday, it is something that Didier Deschamps’ side struggle with too. Australia’s shock lead in their group opener came from an almost identical passage of play. Having got the better of Lucas Hernandez in the full-back position, Matthew Leckie fired the ball across the box for the onrushing Craig Goodwin to turn home with the French defence scrambling.

Of course, there are threats from all over the French side, whether it be the skillful Ousmane Dembele, all-time French top goalscorer Olivier Giroud or the ever-present Antoine Griezmann, but shutting down Mbappe would go a long way to helping England stay in the tie, while there are plenty of French defensive frailties to be exploited should they have the chance to attack on the break.

Read more:

England vs France: four most memorable meetings

World Cup 2022 England vs France combined XI


Ben Browning

Ben Browning

Football writer and analyst. Long-time writer of all things Arsenal and avid watcher of European football. Happy to discuss all things football over on Twitter.



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