5 things England must do to beat France in World Cup quarter-finals

Kyle Picknell
How do you stop a threat like Kylian Mbappe?
How do you stop a threat like Kylian Mbappe? / Marvin Ibo Guengoer - GES Sportfoto/GettyImages

So this is it, then. Another quarter-final, the third in a row at major tournaments for Gareth Southgate and England.

In 2018, we brushed Sweden aside. In 2021, it was Ukraine, who were dismissed via a 4-0 thrashing.

This time, however, it is the reigning champions France. It is Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembele, who are not quite the four horsemen of the apocalypse but still quite a frightening prospect.

Mbappe, in particular, has been the best player in the tournament so far. It's his world, his World Cup and we're all just living in it.

England have stars of their own. Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka all look at home on this stage and have the quality to match their French counterparts. Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world regardless of how many goals he has to his name so far. There's a chance.

Here are the five things England must do to beat France in the World Cup quarter-final.

1. Stop Kylian Mbappe - but as a team

Kylian Mbappé, Kamil Glik
It will not be down to Kyle Walker alone to keep Mbappe quiet / Simon M Bruty/GettyImages

Easier said than done, right? How on earth do you stop a player like KylianMbappe?

You can't leave him one on one. At the same time, you can't get too tight and leave him with space to run into. You can't even focus entirely on him as Griezmann and Dembele are threats on the ball themselves. Well, what can you do?

Starve him of service. That's the only way. England need to cut off supply lines into Mbappe as best they can.

This will largely involve Kyle Walker man-marking the PSG forward at all times and then the likes of Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson and Saka triangulating on the right side of England's midfield to patrol the space in front of and around France's danger man and make it difficult for him to receive the ball into feet. Better yet, ensure he is at least penned in and forced to pass back once he does get it.

John Stones will need to be aware of any diagonal runs and quickly drop back on the cover if required. Jordan Pickford will need to be smart off his line, too. The whole thing is a team effort - this does not come down to Walker having a good game alone. Matty Cash did so for Poland but Mbappe still tore them to shreds.

Finally, England will need to rein in the press slightly to ensure Les Bleus don't find a way between the lines and break. It has to be controlled. Mbappe is at his most devastating in transition (as Poland found out) but if they can limit him to receiving the ball in static positions and surrounded by white shirts, that will severely diminish his impact.

Good luck with all that, lads.

2. Win the midfield battle

Adrien Rabiot
Adrien Rabiot and Aurelien Tchouameni have both impressed for France / Markus Gilliar - GES Sportfoto/GettyImages

For France, the absence of N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba has scarcely been felt. That's about as good a compliment as it gets.

Adrien Rabiot and Aurelien Touchameni have developed a formidable partnership in the centre of midfield and will pose England real problems with their work rate and ability on the ball. Griezmann, too, is playing deeper than he ever has and excelling as their third man.

That being said, Rice commands the space in which Griezmann likes to operate - just in front of the back four, between the centre-backs and full-backs - as well as anyone else in the world. Jude Bellingham has the physicality and technical quality to go toe-to-toe with Tchouameni. Henderson is not the player he once was but has the veteran savvy to keep tabs on Rabiot.

It will be a fascinating contest between two midfield trios that look extremely well-matched on paper. It's a cliche that games like these are often decided in the middle of the pitch, but there's a reason. England will need to come out on top there to have any chance.

3. Make the most of set-pieces/Operation Slabhead

Harry Maguire
Maguire has been a huge threat from set-pieces at the World Cup / Visionhaus/GettyImages

France have already conceded one goal so far at this World Cup from a set-piece: Andreas Christensen's header for Denmark. That might not seem like a lot but Didier Deschamps' team have looked more vulnerable from corners and free-kicks than that the figure might let on. We'll get to Hugo Lloris later.

Enter Slabhead and his centre-back partner Stones. Both players excel at attacking set-pieces and England often do a good job of freeing them in the area with clever movement and blocking from other players. Against Iran they caused mayhem from corners and were unfortunate not to score.

Kane, too, is extremely dangerous if he can find a yard of space. Thank god the brief travesty of him actually taking the corners at Euro 2016 is long over.

England's run to the World Cup semi-final in 2018 was largely built upon the team's effectiveness from dead-ball opportunities. Given the way knockout games (especially against opponents as imposing as France) can often be decided by these moments, the fine margins during those split-second moments of chaos inside either penalty box, England will need to make the most of them.

Who knows, we might finally be awarded a penalty.

4. Get Phil Foden running at Jules Kounde

Pathe Ciss, Phil Foden
Foden dazzled against Senegal / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Jules Kounde is a fine defender but is definitely out of position at right-back, although he has played there on occasion. Given that the winger ahead of him is Dembele, and Dembele's defensive work rate is minimal, he will often be left on his own to contain Foden which could prove a recipe for disaster for the French.

Against Senegal, England's play was heavily focused down the left side where Luke Shaw, Bellingham and Kane combined with the Manchester City forward. If England can do the same against France through the quick interplay and Foden drawing Kounde forward there will be space to exploit behind an otherwise tight defensive unit.

With the added threat of Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford to come off the bench and run at both Kounde and Raphael Varane inside him, this area could be the key for England and is perhaps the one part of the pitch where they have a clear advantage on paper.

5. Force Hugo Lloris into errors

Hugo Lloris
Lloris has looked shaky for France / Marvin Ibo Guengoer - GES Sportfoto/GettyImages

While still an excellent shot-stopper, Lloris is looking increasingly suspect in the air and with his distribution on the ground. These are things England can use to their advantage in the quarter-final.

We've already mentioned set-pieces and any high balls into the box, particularly aimed at the forehead of Maguire, should cause havoc given Lloris' propensity to misjudge and fumble catches. Players - looking at you here, Harry - will need to react should he spill.

Beyond that, England should funnel French possession back to Lloris as often as possible leaving him to play out from the back with his feet. The worst-case scenario is he goes long to Giroud but with Rice and the two centre-backs England should be able to win those balls fairly comfortably.

The best case is that Lloris panics - as he is prone to doing - and gives us the ball back in dangerous positions where we can burst forward. Simply put, Lloris isn't the goalkeeper he was and putting the French captain under pressure will likely lead to mistakes.

Onwards, then, to Saturday.