England v France debrief: There’s still hope for the Three Lions | Football
The world will be expecting French victory on Saturday but Matthew Nash can see plenty of hope for the English resistance.
Gareth’s most crucial calls
Gareth Southgate doesn’t tend to shirk the big decisions. He made another bold call against Senegal, showing Bukayo Saka was one of his first-choice front three, and dropping Marcus Rashford – fresh from two goals against Wales – to the bench. Bold, brave or bizarre? Well, it paid off. Saka did his job and found the net with the decisive third goal while Phil Foden, who kept his place out wide, provided two assists. For three of England’s four games in Qatar, Southgate has got it all right. So far so good.
The headache coming his way is that whatever team he picks against France will quite possibly be the one that defines his reign. Lose, and it could be Southgate’s swansong as England manager. He will be considering his options very, very carefully this week. Don’t bet against him surprising all of us, again. It’s what he does.
English hopes rest on Jude
He just gets better and better, doesn’t he? And he makes it look so easy. No, not Kylian Mbappe, I’m talking about England’s own young hope, Jude Bellingham. Not just one for the future, Bellingham is very much one for now. The way he shredded Senegal’s midfield to drive the Three Lions on to a 2-0 half-time lead was mind-blowing. We knew he was talented but to be so impressive at a World Cup at 19 is beyond all expectation. This is a midfielder who grabs matches by the scruff of the neck and changes them at will. The majority of the talk before Sunday’s game will focus on how England deal with Mbappe but Didier Deschamps will have watched Sunday’s win over Senegal and know that he also has a player he needs to stop in Bellingham.
Kyl the danger
English minds naturally turned immediately to one man, Mbappe, after Sunday’s win over Senegal. But to zone in on him would be to ignore France’s other talented stars, and there are many. Antoine Griezmann is beginning to look like a world-beater again after a disrupted season. England’s defence, from what we have seen of them given the lower level of opposition they have been exposed to in Qatar, have been more than capable but this is a step up from Iran, the USA, Wales and a Senegal team missing Sadio Mane. Harry Maguire, rated not good enough to start in the Premier League by Manchester United, is now pitched into the match of his life against Mbappe, possibly as part of a back five if Southgate opts to change the system he has deployed in all four games so far.
Pick of the bunch
Surely there is no doubt any more about who is England’s No.1. Jordan Pickford’s first-half save from Boulaye Dia will have been largely forgotten but at 0-0 it was crucial as his men were suffering a bad patch, one they came through thanks to the Everton goalkeeper’s stop. He will be needed in more serious terms on Saturday but Pickford’s performances in goal make it easier for England’s backline to feel comfortable in front of him.
MORE : Jude Bellingham shuts down Kylian Mbappe talk ahead of England’s quarter-final with France
MORE : Gareth Southgate steps up England team’s home security after Raheem Sterling robbery
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