The European football expert on why England will beat France in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final and how he rates Jude Bellingham above Gavi
The world will expect France to beat England but how do you see it going?
For me, England are favourites. I think collectively it’s a stronger team. France have an individual who is ahead of the rest [Kylian Mbappe] but what they do is hand over the ball and the responsibility and the best moments to him, which makes the team worse.
With England, the threat comes from so many places. I don’t think it’s a midfield that can dominate games but it’s one that, given space, can do a lot of damage and I am fearful of one player from France but about four from England – whichever three play up front, plus Jude Bellingham. I wouldn’t say if they beat France, ‘That’s it, the World Cup is won!’ because there’s Brazil and others but certainly it’s a great opportunity to beat France and it can happen.
France don’t seem to have the deepest squad, as the 1-0 defeat to Tunisia in the group stage showed when Didier Deschamps made wholesale changes.
Brazil can do that but not France. The original midfield was not that impressive either. Adrien Rabiot is doing really, really well but Aurelien Tchouameni? Maybe. He does fill a role and does it well but it’s not a midfield to be fearful of. The full-backs? I don’t see one that says ‘be careful’. It’s a team that can be beaten but the shadow of Mbappe is so huge that it takes the analysis down the road of, ‘How do we beat a team with him in?’.
So are they a one-man team?
Antoine Griezmann puts oil in their midfield. Olivier Giroud can finish. But England have Bellingham, Phil Foden, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka. Oh my god. It’s a lot of players to cover. Gareth Southgate knows he has a midfield he can trust and can allow Bellingham to become almost a fourth forward and that makes England more versatile, more difficult to beat. France are more predictable.
Who’s the breakout teenage star here?
Bellingham will be the best midfielder in the world alongside Jamal Musiala and Pedri. He has everything; physique, intelligence, movement. Gavi runs a lot, fights a lot, has a lot of personality. He’s goes 100 miles-an-hour but I don’t put him in the same category as Musiala and Bellingham.
You’ve updated your biography of Lionel Messi. May he still join Manchester City?
I think it’s too late. He learned English for a year-and-a-half before going to Paris in case (a City move) happened. The style doesn’t suit him now. Three or four years ago, absolutely. I asked him once, ‘In England they say you may not do it on a Tuesday night at Stoke’. He said, ‘That’s because they didn’t see the pitches I used to play on with glass on it and dogs!’ But that’s now gone I think.
What about a move to the MLS?
He won’t go to Inter Miami – not yet. It makes no sense. He’s closer to staying longer at PSG.
The updated version of Messi by Guillem Balague is available now from Amazon
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