Football News

Predicted XIs, key players & battles: How the French media sees England vs France

By Harry Edwards

Published: 7:00, 9 December 2022

On Saturday, an old rivalry renews itself as England take on France in the quarter-final of the 2022 World Cup.

This is a rivalry that goes beyond football, given the geographical closeness between the two nations in Europe. But it is on the pitch that we see it played out most often these days. That said, England and France haven’t faced off since June 2017 when Les Bleus won 3-2 in a friendly, and this is the first competitive meeting since the Euro 2012 group stage which ended 1-1.

It is also the first-ever game between England and France in the knockout stages at a major tournament, with all of the previous five at the World Cup and European Championships coming in the group stage (with two English wins, two draws and one French victory).

So it wouldn’t be too hyperbolic to say this is the biggest ever game between England and France, especially with both sides looking to continue their quests for World Cup glory. For England, it’s the wait to end 56 years of hurt for the men’s team. Meanwhile, France are looking to become just the third nation to win back-to-back World Cups.

Naturally, with all eyes are on what is perhaps the biggest quarter-final at this year’s World Cup, the previews and predictions are already out. We’ve published our own ready, but what is being said across the Channel? What are the key battles in the eyes of the French media? Who are the star players? And how do they think the two sides will line up?

England v France key battles

For many, the key battle is Kylian Mbappe vs Kyle Walker on England’s right-hand side, so much pre-match focus has been on that. But there are other battles across the pitch.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward is a deadly goalscorer but he is often picked out for his pace, which can cause even the quickest of defenders problems. L’Equipe have also picked out some of England’s slower men, who could have an issue on Saturday.

“The winner will not be the team that has the most possession, but the one that uses it with the most suddenness,” they wrote.

“Harry Maguire’s slowness could prove detrimental to the England rear guard, which Gareth Southgate could strengthen by abandoning his 4-3-3 for a 3-4-3, as he does every time he faces the best selections.”

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At the other end of the pitch, Harry Kane will be looking to add to his goal against Senegal, finally opening his World Cup account having drawn a blank in the group stage. It was essentially a reverse of his 2018 World Cup campaign, when he scored five of his six goals en route to the Golden Boot in the group stage.

On Saturday though he goes up against Tottenham Hotspur teammate Hugo Lloris, which former Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder Emmanuel Petit believes could benefit France.

“Being around someone and having him for several years under his own eyes means that you know his strengths and weaknesses,” he told RMC.

“For a goalkeeper, we know exactly what his difficulties are in terms of support, this what he likes the most or what he doesn’t like, if he is efficient on long shots… We know all his specificities. It’s the same at the level of penalties.

“Harry Kane is the designated shooter at Tottenham, so I think they know each other in this exercise. If there is a penalty in the game or we get to the penalty shoot-out, it will be a mental bluff.”

England’s key players

L’Equipe may have highlighted Maguire as a weakness for his lack of pace, but they also picked out the Manchester United player as someone France need to keep quiet.

Maguire has scored seven goals for England including two at major tournaments. He first found the net in England’s 2-0 win over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup quarter-final, heading in from a corner. Three years later he repeated the feat in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004, this time scoring a header from a free-kick as England beat Ukraine 4-0.

“What can make the difference are the set pieces. We know they are very good. We will have to be vigilant not to make the same mistakes as against Denmark,” France midfielder Adrien Rabiot said.

L’Equipe added: “One of the great English strengths is the screen: as in basketball, a team-mate positions himself in the trajectory of Maguire’s marker and blocks him or forces him to go around him, which will free the defender of Manchester United.

“The Englishman exudes plenty of upper body power and uses his arms to gain the upper hand.”

Back to RMC, Petit also picked out Phil Foden as one of England’s key men, a statement many fans will agree with even though he hasn’t found full favour with Southgate just yet.

Foden played just 19 minutes in England’s 6-2 win over Iran and was an unused substitute in the goalless draw with USA. He was finally handed a start in the 3-0 win over Wales, scoring England’s second, and then set up two of the Three Lions’ goals in their 3-0 victory against Senegal.

“Foden is probably the most skilful player. If there is one capable of distilling laser passes, it’s him,” Petit said.

“We saw him against Senegal on the opener, he puts it in the only space available. If you leave him even just 1.5m, with the quality he has, and the quality of the leading players, we risk being in great difficulty, especially since we can be improved in the air domain.”

How will England and France line up?

Looking back to the Mbappe vs Walker battle, some fans and journalists have been pondering how England will set up against France this weekend. Having utilised a back three for most of his tenure, Southgate has so far gone with a back four at the World Cup, a decision heralded by England fans who felt three centre-backs (and a very defensive two in midfield) has hindered the Three Lions.

But some are predicting that Southgate will revert to the back three this weekend, so he can double up on Mbappe with Walker as the right-sided centre-back and Kieran Trippier the right wing-back, including the Ligue 1 website.

Predicted England XI: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Rice, Bellingham, Shaw; Saka, Kane, Foden.

Predicted France XI: Lloris; Koundé, Varane, Upamecano, T. Hernandez; Tchouaméni, Rabiot; Dembélé, Griezmann, Mbappé; Giroud.