WHEN we held our Sun panel night ahead of this World Cup the verdict was clear.
Myself, Harry Redknapp, Jack Wilshere and Ledley King were all of the opinion that if we got to the quarter-finals against France it would be: “Thanks for having us, this is where we get off, it’s the end of the line.”
I’m not feeling like that any more. There’s a shaft of light and it’s not just my heart either that’s taken over from my head.
For I can see weaknesses in this French team.
While we all know their threats going forward, with the lightning-fast Kylian Mbappe, the strength of Olivier Giroud and the guile of Antoine Griezmann, we have plenty of attacking threat, too.
But the defence will have the biggest influence on this game. Which four-man unit works best with the keeper?
It will probably be even more nuanced than that. For I see this match being the battle of the full-backs and I am convinced our two are better than theirs.
France haven’t kept a clean sheet in the tournament and if I was French coach Didier Deschamps, I’d be stressing to them to work defensively and get the first shutout as their priority.
They have inexperience at full-back where one of them, Theo Hernandez, has only played ten times and Jules Kounde 15.
Compare that to Luke Shaw on 27 caps, and Kyle Walker’s 72, and it’s they who should be worrying about us exploiting their wide areas rather than us panicking about their attack.
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Understandably, everyone is now looking at Mbappe but Griezmann is opening up doors for fun.
He’s a bit of a Lionel Messi, he’s scary. But we’ve a few like that as well in Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish.
People are saying if Mbappe gets a run on Harry Maguire it’s all over but if he gets a run on any of them one-on-one it could be all over.
He’s going to be on Walker’s side and potentially he should be quick enough to deal with Mbappe. John Stones is on that side too which helps.
If he wanders to Maguire’s side then we’ve got problems.
England will have to double up on Mbappe, which will put pressure on Jordan Henderson, whose job will be to help Walker.
Mbappe’s good, but I’m not sure he’s a Maradona or a Pele yet, although he’s definitely working towards it and, at 23, what a player he is. But we don’t need to do any more than double up on him.
I doubt England will go man for man on him. Gareth Southgate will just be telling Jordan that for this one there’ll be no breaking forward to score like against Senegal.
His job will be to stop the ball getting to Mbappe or giving him space and not letting the ball in the box for Giroud to attack.
Stay as a unit, stay tight and don’t allow any one-on-one situations. But the French will be telling their team not to let the ball get into Harry Kane.
We would have extra insurance if Gareth switched to a three but I doubt he’ll do that.
He’s going to trust those who have got him there so far, match them up, and go 4-3-3.
If we need an example, the team I’ve seen work best defensively are Holland. They are the boring, boring Arsenal of this World Cup.
They are so well drilled by Louis van Gaal and I can see them beating Argentina in the quarters.
Holland have used a three and become really defensive but I believe they will do a job on Messi.
If they do it, would Gareth change his tactics and think: “We should do it that way,” and play with a back five to plug holes? Probably not but it’s worth considering.
I do want us to avoid trying to pass through them, there’s no joy there, you get blocked off too easily.
Against Senegal it was only when we started to go longer and pinged balls out wide that we stretched the play and turned the game. We need Maguire to hit those diagonals not slipping short balls into central midfield where we can be counter-attacked.
It will be a magnificent game and I can’t wait. I’m very excited about it.
We all know it will be very close — one goal either way and could even go to penalties.
I do still wonder if we’re missing that special ingredient that makes you World Cup winners.
France won it in 1998 with that extra magic in Zinedine Zidane. When Italy won it you go, “Wow, best defence in the world”. I can’t see that with us yet.
We need to be special in one area and I don’t know what it is yet. Is it the best at set-plays, defence, or best penalty-takers — or Bellingham scoring more goals to go from a good player to a magnificent player?
We’ve got to raise the bar because this French game will be on another level. There’s no messing about now, we’re in with the big boys.
Source: The Sun
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