Talking Tactics: How the Three Lions can tame Mbappe
The question on everyone’s lips ahead of England’s World Cup quarter-final showdown with France is how Gareth Southgate’s men can stop one particular dangerman.
Les Blues superstar Kylian Mbappe has been at his sensational best in Qatar, scoring five times in four games.
Propelling his country to new heights again with frightening pace, skill and clinical finishing, the Three Lions know stifling Mbappe could go a long way to defeating the world champions.
Ahead of Saturday evening’s clash, we look at how England can go about thwarting Mbappe and knocking France out.
Keeping Cash in check
When England line up on Saturday, they will be testing themselves against one of the world's very best players.
Poland right-back Matty Cash generally performed well up against him in the last 16 but it did not prove enough, with the Paris Saint-Germain forward still scoring twice.
After the game, the Aston Villa man shed some light on the multiple weapons the France star has in his armoury.
He said: "When he stands you up and moves, he does it really well. He drops the shoulder, goes short then long. I did everything I could.
"When it was one-vs-one I thought I'd done OK against him. I spent the afternoon watching his clips and I knew it was going to be a tough test — in real life he’s burning my legs. That’s the difference!"
Running against Walker
Given Mbappe has done most of his damage at Qatar from the left side of attack, right-back Kyle Walker has been earmarked as England’s man to stop him.
The Manchester City defender may well be one of the only full-backs in Europe who can match the blistering pace of his counterpart.
Having only returned from an injury absence in England’s third group game against Wales, much of the discourse has centred around getting the 72-cap international match fit ahead of potentially meeting Mbappe and Co in the last eight.
With that much-anticipated face-off now confirmed, the 32-year-old said: "He's a great player in great form so it's not going to be an easy task.
"But as a professional you want to play against the best players and he is one of the best in the world.
"Of course, I understand the focus and I understand what I need to do to stop him. It's easier said than done but I don't underestimate myself.
"I've come up against some of the best players in the world but I have to treat it just as another game. You have to give him respect but not too much.
"It will be a tough game but a team cannot just be about one person. I'm not going to roll out a red carpet for him and tell him to score. It's a World Cup, it's do or die."
Walker is certainly not going to stop Mbappe on his own and a tactical shift by boss Southgate could well be in order.
While starting with a back four in games against Iran, the United States, Wales and Senegal so far, the Three Lions coach is no stranger to switching to a three-man defence at major tournaments.
It is a formula that has worked well against high-profile opposition too, with Southgate masterminding a memorable 2-0 win over Germany in the last 16 at Euro 2020.
That would likely see Walker join John Stones and Harry Maguire on the right of three centre-backs, with the reliable Kieran Trippier slotting in at right wing-back.
Having both Trippier and Walker in the side would allow England to double up on the France talisman to prevent his threat when in full flow.
The formation switch would force the Three Lions to play two in midfield rather than three — with Jordan Henderson missing out and Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham selected in a double pivot.
Attack the best form of defence
England’s growth under Southgate is clear, but they are yet to prove themselves as one of the top teams in the world.
The 52-year-old tactician has been criticised for being too conservative in previous tournament defeats against Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semi-final and Italy in the Euro 2020 final — despite taking the lead on both occasions.
Setting up purely to stop Mbappe is a dangerous game and could well invite trouble rather than prevent it.
Top scorers in Qatar alongside Portugal with 12 goals, England should fear no one — not even the reigning world champions.
Teen sensation Bellingham has been the standout star of England’s campaign so far and there is the argument to say his effectiveness may be reduced with only two in midfield and without Henderson as his disruptor alongside him.
The Liverpool midfielder frequently slots in at right-back to support the often advanced Trent Alexander-Arnold at club level, a role he could carry out with Walker against Mbappe.
Right-sided forward Bukayo Saka is not one to shirk his defensive responsibilities either, meaning Southgate may finally have the tools to go toe-to-toe with teams of this calibre.
While striking a balance is key, now could be the time for England to prove they belong among the very best by taking the game to the world champions.