|Host country: Qatar Dates: November 20-December 18 Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Daily TV programs – Full coverage details|
England will meet reigning champions France on Saturday in a tantalizing World Cup quarter-final with key battles across the field.
The first major knockout match between the two countries promises to be a high quality match at Qatar’s Al Bayt Stadium, with the outcome to be determined down to the smallest detail.
But how exactly can the game be won? BBC Sport takes a closer look…
A tough game for right-wing defenders
When considering how to stop France, the focus is naturally on Kylian Mbappé.
It’s certainly no secret that retaining the Paris St-Germain striker, who has scored or assisted France’s past seven World Cup goals, will be key to England’s hopes of reaching successive semi-finals after also made it to the last four of Russia 2018.
France is undefeated in Mbappe’s 13 starts at major tournaments – winning all nine at the World Cup – and has been directly involved in 12 goals in those matches.
He has been an irreplaceable influence and has been vital to France’s attack, leading his team in a host of offensive stats including shots (20), attacking ranges in open play (36) and touches in the opposing team’s penalty area (46).
There are similarities in the way England and France created their chances, with both favoring attacks on the left.
The two sides have made 41% of their attacks down that side, with no player creating more chances for their respective teams than left-backs Theo Hernandez (nine) and Luke Shaw (six).
More than half of France’s chances came from the left, where 26 chances resulted in a total of five assists.
That’s compared to three assists from 11 left-wing chances for England, which Shaw could deploy – after Argentina’s progressive passing talisman Lionel Messi – and Phil Foden or Marcus Rashford against an out-of-position Jules Kounde at right-back. .
While it remains to be seen whether Gareth Southgate will opt to stick with a four in the back or shift to a three, there is no doubt that England’s right-wing defenders – possibly both Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier – are in for a busy night .
But especially Walker will feel confident. The Manchester City defender has faced Mbappé three times in the Champions League, with the Frenchman limited to an average of 0.7 shots per 90 minutes – significantly below his 2022 World Cup average of 6.4.
The battle for supremacy in midfield
Jude Bellingham’s superb performance for England in the 3-0 last 16 victory over Senegal led teammate Foden to predict the 19-year-old will one day be the best midfielder in the world.
Bellingham leads the tournament midfielders for duels won (26) and tackles won (11), and that disruptive aspect of his game will be crucial as he tries to gain control of a central area with 22-year-old Aurelien Tchouameni’s bike and the creativity of Antoine Griezmann 31.
The direct Tchouameni carried the ball for 812.6 yards – considerably more than Bellingham (531.6 yards) – while Griezmann has created the most chances (15) and big chances (five) of both sides.
Griezmann has also made the most passes in the penalty area (36) and recorded the highest expected assists value (2.67xA) for either team, so limiting his influence in the build-up phases will be critical for England.
That job will likely fall to Bellingham and Declan Rice, though Jordan Henderson may keep his place after Rice missed practice earlier this week due to illness.
Bellingham has 23 possessions for his side in four games – a leading midfield scoring between the two sides – and transitional recovery will be particularly important. While England (38) leads France (29) for high turnovers, one in six ends up ahead of France in a shot.
But England will also try to unleash one of their most creative players whenever possible.
Only Shaw and Harry Kane have provided England with more creativity than Bellingham, who has so far completed seven passes in the penalty area and became the first teenager to assist in a World Cup knockout match in that high-profile Senegal display.
A tale of two strikers
Not long after Olivier Giroud became France’s all-time leading goalscorer against Poland on Sunday, England captain Harry Kane opened his account in Qatar.
Giroud, with three goals in as many starts, and Kane both stand on 52 international goals, with the Tottenham striker now just one short of Wayne Rooney’s all-time Three Lions record.
Kane has slightly outperformed his projected goal value (xG) of 0.9 from his four chances to date, but it’s in the build-up where he’s been most effective for his team.
Leading Qatar with three assists from five chances created, his role in Henderson’s goal (below) as he passed the marauding Bellingham against Senegal was typical of his wider influence.
Kane is much more important to England’s build-up than his counterpart in France, having more than double the number of touches (123) as Giroud (56) at this World Cup, and having the most progressive passing (14) among forwards at the tournament. .
But only 6.5% of Kane’s touches were inside the penalty area, compared to almost one in five for Giroud.
And it’s in the box where the Frenchman continues to deliver, with a 33.3% shot conversion rate and three goals from an xG of 2.37.
In fact, England’s most prolific shot-taker is Rashford, whose eight tries in 132 minutes of football amount to one every 17 minutes, followed by Bukayo Saka, Foden and Kane (five).
It’s Kane’s ability to keep the opposition defense busy and bring others into play in his fluid role that could prove crucial.
After all, while eight of France’s nine goals have been scored by Mbappé or Giroud, England’s 12 goals have been split between eight players.
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