Get those hamstrings well and truly stretched off! That’s what England’s physios will be telling Kyle Walker on Saturday as he prepares for the challenge of Kylian Mbappe and France. And he will certainly need every warm-up routine imaginable.
Though you don’t want Walker to be in a race with Mbappe, it’s unavoidable. We will inevitably see the speed that the 23-year-old Frenchman brings.
The way he gets close to you with the ball and tries to get you stopped — and then goes again with that explosive element that so far no one has lived with. He thinks he’s two yards quicker than anyone.
England will need to get Kyle Walker’s hamstrings stretched well ahead of Saturday’s game
The England star (left) will face off against France’s lightning forward Kylian Mbappe (right)
Sportsmail columnist Graeme Souness (above) has spoken ahead of the crunch knockout tie
Those hammys of Walker’s will be sorely tested and at 32 he won’t have the same muscular suppleness that he enjoyed as a younger man. Never have the words that the great Joe Fagan used to trot out most days in training at Liverpool seemed more appropriate than on a day like this.
‘The first two yards are in your head, son,’ Joe would say. It’s about anticipation as well as speed when you’re trying to deal with Mbappe.
That pace is only one part of the threat he brings. His goals against Poland in the last-16 tie showed how he sees a pass and can deliver what’s in his mind’s eye.
He can also operate in the tightest areas and get shots off with tremendous power and accuracy. So far, you’d have to say that Mbappe has been the star of this show.
That’s why it will be important that England don’t allow Mbappe to isolate Walker. Whoever plays in front of Walker must have his defensive head on. Walker must, at all times, be aware of Mbappe’s position when the French player gets involved in build-up play.
Walker and his England team-mates will need to prepare for Mbappe to win the quarter-final
The Manchester City defender must, at all times, be aware of the 23-year-old star’s position
I think we will see a really cautious game to begin with. England will try to get France up towards the halfway line, while France will drop off and try to do the same. When England lose possession in France’s half, the French will try to get the two sprinters in wide positions — Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele — into a race.
Someone makes a mistake, or someone produces a piece of brilliance that results in a goal. Then the game becomes very different because the conceding team have to go for it.
Of course, it won’t be easy for England. But I don’t think there is any need for English pessimism because despite France looking to utilise their biggest assets, which is hardly rocket science, they do have some vulnerabilities.
I’ve never been an enormous fan of Hugo Lloris. When I watch him play, he does something which top goalkeepers don’t do, by diving for a ball that is heading two yards wide of the post.
That’s a sure sign that he’s not quite sure of his angles a lot of the time. I’m sure Harry Kane has pointed out his Spurs team-mate’s shortcomings to England’s coaching staff and players.
I’ve never been an enormous fan of Les Bleus’ captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (pictured)
While Adrien Rabiot’s switching off means England can exploit France’s defensive vulnerability
I think England can exploit a defensive vulnerability in France. I was working on the France v Denmark game for ITV and Adrien Rabiot was twice caught ball-watching for the Danish goal — once in the build-up that led to a corner and again when that corner came in.
Mbappe sometimes goes through the motions when it comes to the defensive part of the game. He could have helped prevent that goal. It’s not all about the threat of Mbappe and Dembele.
There’s also Antoine Griezmann, who is a cute and clever player from midfield. But I don’t think England will lose sleep over Olivier Giroud, as they will know him well. He’s the all-time top French scorer now — and you have to give him respect for that — but they won’t be unhappy to face him.
It would be a very different story if the best goal-getter France have was at this tournament. I’m an enormous fan of Karim Benzema — 329 goals in 617 games for Real Madrid tells you all you need to know. If he had been at this World Cup, France would have been stronger than they were in 2018.
I do sense tremendous belief in the French camp — far more so than four years ago at the quarter-final stages, when they beat Uruguay 2-0. They’ve got players who are far more experienced now and approaching their peak years, bolstered by the knowledge that they are world champions.
Real Madrid striker and Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema (right) being out is a blow for France – they will not lose sleep over his replacement up top, 36-year-old veteran Olivier Giroud (left)
Teams fear business-like England – Gareth Southgate’s side is dangerous and France know it
But the pros out here at this World Cup are looking at England and thinking that while they might not be the best team to watch, they are a very hard team to play against and beat. They are a team who don’t have to play well to win games. That makes them very dangerous.
It’s not always the best footballing teams that win tournaments, as the past week has just reminded us. The best passing team are now back home, watching this World Cup from Madrid and Barcelona. Nobody out here is talking about who has most quality — only who will win it.
England are like the counter-punching boxer: cautious, pragmatic, resilient, looking to get the job done. They are the ones that no one wants to fight and they will take some knocking over.
They are a dangerous, business-like team, who have been to a World Cup semi-final and a Euros final. They’re here to win the tournament, not just entertain and go home empty-handed.
No one will relish coming up against them, including the French.
Brazil dance routine WAS disrespectful
I see the Brazil coach Tite has said that those questioning the team’s dancing celebrations after their goals in the 4-1 win over South Korea are showing a disrespect to the country’s culture.
Well, was it really necessary to do this every time they scored? I think that is disrespectful of the team you’re playing against and if I were a player on the opposition, I’m not sure I would have been too happy with that.
I look at it this way. If Brazil were playing Argentina, their greatest rivals, and the Argentines celebrated scoring three or four goals against them, what would Brazil think of that? The Brazilian public and players would not be too delighted.
I know the elation of a player who scores big goals in big competitions but that dance routine wasn’t in the spirit of the game and simply did not look good.
It’s not a road we go down in our country and I know that if we’d ever behaved that at Liverpool, the coaching team would have taken a dim view.
Yes, Brazil’s is a totally different culture. But treat people as you wish to be treated — that’s what I say.
While no matter what manager Tite says, Brazil’s dancing goal celebrations were disrespectful
Energy can take Morocco far
The sheer energy those Moroccan players showed to beat Spain this week took me back to a pre-season training camp when I was manager at Benfica, in the late 1990s.
We’d headed up into the Italian mountains and were doing mountain walks. My two Moroccan players, Tahar El Khalej and Abdelkrim El Hadrioui, weren’t 100 yards ahead of the rest of us.
They were a mile up the road! Those two were fantastic players, always the first in for training and always the last to leave. We’ve seen the same spirit in Walid Regragui’s team out here.
Morocco were playing survival football against Spain most of the time but they showed aggression at the right time, had a couple of breakaways and that extraordinary support. Spirit and a work ethic will generally take you to great places.
The energy Morocco showed to beat Spain can trouble Portugal in the quarter-final as well
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