Sky Sports’ writers reflect on Sunday’s action as England reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup to set up a meeting with France next weekend…
Southgate’s tactical nous improving at World Cup
Gareth Southgate’s tactical nous is growing as this tournament goes on.
He’s been a little bit more adventurous going with a 4-3-3 formation, giving the likes of Jude Bellingham freedom to roam rather than shackling him with a defensive midfield mindset, and it’s paying dividends.
Southgate’s had his critics going into this tournament. England had gone six games without a win and there were some fans saying he’d had his time, questions over many of his decisions and his tactical prowess.
However, I don’t think there are many saying that now as England progressed to a 10th World Cup quarter-final.
It’s worth a small reminder that before Southgate’s England reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2018, they had not won a knock-out game of any form since 2006.
Southgate got all the big calls right once again.
Sky Sports News’ Rob Dorsett
Kane finding his scoring touch at just the right time?
England have scored 12 goals in four matches at the World Cup.
It is their joint-most at a single major tournament (World Cup and Euros), level with their 12 goals at the 2018 World Cup.
They’ve been clinical and up until now, they’d done it without the goals of Harry Kane.
If you were told Kane had only scored one of England’s 12 goals, you’d probably not believe it, such was the reliance on the striker’s goals through Gareth Southgate’s tenure.
That is the case, however, but the England captain could have found his goal-scoring form at just the right time after his first goal of the tournament helped his side to a 3-0 win against Senegal in the last 16.
As a striker, scoring goals is what you do, and it is one of the best feelings you can have in football. Of course, I was waiting patiently to try and score. Thankfully that was today [against Senegal] and I feel good. Hopefully this can start a good run for me personally and I know that can help the team as well.
Kane has now scored 11 goals at major tournaments for England (seven at the World Cup and four at the Euros), overtaking Gary Lineker (10) as the Three Lions’ all-time top scorer in such competitions.
And with England’s huge showdown against France now on the horizon, you wouldn’t back against England’s talisman adding to that tally.
Can England pretend they’re 1-0 up from kick-off?
Part of me thinks England have a secret batch of players in reserve the moment they go 1-0 up at this World Cup.
The Three Lions have netted the first goal in each of the three goals they have scored in so far, and have suddenly looked a different team each time.
They were comfortable without a cutting edge against Iran before Jude Bellingham’s header – and went on to hammer in another five.
Against Wales, Marcus Rashford broke the deadlock shortly after half-time and barely 60 seconds later, Phil Foden had added a second. Another 17 minutes on, England were 3-0 up and done for the night.
The biggest contrast by far has come against Senegal. England were on the ropes at times, sloppy in possession and looking nervous, until Jordan Henderson stroked past Edouard Mendy after 38 minutes. By half-time, they were 2-0 up, and again they added a third shortly after the break.
Those goals have mirrored the performances. England look more purposeful, win a noticeably higher number of second balls and offer more attacking movement when they have the lead.
It’s curious that this in itself is a contrast with previous iterations of this squad. It could yet prove a positive rather than a negative.
In both of their two knock-out defeats under Gareth Southgate, England have opened the scoring but failed to build on their lead, sat back and eventually paid the price.
And if they do strike first against France next weekend, adding a second will be another task altogether compared to facing Iran, Wales and Senegal.
But the fact England are showing the intent is a promising omen.
They have already matched their scoring tally from the World Cup four years ago. They’ve also notched two or more goals in three games already – as many as they managed in the whole of the Euros last summer.
And despite France’s elite quality, the Three Lions have already had seven different scorers in Qatar – the most of any tournament in history.
If they are to score first next Saturday and step up their game again, there is no shortage of players capable of making it happen.
England must solve Mbappe problem
“The scary thing is, Matty Cash has actually done ok against Mbappe.”
That was the opinion of Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher after Kylian Mbappe had scored twice to take his tally at the World Cup to five and send France into the quarter-finals.
Cash, the Aston Villa right-back, had kept Mbappe relatively at bay until the superstar slammed in two unstoppable efforts. That is the challenge facing England and particularly Kyle Walker.
Mbappe completed five successful dribbles from nine attempted (56%) while only winning six duels from 16 (38%). France laboured in attack with their main man kept quiet although Giroud showed his class by netting the goal to become France’s all-time men’s record goalscorer.
Giroud is more than capable of filling in for the injured Karim Benzema and leading the frontline, but France’s reliance on Mbappe’s flair is obvious. Stop him, like Cash did for the best part of 70 minutes, and England will have more than a good chance of reaching the semi-finals.
The big question is: How do you stop Mbappe?
“There is no recipe. No one knows the recipe, no coach knows the recipe to stop Mbappe in the form he is in,” said Poland manager Czeslaw Michniewicz after their defeat.
Good luck, England.
France have defensive vulnerabilities England can take advantage of
For all of France’s threat with Kylian Mbappe, England will be confident they have their own weapons to hurt the holders.
Didier Deschamps’ side are yet to keep a clean sheet in the tournament and had a few rocky moments against Poland that demonstrated their vulnerability defensively.
Poland came close to taking the lead in the first half only for Hugo Lloris to deny Piotr Zielinski before Jakub Kaminski’s rebound was cleared off the line by Raphael Varane.
It was a hairy moment for Les Bleus as Poland, who scored a late penalty through Robert Lewandowski, actually finished the game with a better xG (1.78) than France (1.35). The Poles created two big chances and registered 12 shots in the 3-1 defeat.
Across the tournament, France have conceded an average of nearly five shots (4.75) inside the box per game which is more than fellow tournament favourites Brazil, Argentina and Spain.
England will fancy themselves to take advantage of the opportunities France have been giving up.
The Three Lions are the top scorers at this tournament having scored three more than any other side, while 10 of their 12 goals scored have been from open play.
France are yet to face a side of England’s attacking quality in Qatar and will be in for their toughest test yet defensively in the quarter-finals.
England should stick with their attacking line-up on Saturday because France will fear it.
England have a 1/3 chance of reaching final
The fixture many predicted, and many more dared not to utter before the Senegal game was done and dusted, has materialised: England vs France.
The world champions arrived at the tournament among a clutch of favourites to go all of the way – despite missing several key players with injuries.
That list of absentees has grown longer in Qatar with Karim Benzema and Lucas Hernandez ruled out – but the French have adapted and progressed – with Kylian Mbappe topping the scoring chart with five goals.
Going into the tournament, many predicted England will meet their demise in the quarter-finals; so, have England met their inevitable demise? No, according to data gurus Opta.
The data provider predicts England will beat France and progress to the semi-finals – with the odds tipped 59/41 in the Three Lions’ favour.
Indeed, England are now drawn virtually level with favourites Brazil and Argentina to reach the final – with chances hovering around 33 per cent for each nation to walk out at the Lusail Stadium on December 18.
World champions? Well, Brazil are good value at 22 per cent, Argentina at 20 per cent and England at 16 per cent. The Three Lions’ chances jumped five per cent after sweeping Senegal aside in the round of 16.
Why? Well, England have scored a tournament-topping 12 goals in just four games, from just 21 shots on target. Brazil have scored only three goals in three games and clocked an identical number of accurate attempts.
This is an attacking England, on the front foot, sharing goals, with fuel in the tank and room for improvement – while also playing farther upfield than any other nation left in Qatar.
Gareth Southgate’s side will face titans of world football hereon, but England’s chances of going all the way keep rising as Goliaths disappear down the departure lounge…
Senegal wasted chances – France won’t be as generous
After knocking in three goals against Senegal to extend their record at the 2022 World Cup to 12 goals from four matches, it would be easy to assume England breezed their way past the African champions to secure their place in the quarter-finals.
But while that may have been the case in the second-half thanks to Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane’s goals just before half-time, the contest before the Liverpool midfielder’s strike was very much in the balance.
In fact, England – despite seeing plenty of the ball – failed to do much with it and instead presented the game’s best opportunities to their opponents.
Senegal really should have taken the lead when Ismaila Sarr struck the ball over the crossbar from just yards out, before Jordan Pickford denied Boulaye Dia at close range with a strong left-handed save.
The chances fell Senegal’s way at least partially as a result of England’s issues progressing the ball, with Harry Maguire and John Stones giving the ball away on several occasions before visibly remonstrating with their team-mates.
Gareth Southgate acknowledged after the game that his side struggled in possession in the first-half and highlighted the role Jude Bellingham and Jordan Henderson played in getting England up the pitch by turning the ball over in Senegal territory.
Eventually England were able to rely on more than just winning the ball back, with their quality in possession showing through in the build-up for the first and second goals as they cut through Senegal’s defences.
But the way in which Aliou Cisse’s side were able to not just frustrate England, but very nearly become the first side to take the lead against them at this World Cup will be food for thought for Southgate, particularly given his side’s slow starts against the USA and Wales in their previous two games.
All three of those sides let England off the hook. World champions France – with the red-hot Kylian Mbappe fully firing – are unlikely to be so generous.