As soon as their quarterfinal clash with France was confirmed, there was one question that dominated the discussion in England: how do you stop Mbappé?

The game against Senegal hadn’t even finished before the commentators had turned their thoughts. England gave away the ball against the Lions of Teranga, acted sloppy in possession and was casual on the back line. Rather than talk about Senegal, commentators said ‘they won’t get away with that against France.’ More specifically, the player came across their thoughts.

You would not be able to give Mbappé that kind of space.

I’m worried over what Kylian Mbappé can do against England in that scenario.

Newspaper headlines the next day echoed those thoughts. A range of articles and columns dedicated to what – and who – was agreed as the game’s deciding factor.

It’s an understandable approach for those looking in. Mbappé is the tournament’s stand out player, so far. In the now, he is the tournament’s top scorer with five goals. Assuredly, he is a future Ballon d’Or winner, and quite possibly a two-time World Cup winner, or even more.

His speed and ability to take the ball past players alongside the ease at which he appears to find scoring certainly marks him out as the biggest threat England will face.

The biggest but not the only threat, that is.

Kylian Mbappé not the only threat England faces

Amid all the talk of Kylian Mbappé, there is a danger in England overlooking the rest of France. It is an immensely talented and disciplined squad with players across the front line capable of hurting England.

Now his country’s top scorer of all time, Olivier Giroud carries a threat like few other No. 9s. He is adept with both his head and his feet, and he is comfortable with his back to goal. His uncanny ability to possess and find space amidst the defense brings others into the game outside of him.

Dembele’s one-on-one prowess should more than worry Luke Shaw on the right hand side. The Barcelona winger looks a player reborn after his injury battles earlier in his career. He looks to come inside and take the game to a potentially shaky Harry Maguire. This is cause for concern on the faces of all England supporters.

Behind the front three lies perhaps the key player to all of this, Antoine Griezmann. The Atletico Madrid star sacrificed his more selfish instincts to turn from goal scorer to deep-lying playmaker. Now, he finds space between the lines. Therefore, he ties together moves to hurt opponents. How England tackle him will be just as important as their tactics against Kylian Mbappé. Cutting out the supply line to the front three will prove crucial to England’s chance of success. Could Declan Rice be tasked with a man-marking role?

For all the talk of opponents, it shouldn’t be forgotten that England have some serious weapons of their own.

Attack may be the best form of defense

They will go into the quarterfinal as the tournament’s top scorers and can boast a genuine world class forward in Harry Kane. They have a bench as strong – if not stronger – as any other nation, with game-changers like Rashford, Grealish, Mount, Maddison and Sterling able to affect the outcome late in the game.

Saka, Foden and Bellingham have already proved they are more than ready to become international regulars. Bellingham in particular has captured the imagination with his commanding performances. His bursts from central midfield have drawn comparisons with some of the greats in his home country with pundits and journalists alike lining up to herald him as ‘the world’s next best midfielder’.

The fear for those supporting England is that Gareth Southgate will pay too much attention on how to stop France that he fails to focus on how best to hurt them. In order for England to succeed, they must remember to bring the sword as well as the shield.

Formational decisions

Central to that is formation. They’ve come this far deploying a 4-3-3 which gets the best out of their young stars and provides enough stability defensively to allow Bellingham the freedom to play his natural game. It plays to their attacking strengths and places the onus on the front six breaking quickly as a unit, as they did so impressively against Senegal.

Calls for Southgate to return to a back three in order to double-up on right-backs and mitigate the threat of Mbappé would result in a midfield short in numbers and hand the initiative to France before a ball is kicked.

Whatever approach England do take, it promises to be  gripping encounter, the match-up of the tournament so far and true test of both team’s chances of making it all the way to the final on 18 December.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Laci Perenyi

Guide to World Cup 2022

Here are some resources to help you get the most out of the biggest event in soccer!
TV Schedule: All the info on where and when to watch every game
The Groups: We breakdown each group and all the teams
The Kits: Check out what every team will be wearing on the field this fall
Predictor: Play out every scenario with our World Cup Predictor
World Cup Bracket: Map out the entire tournament, from the groups to the final