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FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

FIFA World Cup 2022: How England can overcome France in this huge quarter-final bout between two European titans – tactical preview

After two entire days without football, the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals are finally here. The most awaited encounter is between two European heavy hitters. With two of the best squads in the competition, France and England entered the Qatar World Cup as some of the favourites to win it all. The two nations will face off rather early though, in a historic quarter-final encounter.

In the lead-up to the competition, the French camp was surrounded by criticism, doubts, and injuries. A few weeks before, their midfield was depleted as Juventus’ Paul Pogba and Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté suffered serious injuries. The nightmare continued with Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, PSG’s Presnel Kimpembé, and RB Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku all being ruled out of this year’s World Cup.

Nonetheless, Kylian Mbappé has led one of the best attacks in the competition, and Les Bleus have constantly confirmed their status as favourites. The best attack, however, is northwest of France. With 12 goals, England have been one of the most terrifying nations so far. Gareth Southgate’s side has a balance between youth and experience, and it has proven beyond fruitful.

While both nations have been excellent, only one can move forward. This tactical analysis will provide a tactical preview of the anticipated quarter-final between England and France. Looking at the tactics behind this match, this analysis will preview where the edge may lie for each team.

Team news

Unfortunately for England, Didier Deschamps will not have much trouble with his starting eleven. Although Mbappé missed a training session ahead of the tie, France’s star player will be leading the attack without a problem.

Their usual 4-2-3-1 should be expected, with Hugo Lloris in goal, and Jules Koundé, Dayot Upamecano, Raphaël Varane, and Theo Hernández forming the back four. In the midfield, Aurélien Tchouaméni and Adrien Rabiot sit behind Antoine Griezmann as a free-roaming 10. Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé are the wingers with Olivier Giroud up top.

There is nowhere near as much certainty in the English camp. Although Raheem Sterling is back in Qatar, Declan Rice is a doubt for the match with a recent illness. The biggest doubt is in their formation, as Southgate tries to deal with the threat posed by Mbappé.

If the English manager opts for a 4-3-3, a similar starting lineup from the Senegal match can be expected, except with a probable introduction of Sterling over Phil Foden. However, many believe Southgate will go back to his favourite 5-2-3. This would significantly impact their attacking dynamic, but it would provide a safer structure to deal with France’s left side. In this scenario, Kyle Walker would become the wide centre-back while Kieran Trippier comes in as the right wing-back.

Gaining control

Regardless of the structure Southgate adopts, their behaviour is likely to be the same. England will try to assume control of the match from the very beginning, as they have throughout this tournament. This is done through their aggressive high defensive block, which has averaged a PPDA of just 8.26 in their four matches so far. Against Senegal, specifically, they averaged a PPDA of 6.46, which helped them dominate possession with 59.4% in the match.

In the map below, we are able to see how advanced Southgate’s defensive system is, going well into the opposition’s third. Additionally, the very light dots represent defensive actions. These are concentrated in the two half-spaces, further illustrating their defensive approach.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

In the competition, the Three Lions have a total of 51 high regains, as seen below. Not only are Southgate’s men capable of pressuring the opposition into going long, but they are also able to recover it in dangerous areas – 13 of these recoveries have led to a shot within 20 seconds. In transition, they maintain a similar approach with 66 counter-pressing recoveries. This effective high press system will certainly play a role in finding initial control over the match.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

In the build-up phase, Deschamps’ men form a 4-3-3 structure, with Tchouaméni dropping as a single pivot behind Griezmann and Rabiot. The Juventus midfielder is unlikely to be the solution to England’s press, so Griezmann will be dragged in deeper if they wish to build out of the back. This will consequently take Griezmann further from goal, which would certainly be a good thing for the English.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

On the other hand, England press in their natural 4-3-3 shape. The wingers, however, begin in much more narrow positions while the midfielders push up high. They will look to remain compact as their defensive structure shifts from side to side. In the image below, as Senegal focus their build-up on the right side, Foden, the opposite winger, comes inside to support the midfield.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

Southgate’s wingers look to close the passing lane to the fullbacks while they advance on the centre-backs with Harry Kane. This creates a much more aggressive high press, which looks to constantly overwhelm the ball carrier rather than simply close off options.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

Against France, their pressuring structure in the midfield should slightly change, with either midfielder advancing on Tchouaméni while the other drops to help Declan Rice. This high press should allow England to dominate possession, at least initially, and keep France in their half.

Deschamps’ defensive system

It is very unlikely France will come into the match with a similar defensive intensity as England. Les Bleus have averaged a PPDA of 15.03 in this World Cup, and aside from Tunisia, they rarely maintained any defensive intensity. With 36-year-old Giroud leading the attack, this is unlikely to change anytime soon.

The contrast in the intensity without the ball should allow England to assume control of possession, forcing France to defend in lower blocks. Their defensive territory in the competition shows they are quite used to this, with a much lower block than England.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

In this mid-low block, they sit in a 4-4-2 structure as Griezmann pushes up alongside Giroud. This will be extremely useful against England because, as we will see later, Southgate’s men prefer attacking through the wings. The front two are obviously not very aggressive with their movement, and they can be expected to sit on Declan Rice.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

If France are able to remain compact, they should look like the image below against England. With both midfielders picking up man references, the front two will sit on Rice and keep him from receiving the ball. This nullifies the 3v2 England would have in the midfield and make it difficult for the Three Lions to use the central areas.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

However, it is not quite simple. Kylian Mbappé’s defensive involvement is rather minimal. To cope with this, Rabiot often drifts wide on the left side while Kylian joins Giroud up top. Griezmann consequently drops into the midfield to keep a 4-4-2 structure.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

Griezmann is not very defensive, and the Atlético Madrid forward could be a weakness to exploit in the midfield. In the instance below, against Denmark, we can see how he can get caught out of position at times and become a vulnerability.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

Additionally, with the lack of defensive support from Mbappé, the right-hand side may also be a vulnerability. As England like to create through the wings, this may prove crucial. With Kyle Walker, Jordan Henderson, and Bukayo Saka all coming over, Theo and Rabiot may be overwhelmed.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

At any rate, these lower blocks will leave the Three Lions rather vulnerable. Especially as they like to commit their fullbacks forward, space will be left behind. In these situations, whom better to have than Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé? France’s ball progression map below illustrates how often they are able to perform progressive runs to advance forward. Not only is the quantity of these runs impressive, but also how long some of them are.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

While Senegal were unable to capitalise on this, France certainly will. In the image below, after Luke Shaw bursts forward, significant space is left behind after Senegal recovers the ball. England may look to prevent this with a more cautious approach towards possession, but it may cost them going forward – as it did with Denmark.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

Effective possession

There are many factors to consider when thinking about England’s work in possession against France. The obvious is the counter-attacking threat posed by the French wingers. With such a threat, will England’s fullbacks be joining the attack as much? Luke Shaw and Kyle Walker have played a key role in Southgate’s attacking system so far.

This attacking system is heavily wing-oriented. As seen in their average positions below, there is a significant focus on the wide areas, with either central midfielder drifting wide to support possession. In these areas, the movement – often forward – of the fullbacks plays a key role in its effectiveness.

Southgate’s men aim to create numerical superiority out wide to progress forward. This is done through numerous players supporting possession and effective movement off the ball to disrupt the opposition’s defensive organisation. There is a lot of positional fluidity in Southgate’s system, so adopting a more cautious and static approach may limit the very factor that makes them so dangerous.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

Harry Kane will also be a crucial piece in this tactical battle. The Tottenham forward has not been scoring as he did in 2018, but his role is even more important. After the USA match, Southgate dropped Mason Mount and adopted a 4-3-3 rather than a 4-2-3-1. Without a 10 behind him, Kane has much more freedom and space to create as a false nine. Against Senegal, his tactical importance was on full display. His touch map in the match below provides a further illustration of where he got involved in possession.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

The 29-year-old is capable of supporting the wide areas, which provides an outlet and superiority. Furthermore, it also often drags the opposition’s centre-back and creates space behind. In England’s first goal against Senegal, Kane drops deep to receive a pass from Foden before playing Jude Bellingham through. Kane’s role complements Bellingham’s profile, as the Dortmund midfielder is great at bursting forward and attacking space.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

In another scenario, we are able to see England’s number nine dropping deep and dragging Senegal’s centre-back with him. This leaves space behind for Saka and Jordan Henderson to attack. If England continue with such an attacking approach, throwing numbers forward, they are likely to be successful against France’s low block.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

Kane may also be useful against France to go inside after creating out wide. With their approach, England force the opposition to commit players in the wide areas. This naturally leaves space in the central areas free to be attacked. Against France’s 4-4-2, dragging Rabiot wide may leave spaces inside for Kane to drop into.

FIFA World Cup 2022: England vs France - tactical analysis preview tactics

Conclusion

The quarter-final between England and France will be a fascinating tactical battle between two powerful nations. The European powerhouses are some of the favourites to win it all, but only one of them will progress to the semi-finals.

England’s aggressive defensive system will most likely see them gaining control over possession early on, but the win lies in how effective their possession will be. Whether or not they choose to remain attacking will be a huge factor. On one hand, they are likely to find success with the ball if they do. However, the threat of Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé may be enough to discourage England.

The stakes are higher than ever, and both nations will be looking to reach the semi-final, hoping to win it all.