How England won the tactical battle with France but lost the World Cup war, as one player made the key difference
ENGLAND have crashed out of the World Cup yet again in devastating fashion, losing to reigning champions France.
Harry Kane will go to bed with nightmares of his late penalty miss after previously converting which would have put the game level once more.
Gareth Southgate’s side were defeated 2-1 but for much of the match England were the better team – so what went wrong?
Many were critical of England and Southgate or struggling to come out on top in big games, especially on the grandest stage at the World Cup.
Defeat to Les Blues didn’t help to silence critics and now supporters are further divided over the future of the Three Lions manager.
England were unfortunate not to progress into the semi-finals, but tournament football can be cruel and takes no prisoners.
Here are three key tactical details where this quarter-final was won and lost between the two European titans – and one player who made the difference.
Heading into the clash, transitions were regularly cited as one way both sides are very similar.
England and France are excellent on the break and have pace and power to cause significant damage to backlines.
Within the opening 20 minutes, the match proved to be a tussle between the two for possession.
However, transitions looked to be the most likely way one team was going to score.
Didier Deschamps’ men in particular looked to hit England on the break throughout the match as the Three Lions managed to dominate the ball which was an unprecedented turn of events.
Aurelien Tchouameni’s early wonder-strike was certainly one of the main factors behind England’s possession-dominance as the champions looked to protect their lead for most of the game.
Nevertheless, Southgate knew he had to concoct a plan to ensure that England were secure when France would win back the ball.
Mbappe and Hernandez on the left are so threatening on the break due to their frightening speed and telepathic link-up play, while Dembele on the opposite side can go either way against any defender due to his ability to use both feet comfortably which makes the Barcelona winger so difficult to predict and stop.
At the World Cup so far, when England have had settled possession of the ball against an opponent’s established defensive block, the fullbacks have pushed high into advanced positions.
Southgate knew that Deschamps would try and take advantage of this space on the flanks when the fullbacks moved forward and so he held his wide defenders back.
When the Three Lions had possession, both Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw would sit deeper.
This meant that if France recouped the ball, they would already be in position to stop the wide players during counterattacking moments.
Shaw was given more of an attacking license than Walker as Mbappe was seen as a greater threat on the left than Dembele.
Southgate had to think of another plan to help Bukayo Saka on the right.
Jordan Henderson divided opinions prior to kick-off at the Al Bayt Stadium.
The Liverpool skipper put in a pretty decent shift on Sunday versus Senegal, bagging the first goal for England which turned out to be the winner.
A big talking point in the days leading up to the quarter-final was whether Henderson would keep his place or drop back down to the bench.
Southgate named an unchanged lineup, meaning Henderson kept his place alongside Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham in the middle of the park, operating on the right of the trio.
Henderson struggled to help Rice to progress the ball from deep to higher areas of the pitch, leading many to call for him to be taken off.
However, the experienced midfielder was vital to England’s attacking setup in a role that may have gone unnoticed amid Bellingham’s superlative display.
With Walker sitting deeper to ensure he was always within touching distance of Mbappe, Henderson would constantly underlap and overlap Saka on the right side so that the Arsenal winger wasn’t isolated on the flank.
Henderson performs this exact role really well at Anfield, often combining with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mo Salah on the wing so it was quite an obvious tactical selection from Southgate.
This worked well for England, not because Henderson proved to be a menace in the final third for the Three Lions, but because the Liverpool player’s movement was dragging French defenders astray, creating space for Saka to do some damage.
Saka was cutting inside and shooting, whipping balls into the box and linking up well with Henderson while Shaw and Foden did the same on the left, meaning England had balance in attack.
Revitalised Antoine Griezmann
In 2019, Antoine Griezmann signed for Barcelona, ending his illustrious spell in Madrid under Diego Simeone.
Unfortunately, his time at the Nou Camp was disastrous and in the most recent summer window, Griezmann moved back to Atletico on a permanent basis with his tail between his legs.
The French attacker looked way off the pace and couldn’t adapt to life with La Blaugrana.
Many were surprised to even see him in the starting lineup for France’s first World Cup bout against Australia.
But the World Cup winner’s time in Catalonia wasn’t as career-halting as it once seemed.
Spending every day training and playing with players such as Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets switched a lightbulb on in Griezmann’s mind.
Maybe he wasn’t ever going to be the striker he once was five or six years ago, but he could perfect a whole new position, reinventing his game.
In Qatar, the 31-year-old has been exceptional for Les Bleus has a playmaker, sitting between the lines and creating chances for others rather than trying to finish them off.
Against England, the Atletico Madrid star was found in really good positions in pockets of space and managed to create numerous opportunities for the world champions.
The most scintillating created chance from Griezmann was his whipped cross towards Olivier Giroud for the winning goal, a truly excellent ball from the revitalised attacker.
It is this creative nature that led Deschamps to trial Griezmann out as a No10, allowing him to roam freely in the final third, drifting from left to right to pick up the ball and attempt to find others to potentially score.
So what does this all mean?
Well, without sugar-coating the issue, England have exited the competition and further questions will now be asked about whether Southgate truly is the right man to bring home another international trophy for the men’s team.
What could have been a night that the Three Lions proved to the world that they are a force to be reckoned with, ended in yet another disappointment.
France, on the other hand, were possibly second-best throughout the match but winning teams find a way to win, and Deschamps’ men proved why they are the reigning champions.
No manager has lifted back-to-back World Cup titles since Vittorio Pozzo in 1934 and 1938 with Italy.
Deschamps could be the first in almost a century.
Les Bleus are now one step closer to retaining the coveted title.