England v France: How do you stop Mbappe?

It's the decisive question of the World Cup quarter-final between England and France: How do you stop Kylian Mbappe?

If Gareth Southgate and his players can come up with the solution - and are able to implement it - then they will have taken a huge stride towards the semi-finals.

But it is a question so many of France's previous opponents have failed to answer.

Mbappe has never lost a World Cup or Euros match where he's started. He's scored nine goals and recorded three assists in those 13 games. It's a daunting record and testament to his talents.

What about Lionel Messi? Cristiano Ronaldo? Mbappe is the superstar for the next era. He's already scored as many World Cup goals as the Argentinian and more than the Portuguese - and he's not 24 until two days after the final.

He has the World Cup winners' medal which has eluded those modern-day greats, too. And he's motivated to win more. "I came here to win this World Cup," he said after scoring twice against Poland in the last-16. It would make for some birthday celebration.

Will England spoil the party? Here, we take a closer look at the challenge facing Southgate's side on Saturday - and how they could hope to contain the red-hot Parisian.

'He's burning my legs!'

"Speed, movement, finishing... He's got everything!" Poland's Matt Cash was left in a spin trying to mark Mbappe in the last 16 and gave a fascinating insight into defending against the Frenchman.

"He put two in the top corner, one in the left and one in the right. I didn't know whether to drop off or go tight. When I went tight he just spun in behind. When he gets the ball, stops and moves, he's the quickest thing I've ever seen.

"When he stands you up and moves, he does it really well. He drops the shoulder, goes short then long. I did everything I could. When it was one-v-one I thought I'd done OK against him… I spent the afternoon watching his clips and I knew it was going to be a tough test - in real life he's burning my legs. That's the difference!"

It was a sentiment echoed by the Poland manager Czeslaw Michniewicz: "There is no recipe [to stop him]. No one knows the recipe, no coach knows the recipe to stop Mbappe in the form he is in."

Doubling-up on Mbappe

With Antoine Griezmann playing off target man Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembele out on the right wing, Mbappe is France's lethal left-side threat.

Whether he's racing down the touchline to get around his marker or cutting inside on his favoured right foot, it's a role he relishes for his country - and one he's made clear he'd prefer to have at Paris St-Germain, rather than playing through the middle.

France head coach Didier Deschamps bases his team's style of play around Mbappe.

You just have to look at their passing network against Poland to see how France channel bodies and the ball towards him as often as they can. "Their game plan is to get the ball to the wingers and when it's one-v-one you've got to try and stop him," said Cash.

That puts Mbappe on a collision course with Kyle Walker, who will either play right full-back or right-sided centre back at the Al Bayt Stadium, depending on England's formation.

If Southgate goes with a back three - and that has been the manager's go-to system for big matches - then Walker will have a helping hand on that wing in the shape of Kieran Trippier.

Doubling-up on Mbappe seems like a smart move. "There are a handful of players on the planet that you need to consider special attention to," England assistant boss Steve Holland said this week. Mbappe is most definitely one of them.

But if Walker does get exposed one-on-one then his pace will be a key weapon in his arsenal.

Lightning quick contest

Mbappe has been recorded at 35km/hr in this World Cup and hit 35.6km/hr in the Champions League this season. He's lightning quick - but Walker reached 37.8km/hr in the Premier League three seasons ago.

The England man has got up to 34.4km/hr in Qatar so far and, although he's now 32, he can still hit the turbo. "Kyle Walker is just as quick as Mbappe," said Cash when asked for his assessment of the battle. "If anyone's going to stop Mbappe, Kyle Walker is the man. He's rapid as well."

The one concern will be whether Walker's recent groin surgery has an impact when he's called upon to make those super-fast sprints.

But it's not just about who is quicker - a key element of this contest is Walker's positive past experiences against Mbappe. And those previous meetings could alter the approach of the Frenchman altogether.

On the four occasions they've faced each other, Walker has never been seriously exposed by Mbappe.

It's a big statement - and an extremely impressive detail on the defender's CV.

Mbappe has been on the winning team twice in those matches but has never scored from Walker's side of the pitch nor escaped his clutches for a major chance.

Their first meeting was the most recent match-up between England and France in 2017. A summertime friendly, which saw the 18-year-old then-Monaco forward demonstrate his incredible potential, setting up Ousmane Dembele for a late winner after hitting the bar himself.

It's worth pointing out Trippier and John Stones were given a torrid time by the teenager that day. Mbappe had Trippier stumbling backwards in the penalty area with one driving run, while Stones was spun when Mbappe crashed against the woodwork and struggled to get hold of the youngster all evening.

Both England players have matured into better defenders since then - the problem is Mbappe has transformed into an absolute elite forward in those five years.

Walker was a half-time sub in that fixture but his real run-ins with Mbappe came in 2021: a Champions League semi-final in the April and two group games the following season.

Manchester City won 2-1 in Paris in the first leg of their final-four showdown. Mbappe didn't get much change out of Walker, who pipped him to one pass to spark a dangerous City attack which saw Phil Foden go close, and his best moments in the match came when he swapped to the right flank.

Mbappe missed the second leg with injury, as City progressed to the final, so the pairs' next battle was in September of that year. This time it was PSG who ran out winners in Paris, with Mbappe helping to set up both goals - but only when he had moved away from Walker.

PSG's first goal came from an Mbappe cutback from the right wing and their second was via a one-two he played with Messi from a centre forward position, when Ruben Dias gave him too much space.

Mbappe was on target himself at the Etihad two months later in the reverse fixture, scoring from the right side of the box after Messi's cross came through a crowd of bodies to him. That was in the second half when the Frenchman was seeking an alternative avenue of attack after again being limited earlier in the match by Walker.

In the first half, Walker produced an immense show of speed to close Mbappe down and put him off his shot after he looked to be clean through.

Walker had a hand in a City goal himself in that match, with his cross deflected off Gabriel Jesus for Raheem Sterling to convert in a 2-1 win. That is a reminder of the threat Walker can cause if Mbappe doesn't track him back. Holland this week hinted at England's awareness and that they must "get the balance right" between defending against France's threats and using their own.

The intriguing conclusion from Walker's match-ups with Mbappe, though, is that the Frenchman has often been forced to change position on the pitch to get away from the defender.

His touchmaps from the group games illustrate the point.

Mbappe vs Walker and Trippier? The Frenchman may prefer his chances through the channel guarded by Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire.

'It would be very naive of us to focus purely on Mbappe'

The potential for Mbappe to go wandering across the frontline if he isn't having luck against Walker underlines the point that England will need a holistic approach to defending against him. It won't just be about his individual battle with Walker. The entire backline will need to be switched on to his movement - especially those players without the recovery speed of the right-back.

Cash highlighted the danger of the counter-attack and that is sure to come into Southgate's thinking when he considers his midfield options. England can't allow space in behind - or France's midfielders time to pick their pass.

If it is to be Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson and Jude Bellingham again, then that trio will have to work hard to shut down the passing routes into Mbappe - but also Giroud and Griezmann, who can supply the main danger man.

"One of the things that's really important is stopping the service into Giroud and Griezmann because once they get the ball, Mbappe's going to receive it in far more difficult areas," Sky Sports' Gary Neville told ITV.

"The lads in the middle, Henderson, Bellingham, Rice, Stones and Maguire, if they can stop that service into that central area, it means Mbappe's receiving far less dangerous passes."

That strategy is also a nod to the other threats France have on the pitch - and it would be risky to overlook the considerable quality they possess beyond Mbappe.

The injured Karim Benzema is a big loss but newly-crowned record goalscorer Giroud will keep Stones and Maguire occupied. Griezmann was described as "phenomenal" by Southgate last week, and in Dembele, France have a player who has clocked a faster speed than Mbappe in the Champions League this season - 36km/hr.

It's a fearsome front four which commands respect. Overly focusing on one aspect will only create space and opportunities for the others. "It would be very naive of us to focus purely on Mbappe," said left-back Shaw ahead of the game.

If Mbappe does break through, then England's last line of defence will be Jordan Pickford. The goalkeeper has been in outstanding form for Everton and showed excellent reactions against Senegal to keep a third clean sheet in a row at this World Cup on Sunday.

He wouldn't thank his team-mates if he was left exposed to the thunderous shots Mbappe fired home from inside the box against Poland - but there is perhaps some further hope in his shots-faced map from the Premier League this season.

Pickford has saved seven high-value shots to his left this term. That's where Mbappe aims for when he comes inside from the flank and shoots with his right foot across goal. Five of his seven Champions League goals this term have hit that area of the net.

Will we see more heroics from England's No 1 this weekend? He's likely to have work to do, with France and Mbappe leading the World Cup standings for shots.

Pickford's goalkeeping, Walker's one-on-one defending, the set-up across the backline, the pressing and blocking in midfield… There is no one answer to the big question. But Southgate will hope England can add up the elements to find the collective solution to stop Mbappe on Saturday.