England name unchanged side to face France in World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday night; Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka to flank Harry Kane in attack; Jordan Henderson will retain his place in midfield alongside Declan Rice, who has recovered from illness
Saturday 10 December 2022 17:57, UK
England have named an unchanged line-up to face France on Saturday night in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Gareth Southgate has kept faith with the team - and formation - which has served England so well to date, ending any questions over whether he would revert to a back three as he has often done against stronger opposition.
On their run to last summer's Euro 2020 final, Southgate played a 3-4-3 formation against Germany and Italy in the knock-out stages - but facing the World Cup holders he has opted to stick rather than twist.
The performances of stand-out midfielder Jude Bellingham has played a part in the decision, Sky Sports News senior reporter Rob Dorsett said, with a belief England can win the midfield battle against likely opponents Juventus' Adrien Rabiot and Real Madrid's Aurelien Tchouameni.
"He wants to keep three in midfield, he wants to keep Bellingham," he said. "It's a really positive note that he's going to go toe-to-toe with France, who we also expect to play 4-3-3.
"With Bellingham, Henderson and Rice, England believe they have the better of France in that midfield, and that's where this game might be won or lost. They also feel France aren't as strong at the back as they have been."
There had been questions over the fitness of Declan Rice coming into Saturday's game but the West Ham midfielder trained on Thursday and Friday and will keep his place alongside Jude Bellingham and Jordan Henderson.
Raheem Sterling - who left the camp to return to England before their last-16 game against Senegal last weekend - will be included in the squad after he returned to Qatar on Thursday, but will be introduced from the bench if he does play any part in the game.
It also means Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka, who between them were involved in all three of England's goals against Senegal, will continue to play either side of Harry Kane, who is one goal off Wayne Rooney's all-time record.
England line-up to face France: Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw, Rice, Henderson, Bellingham, Saka, Kane, Foden.
Sky Sports News senior reporter Rob Dorsett in Qatar:
"I think this is really significant. I think for me it's possibly the bravest decision, tactically, that Gareth Southgate has taken in the six years he has been in charge of the team.
"He has decided that England are doing so well at this World Cup with 4-3-3, with Jude Bellingham exploding onto the world stage and becoming such a superstar, that to change to five defenders now would be a negative step and concede momentum to France.
"He's going toe-to-toe with the world champions. This is going to be a heck of an exciting game as a result of that."
Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol in Qatar:
"I think France will prefer that. When the French look at this England side, the one area of weakness that they identify is the centre-back partnership.
"They think there's not a lot of pace there and they think they can exploit that. From England's point of view, maybe it would have given that extra security to have those three centre-backs to cope with that lack of pace in that position.
"Having a back four also means England are not doubling up on Kylian Mbappe. It's going to be left to Kyle Walker to deal with him. But obviously Southgate has done his homework with his coaches and they've decided it's the best way to approach this game, and that playing with a back five would have shown France too much respect.
"I think it's a good move from Gareth Southgate. You look at where both sides are strong, and okay - we know France are missing some players - but two they are missing are Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante, and they're significantly weaker in midfield as a result."
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 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.
Lionel Messi? Cristiano Ronaldo? Mbappe is the superstar for the next era. He's already scored as many World Cup goals as the Argentine and more than the Portuguese - and he's not 24 until two days after the final.
Gareth Southgate has called it the "biggest test" England could face at this World Cup. Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville says it's the "game of a lifetime". No doubt about it, Saturday's meeting with France is huge. Especially for the manager.
His England side have thrilled on their way to the last eight. Twelve goals scored - and by eight different scorers. But now it gets serious. The outcome at Al Bayt Stadium might well define their tournament. It might even define Southgate's tenure.
His decisions, although likely already made - his assistant Steve Holland revealed this week that their plan to stop Kylian Mbappe has been two years in the making - have been debated endlessly.
Will he use a back four or a back five? Which of his wide players will be chosen to support Harry Kane? Will he break up the three-man midfield that powered England past Wales and Senegal?