England-France combined XI: Mbappe, Bellingham and Tchouameni feature, but there are some surprise omissions
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England take on World Cup holders France in a huge quarter-final match this evening.
The Three Lions come up against France in the World Cup for the first time in 40 years in a mouthwatering fixture boasting attacking talent across the pitch.
The most talked about contest is between Kylian Mbappe, arguably the world’s best attacker, and Kyle Walker, one of the only full-backs with the required pace to keep up with the Paris Saint-Germain man.
However, it’s also a fixture that features the glittering midfield talents of Jude Bellingham and Aurelien Tchouameni, as well as the goal-scoring exploits of Harry Kane.
Of course, the historical ties between the two nations are long and complex - they have included conquest, wars, and alliances at various points.
But imagine a world where the two countries were one and shared a football team. It would be world-beating and probably look something like this…
DISCLAIMER: I am only picking players available for selection in Qatar, which means Karim Benzema is not included.
England - France combined XI (4-3-3)
This was a difficult decision right off the bat, and to make it I had to look at the stats.
At the age of 35 Hugo Lloris is the more experienced and decorated goalkeeper, but in many areas, Jordan Pickford, who will be making his 50th cap this evening, has the edge over his French counterpart.
According to goalkeeper XG stats provided by Goalkeeper.com the England No 1 has prevented 5.14 more goals than would be expected based on the shots he has faced in the Premier League this season. By contrast, Lloris has conceded 0.71 more goals than would be expected. Meanwhile, Pickford is better in one-vs-one situations and has a superior penalty-saving record, which can be crucial in tournament football.
For both Manchester City and England Walker has proven a proficient attacking full-back and a world-class defensive one. The 32-year-old’s recovery speed, in particular, has frequently been used as a get-out-of-jail card for club and country.
While Walker is not quite the best right back in the world, he is the ideal choice to face Kylian Mbappe, and better than France’s Benjamin Pavard and make-shift full-back Jules Koundé.
Again, while France centre-back Raphaël Varane is more decorated than John Stones, the England man is in better form than his French counterpart, who came into the tournament off the back of a leg injury.
Unlike four years ago, the defence has been France’s biggest weakness at this World Cup - Les Bleus are yet to have kept a clean sheet. Meanwhile, England look vulnerable on paper but have conceded just two goals in Qatar.
While the much-derided Harry Maguire has played well so far this World Cup, Dayot Upamecano is the superior player. The 24-year-old has the pace to rival the niftiest forward in world football, while can also play - Upamecano has a good touch (for a big man) and a wicked cross-field pass in his arsenal.
Theo Hernandez replaced his injured elder brother Lucas in the group stages and has since flourished for Les Bleus, bombing up the left flank and providing crucial attacking support for Mbappe on the overlap.
While he can at times display defensive vulnerabilities Hernandez is without doubt one of the best attacking left-backs in world football. Luke Shaw is good too - but not quite as good.
This was another difficult decision - choosing between West Ham’s Declan Rice and Real Madrid’s Tchouaméni. I ultimately opted for the latter but both are exceptional holding midfielders.
Tchouaméni has starred for France. Though he has only 18 senior caps, the 22-year-old who cost Los Blancos £86million, has a 95 per cent pass accuracy during this tournament.
Meanwhile, he is aggressive in the tackle and positionally sound. Many tip the Frenchman to rival Pedri and Bellingham as the world’s best midfielder over the next decade.
Speaking of Bellingham, we could not make a combined France-England 11 without including the 19-year-old. The teenager, who is one of the most sought-after players in world football, has starred for the Three Lions in Qatar.
In England’s last-16 tie against Senegal in particular the teenager was the best player on the pitch and central to England’s opening two goals. After the game, his teammate Phil Foden (more on him later) told ITV: "[Bellingham] has no weakness in his game. I think he will be the best midfielder in the world."
Operating in a hybrid role linking midfield and attack, Antoine Griezmann has quietly been one of the players of the tournament. Having spent his last few years withering away at Barcelona and languishing on the bench in Madrid, the 31-year-old has found a new lease of life in Qatar.
Though he is yet to score this tournament, Griezmann has made more key passes than any other player at the World Cup. Meanwhile, among the France side, only Adrien Rabiot has made more blocks and only Tchouaméni and Upamecano have made more ball recoveries.
Despite the wealth of attacking talent at Gareth Southgate’s disposal, this was the easiest decision of the lot. Along with Erling Haaland, Mbappe is the most frightening attacker in world football. He has the technical ability and blistering pace to beat any full-back in world football while he also scores buckets of goals. The 23-year-old is the tournament’s leading goalscorer having netted five times in France’s four games.
While the two sides are relatively even, Mbappe is France’s joker card. There is no other player like him in world football and on his day he is impossible to stop.
In recent weeks Olivier Giroud has deservedly received plaudits for an exceptional career that has too often gone unnoticed. However, his England counterpart Kane is truly world-class.
Though he has just scored once in Qatar, Kane’s finishing is exceptional, while the England captain's ability to drop deep and become the side’s chief creator is unrivalled.
This is arguably the most controversial pick. The England man will be operating on the right flank ahead of Ousmane Dembélé, one of France’s key danger men, and instead of Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, one of the most talented young players in world football.
But Foden’s ability to glide past defenders knit together the most intricate passing moves and score goals means he has to get in the team - even if he plays on his less-favoured right flank.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock
Topics: Football, England, France, Football World Cup, Kylian Mbappe, Phil Foden, Harry Kane, Aurelien Tchouameni, Jude Bellingham, Jordan Pickford