When England and France go head to head in the World Cup quarter-finals it will also give Gareth Southgate his first competitive test against his managerial role model.
It’s one that could go on to shape his England legacy. Win, and he is the first – and only – England manager to reach three semi-finals in a row. Lose, and parallels with the Golden Generation dropping out in three quarter-finals in a row will quickly be drawn.
Similarities between Southgate and France manager Didier Deschamps have already been banded about for some time, and this is the first competitive meeting between the pair. They have met once before, with England beaten 3-2 in Paris in a 2017 friendly.
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Further back, England have not beaten France in a competitive fixture of any kind since World Cup 1982.
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Whether they do so on Saturday may come down to experience, French football expert Jonathan Johnson told the Sky Sports World Cup podcast, with the two managers otherwise having the potential to cancel one another out.
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“I think that Southgate definitely models his approach to managing the England team on what he’s seen from Deschamps over the last 10 years or so,” Johnson told the podcast.
“There’s certainly a strong element of loyalty in the way that both of them select their squads, and their starting XI. I think as well, Southgate is trying to be equally as pragmatic as Deschamps when you look at when they time their substitutions in matches, for example. Things like that, it’s around a similar point of the game.
“I think that there are quite a few parallels between Deschamps and Southgate. And I’m curious, really, to see how it plays out at the weekend because there’s lots of talent on both sides, but when you get to this stage of a tournament, a lot of it does come down to tactics and obviously, Deschamps has so much experience in tournaments like this.
“Southgate is still learning and has an impressive record based on England’s most recent European Championships and World Cup outings but I do think you probably have to say Deschamps shades it in terms of his experience as a manager overall.”
‘Injuries forcing Deschamps’ hand may have helped France’
France have already become the first World Cup holders to qualify from the group stages since 2006 when Brazil went on to reach the quarter-finals.
That minor accolade has come despite apathy from the French public about Deschamps’ performance and the recent results of the team, who won only one of their six games in the recent Nations League tournament.
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Deschamps has shown significant loyalty to his players, like Southgate, but this has been tested by the number of injuries to those who got them to World Cup glory four years ago, including Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.
Johnson feels this has ended up working in France’s favour – in forcing the manager’s hand to change personnel and, in turn, the performances of their squad.
“The talent that France possesses, in terms of its potential to create a dynasty and also what the players can bring to the international setup now, is arguably the greatest that we’ve seen out of the recent defending title holders.
France's injured players
- Karim Benzema – quadricep
- Lucas Hernandez – knee
- N’Golo Kante – hamstring
- Paul Pogba – knee
- Mike Maignan – calf
- Presnel Kimpembe – heel
- Christopher Nkunku – knee
“I also think the fact that Deschamps was forced, in many ways to bring in a lot of the players we’re seeing has freshened things up. Had he gone into this world cup with the majority of his players from 2018 available to him, perhaps it would have been a different story.
“When you’ve got some of the best emerging young talent in world football in Kylian Mbappe, performing the way that he is, as well as some of the unfortunate events ahead of the tournament – the players lost through injury, a couple of controversies as well, that has actually enabled Deschamps to forge a stronger collective mentality than we’ve seen for pretty much for the whole four years since 2018.
“All of those things have contributed to France actually being in a much better position than many people would have expected and potentially a better position than they would have been had things supposedly gone swimmingly and Deschamps had been able to stay loyal to many of the players that served him so well in 2018.”
‘New-found respect for England from France’
England defender Kyle Walker says he is ready to take on Kylian Mbappe and France and says he won’t roll out the red carpet for him, nor let him stand in his way of a possible eventual World Cup final.
England’s decades of under-performance saw them “derided” at the time by French fans, Johnson added, with their recent upturn in form finally making them serious contenders coming into Saturday’s game.
France have faced England only three times at tournaments since the Three Lions’ 1982 win, with two draws and a last-minute penalty from Zinedine Zidane inflicting a 2-1 defeat on Sven Goran Eriksson’s Golden Generation at Euro 2004.
Though they enter this weekend’s encounter as favourites again, France will have a new-found respect for Southgate’s squad.
“I certainly think that England are now more respected after their outings in the last couple of international tournaments than they were before,” Johnson said.
“Obviously, the Three Lions were a bit derided for having talented players, yet never really being able to make a serious go of challenging for titles. But I think now, certainly in France, they’re seen as a rival that needs to be respected and a team that potentially go all the way should they advance past France.
“The French feel, whoever wins this game could potentially end up being the title winners in Qatar.”
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