France to beat England and not because of Kylian Mbappé but because Kyle Walker will be isolated against him. Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembele also need minding. The centre cannot hold.
Gareth Southgate, a cautious manager by nature, may need to rewire his brain.
A logical strategy could alter the current 4-3-3 with two holding midfielders, putting Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson back to help Walker, and protect John Stones and Harry Maguire, with Jude Bellingham further up the pitch.
Bellingham is not a natural 10, he’s an eight, so this could stifle the English attack.
Their best chance of reaching the semi-finals is to embrace their strengths. Attack. Try to blow France away, score early goals and brace for the storm that will come.
But it won’t work. Griezmann should pick them apart and Giroud will occupy the centre halves, which means that France can find a way, even if Mbappé and Dembele are contained.
But Mbappé cannot be contained. At 23, he already appears to be in his prime. The statistics are astounding. I first saw him at Monaco as an 18-year-old. He had incredible ability, already looking like Cristiano Ronaldo at 22. Against Poland he scored career goal number 250, with 150 games to spare on Ronaldo and 19 games fewer than Messi.
There is a myth that Mbappé is lazy. Rubbish. He slots into the French shape, playing within the system, which allows him torpedo up the left wing as Adrien Rabiot of Juventus provides cover.
Walker struggled against Senegal, both defensively and at reading the play, but he is a big game performer, he will be tuned in, he could even match Mbappé for pace.
I don’t think that will be enough. Look at Poland’s right back Matty Cash, a proper Premier League defender at Aston Villa. He had a fine game and still Mbappé vroomed past three times while creating the Giroud goal with Cash practically in his shorts.
Eventually Mbappé will find the space. His two goals the other night were phenomenal, mixing the characteristics of Messi, Zidane and Figo. There was no obvious defensive lapse by the Poles. He is unplayable.
This is, by some distance, the most competitive World Cup I’ve seen. It must have something to do with the mid-season conditioning of the best players.
Arséne Wenger, dressed in Fifa robes, suggesting the teams that focused on “competition” over “political demonstrations” had better starts to the tournament is total bulls**t. What has happened to the once profound Arsenal manager? What has he become?
Wenger used to back players to the hilt. No matter what they did. He used to warn of the dangers posed to football by Roman Abramovich buying Chelsea. He used to be a beacon of light in an increasingly cynical sport.
At Arsenal for 22 years, Wenger would say that a player’s real character was visible during the game. Aggressive on the pitch, aggressive in real life, and he always wanted them to express themselves. Arsenal soared on his watch.
Look at him now. Wenger has legitimised Gianni Infantino’s shtick. He has become a central figure at this sportswashing World Cup. Given what Wenger used to represent, the change in character, as he tailors his world view to fit with the Fifa Gospel, highlights the sad times we live in.
It’s nothing new. His utterances have been increasingly odd since he took the Fifa role, but rounding on political protests by players, without being prompted either way, was a new low.
Besides Germany, the big football nations have shown up in Qatar. They have had no choice as Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Australia tore strips off them.
France are magnificent, England superb, but both teams pale in comparison to what Brazil did to South Korea on Monday night at the 974 Stadium.
In possession, their manager Tite has brought a new element to Brazilian play. Left back Danilo goes into midfield alongside Casemiro, leaving three at the back, so they almost go 3-2-5, with Neymar an inside forward and Vinícius Júnior high on the left wing and Raphinha on the right.
This Brazil side are the real deal. Luca Modric looked a spent force against Japan. I wanted Croatia to progress because I presumed Modric could summon one last great performance, like Zidane in 2006, to damage Brazil but he looked leggy in the second half on Monday. I don’t see how, at 37, he recovers inside five days. Especially with the Croatia system forcing him to work off the ball.
It will take a tactical masterclass from Louis van Gaal or a Messi miracle to stop Brazil reaching the final. They won’t be outplayed. They are too strong and possess too much star quality.
Argentina versus the Netherlands is Messi momentum versus the steady Dutch. Don’t expect a thriller.
Anyone who watched the Copa América final last year will remember how Argentina spoiled the spectacle after Ángel di Maria scored. They kicked lumps out of Brazil in midfield, tactically fouling and denying them any sort of cohesion.
The Dutch will accept the rules of engagement. If Nathan Aké continues to be the best defender in Doha, so dependable alongside Virgil van Dijk, the Messi mission will end at the quarter finals. Unless he conjures another classic goal. A Zidane moment. A Diego moment.