French youngsters impress as England beaten in Paris friendly
Goalscorer Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe lead the line for 10-man France
France’s forward Ousmane Dembele celebrates his goal with Kylian Mbappe. Photograph: Getty Images
France 3 England 2
The problem for England, as Gareth Southgate acknowledged before this match, is that if they continue choosing difficult opponents there is always the risk that it will expose their own shortcomings. There were plenty of them here and the cold, harsh reality for Southgate at the end of a punishing night is that his first eight matches in charge have now yielded only three victories.
Those wins have come against Malta, Scotland and Lithuania and Southgate must be alarmed about what tends to happen when his side come up against more difficult opposition. Harry Kane has now scored three times in two games for England and adding in his performances for Spurs, it is 10 in his last five appearances.
This, however, was a difficult night for Southgate’s men and France could conceivably have made it an even more resounding win bearing in mind the number of times they found a way behind the opposition defence.
Samuel Umtiti and Djibril Sidibe both punished England with first-half goals and France were down to 10 men when Ousmane Dembélé scored the game’s decisive goal after 78 minutes. Varane had been sent off early in the second half for the foul on Dele Alli that led to Kane making it 2-2 from the penalty spot. Ultimately, though, France needed only 10 men to make it an ordeal for their opponents.
If England are to persist with using three centre-halves, however, it is safe to assume Southgate, a man who knows a thing or two about playing in that position, might expect them to exert more authority. England’s shortcomings in defence did not owe to the team’s structure, it was a question of players winning tackles, making clearances and remembering to mark their opponents.
France’s first goal was a case in point bearing in mind John Stones, Phil Jones and Gary Cahill were all in close proximity when Olivier Giroud won the header that led to Samuel Umtiti making it 1-1. None, however, seemed too preoccupied by Giroud’s presence. The Arsenal forward ended up heading the ball between Kane and Cahill and Umtiti scored with the follow-up shot after Tom Heaton had kept out the initial header.
If there was a criticism of Heaton, it was that he turned the ball back into a dangerous area rather than pushing it further wide. That might sound harsh when it was an instinctive, one-handed save to his right but it was the same again two minutes before half-time when Ousmane Dembélé broke clear and fired in the shot that led to Djibril Sidibé’s goal.
This was Heaton’s chance to show he could replace Joe Hart on a full-time basis and unfortunately for him, these are the small details that will influence Southgate’s thinking.
As friendlies go, it had turned into an entertaining contest once Alli’s right-sided cross, followed by Raheem Sterling’s clever back-heel, left Bertrand in a position to set up Kane for the opening goal.
England, though, did look vulnerable when France broke forward in numbers and les Bleus warranted their lead at half-time. Giroud was a difficult opponent, denied a volleyed goal because of an offside decision, and Dembélé probably ought to have supplied a more accurate finish after Paul Pogba and Mbappe had set him free with the slickest passing exchange of the first half. Pogba, in particular, played with a level of quality that England will rarely encounter in their World Cup qualifying fixtures.
The biggest problem for England, however, was that they encouraged their opponents by making so many mistakes in defence. Stones, for example, should not have gone to ground so easily before the second and Cahill was also partly to blame as Dembélé advanced into the area.
Southgate had said before this match that he had deliberately chosen elite opposition, with future friendlies being arranged against Germany and Holland, to see how his players would cope against category-A players. On that front, they will have to learn to play with more organisation and leadership at the back.
Yet there was at least a reminder here that Kane and Alli can trouble opponents at any level. It was Alli’s surging run into the penalty area that caught out Varane at the start of the second half and led to the Italian referee, Davide Massa, asking for help the video assistant referee before deciding after a relatively short wait that it should be the defender’s final act of the evening.
Massa had initially produced a yellow card but ultimately it was the correct decision and Kane kept his nerve, despite the delay, to beat Hugo Lloris, another Spurs player, from the penalty spot.
Bertrand’s low cross to pick out Kane for the opening was not the only occasion his overlapping runs gave England a penetrative edge on the left and it was a surprise at half-time that Southgate replaced him with Kyle Walker, a right-footed player.
Jack Butland was also brought on at that time, as pre-arranged, and made a fine save to stop Kylian Mbappé restoring France’s lead.
Mbappé then struck the crossbar and it was not long before the tricolours were being waved again. After 78 minutes Mbappé and Dembélé combined to leave Dembele another shooting opportunity. His diagonal shot flew past Butland.