Steve Holland's two-year England project to topple France




Steve Holland (left) and Gareth Southgate - Steve Holland’s two-year England project to topple France - Martin Rickett/PA
Steve Holland (left) and Gareth Southgate - Steve Holland’s two-year England project to topple France - Martin Rickett/PA  

England got to work on how to beat France and stop Kylian Mbappé's "super strengths" just six hours after their 3am return to their hotel following the last-16 win over Senegal.

Assistant manager Steve Holland has revealed that an FA coach, Tim Dittmer, has spent the past two years following France and has closely tracked them throughout the World Cup in preparation for Saturday's quarter-final. Dittmer, the FA's head of coaching, gave a detailed presentation to Southgate, Holland and the rest of the England staff at 9am on Monday at the Souq Al Wakra hotel.

Holland, Southgate's right-hand, also warned the England players that "the message very simply is 'we've achieved nothing yet - we need to refocus quickly and then on to the next.'"

Holland added that it was not "arrogant" to only be satisfied with going all the way to the final and winning this tournament, but warned it could be a "long night" in a "50-50" tie against France with extra-time and penalties a distinct possibility.

Holland revealed that England had an "expert not just on what's happened at this tournament but the thinking of the [France] manager [Didier Deschamps] with choices, selections, different types of opponent for the last two years. We started this morning really getting up to speed specifically on the opponent."

Of course much of that focus will be on Mbappé, who has scored five times at this tournament and is currently the best player in the world, with Holland acknowledging the threat he poses. "I think there are a handful of players on the planet that you need to consider special attention to. [Lionel] Messi has been one and probably still is. You'd have to put Mbappé in that kind of category.

"We do need to look at trying to avoid leaving ourselves in situations where he is as devastating as we've all seen. We have to try to find a way of avoiding that."

Holland explained that England had to weigh up how they deal with Mbappé against changing their tactics and line-up and whether to deploy a "soldier" to man-mark the forward - which may mean a switch of system and, probably, reverting to a back-three with wing-backs. "Trying to adapt your team to cover for that whilst still trying to create your own problems is, I think, the challenge," he said.

Kylian Mbappe is congratulated by his team-mates after scoring the second goal in France
Kylian Mbappe is congratulated by his team-mates after scoring the second goal in France's 3-1 win against Poland - Steve Holland's two-year England project to topple France - Etsuo Hara/Getty Images  

"I would like to think we won't just be looking to stop a player but we would be looking to try to do everything possible to limit his super strengths whilst still trying to focus on our own strengths, because we have good players. Players just as likely to cause France trouble as Mbappé would be to us. We have to find that balance."

One theory is to deploy an attacking player up against Mbappé and see whether the 23-year-old is also willing to defend. "I remember having a conversation with [Jose] Mourinho about it a long time ago when he was with Real Madrid, they were playing Barcelona, and they had [Cristiano] Ronaldo.

"[Dani] Alves would be the right-back for Barcelona and flying forwards in attack. He [Mourinho] would play a soldier against him to try to stop him, but then of course you don't get any threat from your team from the soldier as you're just stopping somebody - you're not actually hurting them.

"Then he would try to play Ronaldo against him, directly, one against one because Alves was fantastic going forwards but maybe not quite as good defensively as a consequence."

With England having reached a World Cup semi-final and the final of Euro 2020, Holland suggested that the players are ready to go that one step further. "It's taken us three, four, five years to actually get to that point," he said. "We've had a lot of young players who have been gaining experience now. And the experience in the group is certainly as strong as I can ever remember it. I think you do rely on that in these moments. Firstly from a management perspective and on the bench, we've lived these moments now.

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