Friday 22 September 2017

Reality check for Southgate as new stars inspire France

France 3 England 2

Kylian Mbappe reacts after missing a chance for France. Photo: Getty Images
Kylian Mbappe reacts after missing a chance for France. Photo: Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

Just as it appeared the VAR would decide this game, it ended up being about a French team with the qualities of the TGV. England lost to 10-man opposition because they simply could not cope with the speed and ability of two rising superstars in Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele.

With Paul Pogba dominating the midfield, the youthful forwards ripped through the heart of Gareth Southgate's side. This was the first time that England had played under the Video Assistant Referee, the system of decisions that officials are reviewing in the stands and it led to a red card for France's Raphael Varane, which meant the hosts played the second half depleted.

France's Ousmane Dembele in action with England's Gary Cahill. Photo: Reuters / Lee Smith
France's Ousmane Dembele in action with England's Gary Cahill. Photo: Reuters / Lee Smith

But even after France were reduced in number, they were the more threatening team, with England simply struggling to cope, their use of a three-man defence exposed, and the scale of the task laid bare.

France were quicker, more aggressive and more youthful. Southgate desperately tried to stop them with substitutions and by changing his system. It was never enough. France's future is gloriously bright; England's remains uncertain. Southgate should not regard this as too great a setback but he needs to learn from it.

Harry Kane has been captain on his two starts under the new manager and now scored in both games. Last night, his first came inside nine minutes. A superbly constructed goal, it pointed to the kind of football that England want to play under the new regime. Dele Alli's fine cross-field pass picked out Raheem Sterling, who brought the ball under control before back-heeling to Ryan Bertrand. The left wing-back pulled his cross low into the six-yard area, where Kane side-footed home.

Six changes were made to the side that salvaged a late draw in the World Cup qualifier away to Scotland on Saturday. Southgate also changed formation, returning to a back three. The only problem was that France were also playing three up, which meant they had Mbappe and Dembele running either side of Olivier Giroud. England were soon back-pedalling.

France's Djibril Sidibe goes down injured. Photo: Reuters / Charles Platiau
France's Djibril Sidibe goes down injured. Photo: Reuters / Charles Platiau

The pre-match tributes had been beautifully observed, with fans holding up red and white placards to form the England flag, and French supporters joining in to sing 'God Save the Queen'. Oasis's 'Don't Look Back in Anger', the anthem of solidarity after the Manchester bombing, was played and both sides mixed during the minute's silence to commemorate the terror atrocities that both countries had suffered.

France drew level with an Olivier Giroud header from a free-kick that seemed destined to beat Tom Heaton. The debutant did well to push it out but the ball fell to Samuel Umtiti, who turned it in. France then struck again, with Dembele dribbling into the area and attempting to bend his shot beyond Heaton only for him to push the ball out. Once again, it fell to a French player and Djibril Sidibe slammed it into the goal.

Three minutes into the second half, Dele Alli sprinted into the area and Varane clipped him, earning a penalty. France protested, asking the referee Davide Massa to go to the Video Assistant Referee, which he did, only to end up not just confirming the spot-kick but also sending off Varane. Kane stepped up and drove his penalty past Lloris. It was decided that Varane did not make an attempt to play the ball.

Suddenly France could not commit as much going forward and the intensity dropped. But they, and Mbappe, would not be denied as he again spread fear in the England defence before pulling the ball back to Dembele who, this time, drove it across sub 'keeper Jack Butland and into the net to gain a deserved win. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

England's Kyle Walker in action with France's Thomas Lemar. Photo: Reuters / Charles Platiau
England's Kyle Walker in action with France's Thomas Lemar. Photo: Reuters / Charles Platiau
England's Kyle Walker in action with France's Thomas Lemar. Photo: Reuters / Charles Platiau
England's Kyle Walker in action with France's Thomas Lemar. Photo: Reuters / Charles Platiau

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