Kyle Walker insists England will not be rolling out the red carpet for France’s great entertainers in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final clash.
Most of the talk since the tie was confirmed has surrounded Kylian Mbappe and how England can stop a man who leads the golden boot race with his five goals in Qatar.
The World Cup holders also boast the likes of Olivier Giroud – who has overtaken Thierry Henry to become Les Bleus’ all-time leading goalscorer – and Antoine Griezmann.
But Walker is not prepared for England to become theatre-goers as he backed Gareth Southgate’s men to show what they can do.
“We take our hats off to them, they are world champions, they have the respect they deserve,” Walker said of France.
“They won the last World Cup. But I can assure you that each and every one of us will not be rolling out red carpet for them to go and perform, thinking it’s a theatre for them to showcase their great talent.
“We have also got great talent that we need to be speaking about as well. The goals we have scored, the clean sheets we have kept. We just move forward with that.
“To play in a quarter-final of a World Cup is always going to be special. It’s always going to be a bit more special when it’s against France, the reigning world champions. It’s going to be a very tough game which we know and one we are waiting on with excitement.”
Walker is likely to be the man tasked with keeping Mbappe quiet at Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday evening and has previous, having come up against the Paris St Germain forward four times in the Champions League.
“Obviously it’s going to help because I’ve played against him a number of times now with Manchester City against PSG,” Walker said on his battle with Mbappe.
“He’s a fantastic player, in great form. It’s not going to be an easy task. As a professional footballer you want to play against the best and he’s one of the best, if not the best, in the world at the minute.
“Do I understand the focus? Of course I do. I do understand what I need to do and that’s obviously to stop him.
“It’s probably easier said than done but I don’t underestimate myself. I’ve played him before and I’ve come up against great players before in my time playing with England, Man City and other clubs I’ve played for.
“I have to treat it as another game. I have to take extra care and give him the respect he deserves but not too much respect because he’s also playing England and we can also cause them problems. It’s going to be a tough game but not one player makes a team.
“The game is not England v Mbappe. The game is England v France. We take respect that he’s a good player and in good form at the minute but I’m not going to roll out the red carpet for him and tell him to go and score.
“I’m representing my country at a quarter-final of a World Cup. It’s do or die really. If we lose we go home. He’s not going to stand in my way and hopefully winning a World Cup for my country.”
There have been suggestions Southgate could opt for a back three for the quarter-final, having stuck with a central defensive duo in the first four games.
Asked about his changing role in the different system, Walker replied: “I don’t think much changes really.
“I feel that the system we play whether that’s for Manchester City or for England, I don’t really bomb forward maybe as much as I used to do when I was playing for Tottenham as a wing back for example.
“It’s about reading the game, reading the opponent, reading the formation that the manager wants you to play in and adapting to that really.
“It’s a team game, it’s not a solo game. I do whatever the manager asks and what is going to benefit the team.”
At 32, Walker may be the oldest member of Southgate’s World Cup squad but – according to FIFA statistics – he remains the fastest.
“Just listen to FIFA,” he replied when asked what his message to his team-mates would be.
While he is still the pace-setter, Walker insists experience can also be key to keeping things tight – rather than relying solely on his speed.
“You have to use a little bit of nous,” he added.
“You can’t be a speedboat without a driver. You need to use your brain when needed and I can’t get as tight to him as I would with other players, that’s just the nature of the game.
“I remember playing against Theo Walcott once and I was getting so close to him and then all of a sudden he gets behind you and that’s your lesson taught.
“You need to make sure the mistakes you make are not costly mistakes. Whoever plays at right-back he’s going to get the better of you one, two, three occasions a game, he’s a great player. You need to make those occasions as few as possible and not costly.”
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