Gareth Southgate’s assistant Steve Holland admits that the plan to stop Kylian Mbappe on Saturday could possibly be Messi. Well, Messi 2.0, to be more precise, as he plans to dust down a decade-old dossier drawn up in his Chelsea days.
With Roberto di Matteo taking up from Felipo Scolari in mid-season, Barcelona were strong favourites to beat Chelsea within the two-legged 2012 Champions League semi-final. Lionel Messi had already scored 14 goals within the competition that season and 63 in all competitions and most pundits expected the Argentina maestro to beat the Premier League side all on his own.
Nonetheless, with a narrow 1-0 win under their belts from Stamford Bridge, Chelsea held on for a memorable 2-2 within the Nou Camp despite having skipper John Terry sent off earlier in the sport. By the identical token, Mbappe arrives on the Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday with five goals putting him clear at the highest of the Golden Boot table and playing the type of football that many say is unstoppable.
“I believe there are a handful of players on the planet that you must consider special attention to,” Holland says. “Messi has been one and possibly still is. You’d need to put Mbappe in that type of category I might suggest.
“We do need to take a look at attempting to avoid leaving ourselves in situations where he’s as devastating as we’ve all seen.” Simply to be on the secure side, in addition to Messi, Holland has thrown a lesson learned because of Cristiano Ronaldo into the combination as well.
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“I remember having a conversation with Jose Mourinho about it an extended time ago when he was with Real Madrid,” Holland recalled. “Dani Alves could be the correct back for Barcelona and flying forwards in attack against them.
“Jose’s first thought could be to play a ‘soldier’ against him. But you then don’t get any threat yourself from the ‘soldier’. You’re just stopping anyone, you’re not actually hurting them. Then he would attempt to play Ronaldo against him, directly, one against one, because Alves was incredible going forwards but perhaps not quite pretty much as good defensively as a consequence.”
The idea appears to be that for all that Mbappe is dangerous going forward, is he perhaps leaving a spot in behind that could possibly be exploited by one among England’s rapidly-developing world stars. “There’s all the time a plus and a minus to each battle,” Holland said. “It’s that cat-and-mouse of, ‘Yes, we’ve got still got to attempt to cope with him’ but ‘We also need to try to use the weakness that his super strength delivers’.
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“You’ll want to attempt to adapt your team to cover for that, whilst still attempting to create your personal problems. That’s the challenge. I would really like to think we won’t just be seeking to stop one player, because we’ve got good players.
“Players just as prone to cause France trouble as Mbappe could be to us. We’ve to search out that balance.” Crucially, the improved defensive qualities of England’s midfielders and attacking players means Southgate is prone to follow a flat back 4.
“We’ve a bunch now which might be 18 months further on than the Euros. One or two of our younger forwards, there has definitely been an evolution so more consistent, more productivity at this level. The challenge before every game we play now could be to take a look at what we’ve got, the tools we’ve got within the bag.
“Then we have a look at the issues the opponent goes to cause us, their weaknesses and take a look at to provide you with something that provides us the very best probability of winning the sport.”