Resilient Reds to lock horns in quarter-final
Manchester United defenders will be on opposite sides when England take on France in Saturday evening's World Cup quarter-final in Qatar.
Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, who have started every single match for Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions so far, are likely to lock horns with Raphael Varane, and the performances of all three men must surely be a positive for United manager Erik ten Hag.
Of course, Reds forward Marcus Rashford could also feature, but this mouth-watering tie is one which could well be determined by the strength of the two defences.
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Varane, who was injured in the build-up to the tournament, has played his way back to fitness and now looks as formidable as ever.
While Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud grabbed the headlines after getting on the scoresheet, Rapha played a pivotal role in France's 3-1 win over Poland in the round of 16, and also produced a superb goal-line clearance in the first half, when the sides were locked at 0-0.
Les Bleus have conceded just three goals when Varane has been on the pitch, as Didier Deschamps’s side combine defensive resilience with devastating finishing.
But England's rearguard, with Maguire at its heart and Shaw in his usual left-back spot, has shown similar strength during Qatar 2022.
The Three Lions have only conceded two goals in four games so far, and those came towards the end of an eventual 6-2 win against Iran - a game in which the two United defenders also made their mark in attack by registering one assist apiece.
Maguire and Shaw have looked assured in their respective positions and will be hoping to maintain their levels of resilience when they meet a France team which features the tournament’s top scorer, Mbappe.
Prior to the World Cup, some fans feared that if Southgate fielded a back four, England would have been exposed. Thanks to the likes of Maguire and Shaw, that has not been the case.
The quarter-final clash between Les Bleus and the Three Lions is box office, and all of our Reds – including Rashford, who has scored three goals in the competition so far – will be eager to have a say in it.
For Ten Hag, the form of the United quartet involved in Saturday night's quarter-final can only be a good thing as the return to club action at the end of the month creeps ever closer.
And as a proud Dutchman, he'll no doubt take a very keen interest in another of the last eight ties, between his native Netherlands and Argentina on Friday (19:00 GMT). If Tyrell Malacia and Lisandro Martinez are called upon by their respective sides in that game, it would give us another head-to-head between Reds defenders to watch with intrigue.