Kyle Walker says England will not “roll out the red carpet” for Kylian Mbappe and that Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final against France will be “do or die.”
Defender Walker has also hinted that England want to go toe-to-toe with Mbappe and France by sticking to a back four, rather than reverting back to Gareth Southgate’s three-man central defence.
Southgate’s approach could be influenced by the condition of midfielder Declan Rice, who he hopes will recover from the illness that kept him out of training on Wednesday.
Walker admitted that he and his team-mates had been unaware of Rice’s condition until he failed to report for training, with Southgate now waiting to see whether or not he will recover sufficiently to train on Thursday or Friday.
But Walker said: “The game is not England versus Mbappe. The game is England versus France. We 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 of, hopefully, winning a World Cup for my country.”
Walker produced a superb performance against Mbappe last year, when Manchester City beat Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League in France. The 32-year-old is relishing the prospect of facing Mbappe again, but dismissed the prospect of England setting up specifically to stop one man.
“Obviously it’s going to help because I’ve played against him a number of times now for Manchester City against PSG,” said Walker. “He’s a fantastic player, in great form. It’s not going to be an easy task. You want to play against the best and he’s one of the best, if not the best, in the world at the minute.
“You’re not just thinking about Mbappe. OK, he’s a tool they have in their armoury that’s very good, but there are other very good players and we can’t underestimate those players that have won big titles, won big cups.
“They are world champions. They won the last World Cup, but I can assure you that each and every one of us will not be rolling out the 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.”
'The manager makes the right calls'
Asked why England have enjoyed more possession and been more entertaining at this World Cup, Walker credited the change to a back four and hinted that is now the team’s preferred formation.
“The reason we've got more [possession] is maybe down to the tactics,” said Walker. “We played a [back] five in the Euros and in the last World Cup. So maybe we can control the ball a little bit better when we've got more men further up the field with attacking minds.”
On the chance for England to prove they can beat the very best, rather than trying to hang on, Walker added: “It’s a great opportunity to put a stamp down and to say that we are a good team and we can achieve great things.
“And to give us the belief that we can win this [World Cup]. I’m not saying we don’t believe, but to beat a big team in a quarter-final, they’re the reigning world champions, that will give us great confidence; not arrogance but confidence.
“I feel that the manager makes the right calls on whether to play a four or a five. Nobody was complaining about us playing a [back] five before we reached the Euros final. We got to the final and it was maybe not as attacking as people would like to see.
“I think at this tournament we have been playing good attacking football and scoring a lot of goals. The last game was a comfortable win I feel, so let’s just move on from there.”
On Rice’s illness, Walker said: “I honestly did not know until we were doing the pre-act in the gym and he was missing. I still don’t know, maybe it is a medical issue.”
Other than Rice, Callum Wilson did not train with what was described as being a ‘minor strain’, with the striker hoping to be fit for Saturday.