Wyscout/Sky Sport

It is arguably the greatest individual challenge that a player could face in the international game. And on Saturday, it is likely to be Kyle Walker's, a defender who has spent a decade at the top of the sport, whose raw abilities marked him out as a star but who has developed a technical and intellectual understanding of his role that at 32 years old marks him out as one of the great right backs of his generation.

He will need every scintilla of his quality, experience, and pure pace if he is to slow the advancing tide that will bear down on him at the Al Bayt Stadium. Kylian Mbappe looks to be an unstoppable force. Walker and his England teammates need to find a way to slow him down.

Of course, England could do that and crash out at the quarterfinal stage. Part of the reason Mbappe has been so successful at this World Cup, where he is two clear in the Golden Boot race and one off the top in the standings for the leading assist provider, is because those around him are drawing such attention. Ousmane Dembele has carried his Barcelona revival onto the international stage but Antoine Griezmann looks nothing like even his best version at Atletico Madrid this season, instead of a poacher or second striker, he is excelling as a classic number 10, scheming on the edge of the box in open play whilst delivering with deadly precision from dead balls. Then there is Olivier Giroud, France's record goalscorer and the ultimate facilitative forward. Not for nothing do so many greats play their best football when he is in the team.

Still, Mbappe stands first among equals. Didier Deschamps' sets up his side to hit hardest on the left flank where the Paris Saint-Germain forward operates, 41 percent of their attacks coming through that third of the pitch at this tournament. In the passing image below, note how many players are getting close to the left winger, his full-back is higher up the pitch than on the opposite flank, his central midfielder drifting wider, all to ensure that the man in the No.10 shirt has the maximum support to create chaos.

How France have passed the ball in World Cup matches Twenty3

It is not then solely about stopping Mbappe but quelling France's star man would make England's task far more feasible. Many seem to believe that in Walker they may just have the best man for the job, perhaps a defender strong enough to save Gareth Southgate from switching a back three that would allow Kieran Trippier to double up on Mbappe. 

"I can't think of another right-back in the world ... that I'd want to put up against him," said Gary Neville on ITV. 

"If anyone can do a job, it's him," was the assessment of his international teammate James Maddison.

Poland defender Matty Cash offered an eye-opening assessment of how draining it can be to come up against Mbappe but even he is convinced that Walker can offer the stoutest resistance in this most unenviable of tasks. 

"I spent the afternoon watching his clips and I knew it was going to be a tough test, but when he gets the ball, stops and moves, he's the quickest thing I've ever seen," said the Aston Villa defender. "When he stands you up and moves, he does it really well. He drops the shoulder, goes short then long. I got into a couple of races with him and I did all right. You look over your shoulder and he's there."

Still, he is backing Walker to get the job done. 

"Kyle Walker's got way more experience than me, so I don't need to tell him anything," Cash added. "He knows Mbappe is amazing, but I think Kyle Walker is England's best right-back. So if anyone's going to stop Mbappe, I think he's the man to stop him."

As for the man himself, he does not seem to lack self belief. 

"I understand what I need to do and that is to stop him," he said, adding: "It's easier said than done but I don't underestimate myself. He is a fantastic player in great form. It is not going to be an easy task, but as a professional footballer you want to play against the best and I think he is one of the best, if not the best, in the world at the moment."

Why this player in particular? For starters, Walker is not going to get blown by in a foot race. FIFA statistics for the tournament so far show that Mbappe reached a peak speed of 35.3 km/h against Poland in the round of 16. Walker maxed out at 34.4 km/h against Senegal. The Frenchman might edge a 100m race between these two but with the ball at his feet and in tight spaces, he will find it hard to simply blow by his man.

Boiling Walker down to pace alone does him a disservice, however. Since he has been taken under Pep Guardiola's wing at Manchester City, the Sheffield native has shown the tactical acumen to slip between roles that could include high-flying wing-back, midfielder in build-up or third center back. And he has shown those defensive chops in matchups with Mbappe before.

City and Paris Saint-Germain are familiar foes at the Champions League level and for the most part it is the side with Walker in their ranks who have got the upper hand, advancing to the final in 2021 and splitting the points in the group stage the following year. As a Monaco player in 2017, Mbappe announced his greatness by aiding the humbling of Guardiola. In three games against City since he has struggled somewhat even whilst registering a goal and an assist, registering 0.4 expected goals across the three games and winning less than a third of his duels.

England can hardly ape City's tactics but Walker can at least replicate what went well. Notably, when matched up against the France international, he would allow Mbappe to make a success of his dribbles but only when he drove towards the byline. On almost every occasion these two crossed paths Walker would make an almost exaggerated show of offering the outside line to his forward, in this passage below you can see him pointing out to Ruben Dias (or perhaps Mbappe) where they are going to trap their man.

Walker's body shape blocks Mbappe's path infield, where he can take a shot with his devastating right foot Wyscout/Sky Sport

Anything that keeps Mbappe off that devastating right boot of his in the left corner of the box is a good idea though inviting France to attack that left byline may be more of a threat than it is against PSG. In Giroud, Les Bleus have one of the most devastating exponents of the near post flick in the game, it is best not to invite too many of those chances. Of course, Walker need not and watching the relatively rare occasions where he has been matched up with Mbappe, he does seem to have a good read for when a mistake might come.

In the image below, Mbappe has just taken a rare heavy touch. In a flash, Walker steals in to win possession back for City. A little over 20 seconds later his teammates are in the PSG penalty area. Do England have the ability to move the ball so quickly in danger areas and in so doing to keep the French left back from fully committing as a spare man in attack? Almost certainly not.

Walker makes the most of a heavy Mbappe touch to steal possession for City Wyscout/Canal+

Then if all else fails, if the defender or his teammates do make a mistake, at least Walker does have that burst of pace in his locker. How few defenders would have made up the ground to turn this clean break for Mbappe...

After PSG win a 50:50 in midfield, Mbappe is slipped behind the City defense Wyscout/Canal+

... into a moment where he feels enough pressure on the shot to bend it wide?

Walker has made up the ground to ensure there is pressure on Mbappe when he bends a shot wide Wyscout/Canal+

The pundits and the professionals might have it about right then. The 32-year-old has only played two games since returning from groin surgery, he may have looked rusty early on against Senegal, but on past evidence, he can at least make life hard for Mbappe, something precious few defenders can say they have done at this World Cup. Doing so is no guarantee of an England win -- if one superstar forward does not beat them another might -- but making life harder for France's best player is a great way to build towards a winning gameplan.