France are coming into Euro 2020 as strong favorites to win the competition and for good reasons. This generation of French players is one of the most talented groups of individuals international football has ever seen. There is generational talent in seemingly every position. In addition, many, if not all, of these French players have won the most illustrious trophies at club level like the UEFA Champions League or were part of the France group that won the World Cup in 2018. This French team is made up of winners, many of which are entering their prime.
The squad going to Euro 2020 has an average age of 27.3. While not the oldest, it isn’t the youngest, meaning that this is likely the last international tournament some of the older players like Lloris, Griezmann and perhaps Kante, will feature in as a new generation of French youngsters is fast approaching and knocking on the door of the French senior team. Players like Aurelien Tchouameni and Houssem Aouar come to mind as players who are on the verge of forcing their way into this France team post Euro 2020.
Tactically, Didier Deschamps has set France up in such a way that he rewards his creative forward players while ensuring defensive stability as we’ll see in this analysis. By bringing Benzema back into the national team, Deschamps has somehow made the strongest team on paper in Euro 2020 even stronger. The inclusion of Benzema allows for a more dynamic and fluid front line that would have otherwise been harder to do with Giroud.
With Benema’s inclusion, Griezmann is allowed to play in a more carefree number ten role, with less emphasis on being a creator and more emphasis on link up play in the final third, acting as a second striker of sorts. Kylian Mbappé will start in the right wide area with the responsibility of moving into the right half-space or playing more centrally like a traditional striker. Mbappé offers quality on both flanks, centrally and in the right half-space, an asset for any team. No in-depth analysis needed there.
Our predicted lineup is seen below. In possession, Lucas Hernandez moves forward, adding width to France’s attack. The remaining three defenders will shift left to cover the space left behind the vacant Hernandez. Kante appears to be a lone pivot, but will be accompanied by Tolisso or Pogba who drop deeper in their respective half-spaces, depending on which side of the pitch the ball is on during the French build-up phases.
Pogba has been awarded the right half-space and will likely feature there the entire tournament. How Pogba will link up with Mbappé and Pavard will be fascinating when going forward. If Pogba is in the middle to final third, Mbappé will move centrally and act as a second striker, while Benzema drops slightly deeper to link play from midfield to the forward line. Griezmann will start in a deeper position but will be expected to join the forward lines and make late runs into the opposition defense from a central position.
Tolisso gets the start over Rabiot due to his better ball progressing abilities. Seeing as one of Pogba or Tolisso will be accompanying Kante in the build-up phase, both need to be able to move the ball from their own third to the final third effectively. For their club, Tolisso averages 6.19 progressive passes per 90 compared to Rabiot, who only averages 3.52 per 90.
While Rabiot does produce more progressive carries, with 5.75 per 90 compared to Tolisso’s 4.43 per 90, the likelihood that the midfield players will be encouraged to carry the ball or dribble more often with forward players such as Mbappé, Benzema and Griezmann, is unlikely. Therefore, Tolisso is expected to start as he is better suited for the system in which France want to play.
Defensively, France will shift from their attacking structure into a mid- to low-block that resembles a 4-4-2 structure. Should France lose the ball and fail to win it back quickly, they will have Griezmann shift from his pseudo number ten role to the left side and as a left winger/midfielder, tasked with defending the left side, while Benzema and Mbappé shift centrally and form a more traditional front two.
Tolisso and Kante will shift more centrally when making up this 4-4-2 shape, while Pogba will move to the right side, similarly to how Griezmann moves to the left. The back four will then shift centrally with the advanced fullback, likely Hernandez, dropping back into a more traditional fullback position.
Below we see how the French block will look. Benzema and Mbappé shield the central forward passing options, while Pogba and Griezman shift into the right and left half-spaces and act as more traditional wingers/wide players. They will be tasked with pressing the ball should it be moved to their side of the pitch. Tolisso, Kante, along with the backline, take up positions seen in most 4-4-2 blocks.
It’s an effective structure, albeit simple. The ball will be near impossible to move centrally, so the opposition will be forced to go wide or backwards. If the ball goes backwards, France presses aggressively. If the ball moves to the side, France press aggressively, with intentions of using the touchline as a “twelfth man”. France will press areas of the pitch that reward them the ball with little risk.
Mentioned above was the reasoning for including Tolisso over Rabiot. Rabiot will be used at one point or another at Euro 2020, but Tolisso will start due to his presence in France’s build up play. France will play out from defence with Pavard coming inside to the right half-space, while Varane and Kimpembe will shift to the left to cover the space left by Hernandez. Kante will drop deeper and act as a single-pivot, creating a potential five versus two or five versus three scenario that favours France.
Once the ball has moved from defence, there will be more focus on moving up the pitch on the left. While Pogba and Mbappé will not be ignored, France have most often gone up the left side. Benzema, Tolisso and Hernandez will combine to overload the right fullback and winger, while the right sided center-back will struggle to manage Benzema moving into the left half-space and Griezmann taking up a more advanced central position.
As the ball moves into the final third, the attacking structure begins to show itself. A back three is formed by the central defenders and Pavard, while Hernandez provides width to the forward line. Benzema will drop slightly deeper and more centrally, while Griezmann will move from his central number ten role into a position similar to that of a striker. Mbappé will move centrally if allowed, to help overwhelm the central defenders with Benzema and Griezmann, while Pogba can be expected to remain the right half-space dictating play from there.
Out of Kante and Tolisso, Kante will be expected to take a more advanced role in order to break up play should France lose possession in a dangerous area. Kante’s role in the final third is purely precautionary. Tolisso will remain further back, between the defence and attackers, to help recycle possession between himself, the defenders, Pogba and Benzema.
France are favorites to win Euro 2020. They are full of individuals who are as technically gifted as they are lucky to all be playing in a part of the same generation. This is exactly what a “golden generation” looks like. While France won’t have the stylistic change on world football like the Spanish did between 2008-2012, this France team will be expected to be just as successful as we’re already seeing at club level.
Tactically, France will do fine. Tactical masterclasses from Deschamps shouldn't be expected, and that’s fine. Very few managers can find a way to include as many gifted players into one team like Deschamps has, fewer have won a World Cup doing it.
I’m a Canadian soccer/football coach and analyst with a bias towards Manchester City. Follow me on twitter for more football content @CamH___