France take on Switzerland in the round of 16 at Euro 2020. The last time these two sides met was in a goalless draw at Euro 2016. France are firm favorites to win this tie, having not lost in this fixture since May 27, 1992. However, both teams have a negative aura around them for different reasons.
France are struggling to play an attractive style of football despite being packed with talent from top to bottom while also undergoing a slight injury crisis as we enter the knockout stages. Thomas Lemar and Marcus Thuram both suffered training injuries and are unlikely to feature, while Ousmane Dembélé, Lucas Hernandez, and Lucas Digne are all expected to either miss out or not start, leaving Adrien Rabiot the only real option to fill in at left back.
Switzerland struggled to make an impact going forward when playing against Wales and Italy. An overreliance on Embolo will ultimately be Switzerland’s downfall as they simply do not create enough chances from elsewhere. Switzerland’s performance against Turkey should be considered an anomaly as Turkey has been one of the worst sides at Euro 2020.
Left wingback Steven Zuber had a field day attacking the space behind the Turkish fullback Zeki Celik, but who didn’t? Additionally, despite racking three assists, Rodriquez is expected to replace Zuber in that left wingback role to best defend the presence of Paul Pogba.
This preview will serve as a guide to explain the tactics each side will likely be using against each other, with a focus on the structures and personnel in the build up phases, transitions, and final third.
With no recognized fullback likely to start for France, it could be a recipe for disaster had they drawn a stronger opponent. Their build up can largely go unchanged due to the lackadaisical nature of the Switzerland press. The Swiss come into the match with a PPDA of 14.7, making them only slightly better pressers than Scotland and Finland.
They also come firmly midtable at Euro 2020 for attacking third pressures, with 103 pressures over three games. Given the context of the thumping they gave Turkey, it’s worth considering that their attacking third pressures could be slightly inflated.
With these pressing stats in mind, France will likely remain unchallenged in the build up phase. The structure will have the back four slightly lopsided with Kante dropping deeper while Pogba and Tolisso remain in their half-spaces in the middle third.
The pressing structure Switzerland have used thus far at Euro 2020 is reliant on Seferovic and Embolo shielding the passing options beside them or behind them, with the added responsibility of pressing the passing option in front of them. Shaqiri is a passenger in terms of defensive duties, so despite France not having an overwhelming numerical advantage in the build up, they should be expected to beat the Swiss press easily.
Going forward, France have disappointed most neutrals as many expected a team as talented as the one the French have put together to dominate possession, score lots of goals and dominate games. There is an over reliance on individual talent to create moments of magic for France. It’s not a matter of France being lucky, rather the French players are just world-class. With that said, many, including myself, expected these “moments of magic” to be part of the French attack, not the focal point.
When France enter the final third their shape will resemble an asymmetrical 3-3-4. Either fullback is encouraged to join the attack, with Hernandez being the one best suited to it, while Pogba distributes the ball from the right half space free of defensive duties.
Mbappe, Benzema and Griezmann are all encouraged to make runs into the channels between the opposition defenders, with Mbappe being best used on the left at Euro 2020. With no Hernandez or Digne likely to start, France are now left with little, if any, natural width on the left flank. Rabiot is yet to prove his abilities going forward, so it’s difficult to say how he will fare.
The crux of the French attack is that if given possession of the ball, France struggles to beat teams in a low block. With little natural width, especially now with injuries piling up, France will quickly run out of options to stretch the opposition horizontally. This leads to over the top passes from Pogba to Mbappe or Benzema, and while Pogba has been brilliant at this tournament, it’s a tactic that doesn’t have any flexibility.
France are the best team at the tournament on paper. Each player is a serial winner, technically gifted and has played at an elite level for their entire careers. Despite the negative style of play and injury list, France are still favorites due to having star power to overwhelm their opponents in one versus ones, in transitions and through sheer “moments of magic”.
France will win possession through Kante or Tolisso, both of which are workhorse who will do the heavy lifting for their team out of possession and then look to move the ball to a more creative player, like Paul Pogba, to exploit the spaces left vacant by the opposition during their transition from attack to defence.
Pogba has made the right half-space his own, and unless Didier Deschamps decides to give Pogba any sort of defensive duties like he did against Portugal, I expect Pogba to be the main orchestrator of the France counter-attack.
From 35 attempted long passes at Euro 2020, Pogba has completed 26 (74.3%), a remarkable figure that doesn’t do his role or performances justice considering he was playing against Germany and Portugal in the group of death, and a Hungarian side that looked to sit incredibly deep and play on the counter-attack. Pogba makes risky passes and is often rewarded for doing so. I expect that to continue against a weaker opponent in Switzerland.
Mbappe, Griezmann and Benzema will be tasked with running into the channels. The space between the central center-back and the left center-back will be of particular interest for France, as Akanji likes to shift from his left center-back role into a wider role, similar to that of a left fullback when Switzerland are in possession. This has left the swiss vulnerable in that right half-space area and one that France will no doubt punish.
Switzerland will play out from the back with their central defender, likely Schar, to play in a more advanced role, similar to that of a more traditional #6 role, while the wide central defenders take up wider roles, resembling fullback positions. The wingbacks will remain in the middle third while the midfielders, Freuler and Xhaka will drop deeper while remaining in their respective half-spaces.
France will press with Mbappe, Griezmann and Benzema , but expect little aggression from these three. Their positioning is merely just a presence. Their only responsibility is shielding the more progressive passing options rather than pressing the low-quality ball carrying options.
Points of focus for the Swiss build up will be their left flank. Akanji is comfortable moving from left center-back to a role similar to that of a left fullback. This leads to tidy ball progression between him, Xhaka and Rodriguez. While largely ineffective against Wales and Italy in the sense that no clear cut chances came from this side in particular, that is due to the lack of overall quality in this Swiss side. There is distinct lack of creativity in midfield and it shows as the Swiss struggle to create that link from the midfield to the forward line.
France is one of the worst pressing teams at Euro 2020 with a PPDA of 16.7, only Hungary (25.9), Finland and Sweden (19.1) are worse. This means that France allows their opponents prolonged periods of time in possession before they win it. Switzerland will be able to play out from the back easily but lack the creativity to progress into the deep middle third or French final third where France will press more aggressively courtesy of N’golo Kante.
Going forward Switzerland are predictable and uninspiring. The back five will shift to back four with whoever starts at left wingback, likely Rodriguez, moving into a left winger or left midfielder role to add width to the attack. The issue with this is that, like mentioned in the build up phase, there is no player who can be relied on to consistently create chances or play creative passes.
Seferovic will likely remain central and in between the two center-backs, while Embolo will do the same with the added freedom of being able to move into the left half-space as well. Shaqiri has been given a roaming #10 role but has been poor. Against Turkey, a game where Switzerland won comfortably, they only made 47 progressive passes that were received while against Wales, they only made 40 by comparison.
This shows that as a side, Switzerland progressed very little to begin with, while also relying on the opposition to allow them to best take advantage of the few forward passes they make.
France will likely continue the trend of not committing several players forward and instead rely on the few players they do have forward to make the most of the chances given to them. So, Switzerland will likely be starved of many quality opportunities.
The obvious target will be France’s left flank as they’re likely to be playing without a recognized fullback. So, Widmer could prove to be problematic if Rabiot is not given adequate support. Switzerland will also be keen to play long, over the top passes into the wide areas for Rodriquez or Zuber to run onto.
Otherwise, it’s very difficult to see where Switzerland are going to create chances from. Seferovic and Embolo will be up against Kimpembe and Varane respectively, but with both being accomplished defenders, you would expect them to win their one versus one duels well presuming they’re given no support from Kante or Tolisso.
Pogba v Xakha
Pogba is France’s best creator. They are worse without him in the side as evident by the number of successful long passes he’s been able to pull off against the other participants in the group of death. Granit Xhaka has completed five tackles from six made, three of which were in the middle third. There is no midfield player that can best handle Paul Pogba like Xhaka. The key to stopping France’s chance creation is stopping Pogba.
Kante v Shaqiri
It is not rocket science to figure out that if you stop Shaqiri, you tend to stop Switzerland. Due to his low centre of gravity and bullish agility, he could be an interesting match up for Kante. Kante will have the mobility to keep up with the twists and turns of Shaqiri but Kante is not renowned for his man-marking or just sitting deep focusing on defending against one opponent - so there will be moments where Shaqiri has the chance to work his magic.
France: Lloris, Pavard, Varane, Kimpembe, Rabiot, Kante, Tolisso, Pogba, Mbappe, Griezmann, Benzema
Switzerland: Sommer, Widmer, Elvedi. Schar, Akanji, Rodriguez, Xhaka, Freuler, Shaqiri, Embolo, Seferovic
Both sides have been unpleasant to watch in their own ways, however, it’s France that have been able to pull a rabbit out of a hat when asked to. With little quality in the Switzerland midfield and attack, they will not cause much of a threat to such an experienced French defence, even without a recognized fullback. France will be able to grind out a win here, just like they did against Germany. Moving forward into the tournament however, it’s tough to imagine that the lack of width going forward and over reliance on individual brilliance will be as present as it has been.
Prediction - A boring, dull, French victory.
I’m a Canadian soccer/football coach and analyst with a bias towards Manchester City. Follow me on twitter for more football content @CamH___