FRANCE ● TACTICAL REPORT (WORLD CUP 2022)

 

T he holders France boast one of the most talented and deepest squads going into the World Cup. It is no surprise then that they enter the tournament as one of the favourites along with Brazil and Argentina. However, whilst the South American teams have been on the up, France have struggled to maintain their status as “best in world”, and enter the tournament with only 1 win in 6 games.

Deschamps is likely to be under a lot of scrutiny going into this year's World Cup, but this isn’t something new to him. After taking the reins, following the disastrous and controversial tenure of Laurent Blanc, Deschamps was tasked with restoring national pride. The previous generation of wonderkids who were to replace France’s golden generation had flattered to deceive. “Génération 87” had the likes of Ben Arfa, Benzema, Ménez and Nasri, all of whom featured at Euro 2012, but despite their bags of potential, all bar Benzema, (who was banned by France between 2016-2021) fell by the wayside.

Luckily, for Deschamps, France had a new generation of players coming through, so going into the 2014 World Cup, with minimal expectations, it gave him the chance to bed in players like Pogba, Varane and Griezmann, without the weight of the nation on their shoulders. France played expansive football in this tournament, and were arguably the most exciting team in Brazil. With such a young squad, they were full of verve and energy. Despite going out to eventual winners, Germany, in the quarter finals, France had made an impression that they were a team to look out for in future tournaments.

Going into Euro 2016, despite losing Varane to injury and Benzema being banned indefinitely for an off the pitch scandal, France managed to reach the Final. The weight of expectation on Deschamps seemed to affect him tactically - France were more negative in this tournament and were tough to break down in the defensive third and prolific enough to score without many shots on goal. Les Bleus' pragmatic approach would come back to haunt them in a disastrous Final, where France failed to dispatch a poor Portugal side. Deschamps was absolutely slated by the press.

Deschamps stuck to his guns of ultra pragmatic football and was ultimately rewarded as France won the 2018 World Cup. Compared to 2016, their personnel were better equipped at playing on the break with Mbappé being a game changer on the right. France were great at frustrating the opposition with their rigidity, opening up space on the counter and leaving their opponents mentally defeated.

In Euro 2020. Benzema would make a shock return to the national team but this only served to create friction and a disjointed attack, as Deschamps thought he could just cut and paste Benzema into the side. The tournament was a tactical disaster-class and despite Pogba’s and Benzema’s best efforts, France crashed out in the round of 16 against Switzerland.

France were able to redeem themselves by taking the 2021 Nations League title. France looked much more expansive, and although they leaked goals against Belgium, they showed they could be the side to take the initiative.

It’s been quite the topsy turvy journey for Les Bleus with Deschamps, but with a World Cup and Nations League title to show for their efforts, it’s generally been a successful one. This, however, is juxtaposed by their 2022 form. With injuries in key positions and poor form, France and Deschamps will be under immense pressure to perform.


 
konate hd
CAN KONATE BREAKTHROUGH?
 

TACTICAL OUTLINE

France have mainly deployed a 3-4-1-2 over the last 2 years and it looked set to be their system going into the tournament. However, with Les Bleus’ squad just being announced last night, there looks to be a likely shift back to the 4-2-3-1. Historically, Deschamps has favoured a lopsided 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 when things are not going to plan, so this last minute switch is indicative of a manager that does not like to veer outside his comfort zone.

DEFENCE (STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL)

Intensity of Press/Shape

Out of possession, France prefer to sit in a low block and frustrate the opposition. Despite showing some signs of being more adventurous at the 2021 Nations League Finals, Deschamps prioritises defensive solidity above all - and his frustration with recent results and the shambles at Euro 2021 has made him even more adamant that defence is the key to success.

Their 3 front will attempt to press the ball carrier from time to time, especially the tireless Griezmann but with Mbappe and Benzema, there isn’t much to be expected in terms of their pressing intensity. The same can be said for the wing backs, who will often sit deep to make a back 5. This is unlikely to deviate when deploying the 4-2-3-1, as the back 4 will be relatively flat. Most of the pressure comes from the midfield where France are blessed with numerous B2B destroyers who all look to hawk the ball. This will often leave gaps between the midfield and defence that the opposition can exploit. Since France sit off so much, midfielders who peel off the centre line can often find themselves with space and time for a forward pass. This was the case against Spain in the Nations League Final and in their last game away to Denmark, where France were done both times by a ball over the top.

Once settled in their defensive shape, France can be incredibly difficult to break down, irrespective of whether it’s a back 4 or 5. Whilst this has proven to be very effective in the past, the quality of French centre backs has diminished, so there are still opportunities despite France’s best efforts to be defensively solid. A lot will depend on Varane’s fitness and Deschamps choices in defence, as he has not settled on a CB partnership.

Aerial Prowess

Aerially, France are a fairly solid outfit with Varane historically pretty reliable in this respect and still averaging around 70% success in aerial duels. His partners are not in the same league aerially but they're all close to 60% success and with full backs such as Pavard pretty solid in the air, and new additions to the side like William Saliba - we do not anticipate them conceding many goals via crosses once the tournament gets underway.

Build Up Phase

With the ball, France aren’t the most convincing side playing out of the back. Most of their CBs aren’t accustomed to being able to play out under pressure. Saliba has good composure but has shown to have a mistake or two in his passing. Varane is very limited on the ball and might be targeted by other teams should he play. Kounde is their most reliable CB with the ball, so he will be a key feature to their build up. There are options like Hernandez at LCB, who is also comfortable on the ball but it’s hard to tell if he’ll be in Deschamps plans at centre half, as the latter has tinkered a lot recently with his CB personnel.

Selection

The Goalkeeper position should be a worry for France. An ageing Lloris is likely to be number 1 and with Maignan set to miss the tournament, there is no one to really change Lloris for a starting berth. On top of this, Lloris does not aid France in the build up with his poor distribution and composure playing out.

France has decent depth at CB, albeit a lack of a standout player. Varane will hopefully be fit for the tournament after recently picking up an injury. Kounde as a wide CB provides quality on the ball and recovery pace that France desperately need. Saliba and Konate have both emerged as top talents at CB but given that Deschamps is reluctant to go out of his comfort zone and likes to field a left footed CB on the left side, Kimpembe looks a more likely option at LCB. Upamecano has managed to accumulate a number of caps but looks far too raw to be relied upon at this stage in his career.

Wing back is a specialist position in football and is integral to France making the 3-4-1-2 work. Luckily, on the left side they are blessed with one of the best wing backs in Theo Hernandez. He will be important in their build but also as a goal threat at the far post. However, in the event they deploy a back 4, France will need to have CB’s with good pace to cover the spaces left by the aggressive wing back. Don’t be surprised if Deschamps opts for the more defensively sound Lucas Hernandez in place of Theo. On the right, Clauss would’ve been a competent and reliable player but worryingly Deschamps has left him out. This all but confirms a starting berth for the more defensive Pavard, who has been his go to full back since 2018.

Expect… To see Lloris start, with the usual favourites Pavard, Varane, Kimpembe getting in regardless if France utilise a back 3 or 4. Then there is the question of whether France gamble on the attacking prowess of Theo Hernandez or protect against the negative transition by going with Lucas Hernandez.


 
Tchouameni HD
THE ONLY CERTAINTY IN THE FRENCH MIDFIELD
 

ENGINE ROOM (STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL)

Direct & Physically Powerful

In both the World Cup Qualifiers and Nations League, France have tended to dominate possession but historically in competition they like to cede possession to hit teams on the break and shouldn’t be described as a possession oriented side.

With Giroud, France would tend to go long and look to win second balls or force a quick turnover. Since Giroud has become less of a fixture in the side, France have tried to play out of the back more but it is pretty clear that they are dire in the build up phase of the game. This isn’t helped by the combination of a poor distributor like Lloris and centre halves, who mostly struggle to play forward under pressure. On top of this, Deschamps is in desperate need of a settled midfield duo to facilitate playing out of the back.

Inexperienced Midfield

Currently, France have a mini crisis in the midfield axis as Kante and Pogba will both miss the World Cup through injury. Deschamps will need to come up with a new partnership that will help with build up and also provide a threat going into the final third. Problem is, he doesn’t have many options.

Tchouameni has proven to be an adequate replacement for Kante and has cemented his place in the starting XI. He managed to strike up a good relationship with Pogba, aiding France in the Nations League Final against Spain. This is no surprise as Tchouameni possesses a similar ability to Kante of being a ball magnet, while having a more refined possession game than his French counterpart. It is important to note that, similar to Kante, Tchouameni does not participate much in the build up but unlike Kante, he will be expected to, since France without Giroud will attempt to play out the back more. This could prove to be problematic against the bigger sides.

Without Pogba, France’s midfield lacks verticality and creativity in the final third. Camavinga is their best bet to replace Pogba. He would give them a bigger presence in possession and be able to run France’s build up phase. Furthermore, his ability to dribble out of tight space will be crucial as he may not have the luxury of open targets as France’s forwards are likely to be positioned further forward. However, Deschamps doesn’t currently trust Camavinga to hold such an important role in the team and after a disastrous showing with Tchouameni away to Denmark, it’s possible he has damaged his stock with the manager.

Kamara might’ve been a great option for France but he will miss the World Cup through injury. This leaves them with many ‘neutral’ B2B midfield options like Fofana and Tchouameni but nothing really on either side. Veretout has been included in the squad but is far from the quality needed at the highest level. Rabiot is too inconsistent to rely on, plus the baggage that comes with him is not worth the reward of playing him. Guendouzi is a wildcard option and would provide a different solution in the build phase but there are questions over whether he has the temperament to be able to cope with playing in high pressure games.

Expect… a double-pivot and for Deschamps to select Tchouameni as his mainstay and experiment with his midfield partner, with the likes of Rabiot, Fofana and Camavinga likely to be granted a chance throughout the tournament to cement themselves as his partner.


 
DEMBE HD
HOW IMPORTANT WILL DEMBELE BE OFF THE BENCH?
 

WIDTH (STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL)

Lopsided Formation

A common theme throughout Deschamps tenure as French Manager is his preference to play a lopsided formation. Whether it was Sissoko at Euro 2016 or Matiudi at the 2018 World Cup, France have favoured having one defined threat on one flank and this hasn’t changed.

Theo Hernandez is a massive addition to the left side. A solid return of a goal/assist every 3 games for Milan last season, demonstrates his ability to contribute in the final third. For France he has also shown this ability, most notably scoring the winner against Belgium in the Nations League Semi-Final.

Pavard is mostly to start on the right, and compared to Hernandez is a much more defensive option. He can provide defensive solidity and is fairly solid with the ball at his feet but not much should be expected of him in terms of penetration. If Kounde were to start at CB, there is scope of rotation between the two to add an element of confusion to France’s wingplay but Deschamps is likely to keep it simple.

Ferland Mendy would’ve been an interesting option, as he has the ability to play both right and left, due to his ambidextrous nature but has been left out of the squad entirely. Defensively sound, agile and nimble on the ball, he could’ve been an alternative option for Pavard should Deschamps want to keep a lopsided shape with defensive solidity on the right.

A Gluttony Of Talent

If France do deploy the 4-2-3-1, this in theory should open up more options for them in terms of width. Dembele, Coman and even Mbappe, all offer explosive pace and dynamism off the flanks. In a perfect world, we would see them feature all together to create a free flowing side, not too dissimilar to the one of Euro 2000. However, this is Deschamps we’re talking about. France, in both Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018 utilised a lopsided formation with a workhorse midfielder occupying one of the flanks. Mbappe will definitely start, so that is likely to relegate Coman and Dembele to the bench in favour of a midfielder like Rabiot for example.

Dembele would offer a genuine wide threat that France would benefit from. His ability to take it down the line or cut inside, would create so many different angles of attack. The only worry with him is lacklustre mentality and ability to be ‘in the zone’. If Deschamps can get him focused on the task at hand, no doubt he’ll be an impactful squad player.

As for Coman, whilst not blessed with two feet like Dembele, he would also offer an interesting threat off the flank. His crossing is much more refined than the latter and we’ve seen evidence of him making the difference in big moments ala the 2020 Champions League Final. Should France deploy a back three, we believe that Coman should and can be utilised as a wing back, as it would give an extra layer of presence on the right hand side as opposed to playing Pavard.

Expect… Mbappe to feature as the right winger or left winger if a 4-2-3-1 is deployed and for the likes of Rabiot to be used as a wide midfielder and traded up for a winger when France are chasing a game or taking on an easy opponent who they wish to break down.


 
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OVERRELIANCE ON AN AGEING GRIEZMANN?
 

CENTRAL CREATIVITY (STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL)

Fending For Themselves

France are blessed with some incredibly talented footballers. When in full flow, some of the football they can play is exquisite, especially one touch vertical passes. The problem is, they don’t do this enough and it is one of the most infuriating things about them. It’s almost like a tap they can switch on at any moment but only choose to do so when in a difficult situation.

With Griezmann, Pogba, Mbappe and Benzema (to a certain extent), there are a lot of different angles of attack for France. However, with Pogba out for the World Cup, the onus of creativity will have to come from the front 3.

Griezmann has been mainly been deployed as a #10 in Deschamps' system and for the most part he’s consistently performed for Les Bleus. There is a caveat to this, as his relationship with Benzema is not as destructive as the one he had with Giroud. Griezmann is a great link man to play off a target man but as Benzema is much more of a multifaceted player than Giroud, Griezmann has to change his approach and is not as effective.

Benzema is a striker who excels at being able to drop to link the play in close proximity and lead the line as the main man upfront. His role in being able to link well with Griezmann and bring Mbappe into play will be key for France moving the ball in the final 3rd.

Mbappe is another who likes to roam around and isn’t a fixed piece in the striking partnership with Benzema. We’ve seen his ability to fashion chances for himself, through a mazy dribble or just his blistering pace that allows him to glide past defenders like Bryan Habana. He will be essential for moving France up the pitch, especially if they being pinned back by the opposition. Furthermore, the more defenders Mbappe can attract, the better he’ll be able to open up spaces for Benzema and Griezmann to operate in.

The Support Cast

With Pogba out, we do worry about the lack of alternative creative options for France. Should the front 3 struggle to get into the game, it will be very tricky for a midfield duo of Tchouameni and Fofana for example, to help burden some of the creative work load up front. In fact, it is reminiscent of the 1998 French side, which had a workmanlike midfield behind a fluid front 3. Difference is, Griezmann is no Zidane and the lack of characters across the board for France is unlikely to bail them out of tight games like the 1998 side did on many occasions ala Thuram and Blanc.

Nkunku is a very tidy player, and is a great rotation player for Griezmann as an attacking midfielder. Like Griezmann, he excels with combination play, especially since he has incredibly fast feet. Combine that with his dribbling ability and you have a multifaceted player who will provide an extra layer of creativity off the bench as fresh legs.

Beyond France’s front trio, Theo Hernandez could be another creative outlet on the left side. For Milan, he is integral to their ability to get into dangerous zones on the pitch and if Mbappe or Benzema can dovetail with him by pulling out wide, it could prove to be a devastating combination to unlock the opposition.

Kounde could potentially be a secret weapon as a wide centre back and we’ve seen his ability to cause chaos further up field for Sevilla in the past, but it would need to be part of a many creative threats and not the main one.

Expect… Griezmann and Benzema to.be the main creative outlets from a central position and the odd moment of magic from the central midfield options.


 
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KARIM OF THE CROP
 

PENALTY AREA (STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL)

If you were to debate who has the best attack on paper going into the World Cup, France would win it hands down. A strike duo of Mbappe and Benzema is mouth watering and is a scary prospect for most defenders. Add to that the mercurial Griezmann and it is quite clear the danger France poses. However, football matches aren’t won on paper and when you dig deeper there are some concerns to note.

The Three Musketeers

Ever since Benzema’s return to the national team, it was obvious that Giroud would have to make way for the legendary striker. While the former has been fantastic for France, scoring 10 goals in 14 starts, the balance of the attack has somewhat deteriorated and we’ve been unimpressed by the fluidity of the front 3. Benzema is a key fixture for the attack, so it’s now or never for Griezmann to finally be able to connect with him.

This is likely to be Griezmann’s last World Cup for France and it’s a great opportunity for him to bow out of the international stage on a high. If anything Griezmann’s career has gone under the radar, and he is still very much a fixture in this French side, as he has been for the past 8 years. His ability to play one touch intricate football, as well as providing a set piece threat will be key to France’s ability to maximise each chance.

Mbappe is undisputedly Les Bleus talismanic figure. The wonder boy who fired them to glory in 2018, will be returning with a vengeance after a disappointing Euros. While his and Benzema’s partnership has shown promising signs from time to time, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Mbappe thrives when running off players who can play him in behind. Whilst Benzema has the ability to link up with other attackers, he will not want to be restricted to being solely a target man to supplement Mbappe, so this will be an area to keep an eye on.

The Support Cast

Talking of Giroud, the elder statesmen of the French attack could still have a key role to play in the tournament. Let’s not forget, Giroud played his way into the 2018 side after starting the first game on the bench, so let’s not rule out his potential impact on the tournament. He’s been a brilliant partner to Griezmann and Mbappe, and personally I believe this is France’s most cohesive combination.

Nkunku has proven for Leipzig he can be an outlet for goals but despite this, he has yet to register on the scoresheet for Les Bleus. The potential threat he will pose as a shadow striker coming off the bench should not be overlooked but at the same time, he is unlikely to benefit from the space given to him in the Bundesliga and against elite defences could be found wanting in the goalscoring department.

Despite France's attack not quite catching fire in the lead up to the tournament, France simply have too many options and big match experience for the attack not to come good. Target man, False 9, Wonderkid Strikers blessed with pace, you name it and France have it. Compare that to the paucity of England's options in attack i.e. an ageing Kane and a journeyman in Wilson as his only real backup and it would be criminal if they fail to outscore the likes of England at this tournament.

Expect… Griezmann to struggle playing in behind Benzema and for Deschamps to have to shuffle the pack, to make the attack work. In our opinion a diamond with Mbappe and ideally an Nkunku ahead of Griezmann, or a 3 man attack with only one of Benzema or Griezmann as the false 9 would be more balanced.


 

  • PREDICTED XI


PYTHAGORAS PERSPECTIVE

Rather like Southgate, Deschamps is a man fans 'love to hate'. Pragmatism has become a dirty word considering the wealth of the talent both men have at their disposal, To Deschamps credit, he has won a World Cup and he has tried to experiment with a more exciting side in the past calendar year, It hasn't reaped any dividends and thus one can see why he's gone back to his tried and tested formula.

Aside from the lack of 'creativity' from their central midfield roster, and the lack of centre backs operating at a generational level (and in their prime), personnel wise France have few weaknesses and a variety of tactical options across the board. The disaster at Euro 2021, should sharpen the minds and hearts of this years roster - a repeat of such an embarrassing failure will simply not be countenanced.

Can France go all the way? Yes - Will they? I have my doubts. This is a team that still seems to be on the verge of finding itself and whilst they may stumble upon the perfect formula by the time the knockouts get going, there seems to be selection question marks in defence as well as midfield. Teams plagued with such tactical uncertainty rarely go all the way. A solid run in the tournament does seem likely however.

Verdict: Could win it, should win it - minimum Semi - if they get through their Group in 1st place, otherwise a Round of 16 exit may be in the offing due to difficult draw if they finish second in the group.


 
 
 
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