England adopted the tactic that made France world champions in 2018 | World Cup 2022

“IIt looked like an Atlético Madrid match. It made me feel at home,” said Antoine Griezmann after France’s semi-final triumph over Belgium in the 2018 World Cup. strongest of the tournament – ​​fresh off their thrilling quarter-final win over Brazil – summed up France under Didier Deschamps. The side that would go on to become world champions looked like an international version of Diego Simeone’s famously combative Atlético team: conservative and rigid but also blessed with supreme quality in the frontcourt. It’s a plan Gareth Southgate used to achieve England’s recent success.

Deschamps’ conservative squad was designed to adapt to modern international football, knowing that the attacking fluidity achieved by club managers is difficult to replicate in a national team given the limited time coaches have to work with them. their players. Many recent successes in international football have been built on a thoughtful style of play: stoic and well organized in defence, with moments of individual quality in attack. Portugal’s triumph at Euro 2016 and France’s victory in 2018 are outstanding examples.

In Russia, France starting full-backs Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, effectively centre-backs by trade, provided a hard-to-penetrate hard-to-penetrate base, in direct contrast to the now-standard flying modern full-back. Greizmann was even seen signaling his Atlético teammate Hernandez to return to a more defensive position in the quarter-final win over Uruguay. Although Pavard’s memorable long-range strike against Argentina in the last 16 game was a notable exception, neither of the full-backs offered much in an attacking sense by modern standards.

Benjamin Pavard scored a superb goal against Argentina in 2018 but his role was mainly defensive. Photograph: John Sibley/Reuters

Building on this solid foundation, Deschamps relied on the considerable individual quality at his disposal in midfield and in attack to create moments that helped his side cross the line, Kylian Mbappé’s long gallop against the Argentina being the best memory of the tournament from a French point of view. Although the balance was adjusted when needed – such as in the 4-3 victory over Argentina or in the open final against Croatia – this France side generally got their important wins.

Southgate adopted these ideas to make their similarly built England team much harder to beat and much more successful than previous iterations. England haven’t conceded since their opener in Qatar, a 6-2 win over Iran, and they reached the Euro final last summer without conceding a goal in free play .

The possible introduction of a third centre-back against France on Saturday, akin to Southgate’s strategy against Germany in the second round last summer, would take Deschamps’ ideas to the extreme. Moroccan coach Walid Regragui followed a similar path to success in Qatar, showing a similar understanding of international football. He chose a solid but technical back seven, while relying on the individual quality of Hakim Ziyech in the front areas when possible.

Roberto Martínez’s more attacking Belgian side represent the opposite school of thought. His failure to win a trophy despite the talent he had had in recent years represents the triumph of one philosophy over the other at international level, with France’s victory over Belgium in the semi-finals four years ago being the manifestation the most manifest of this struggle. . Unlike Belgium under Martínez, France and England take little risk and use their superior quality to wear down weaker teams. This is a sensible decision for major nations at tournament level. They maximize their dominance knowing that their rivals don’t have time to devise a more creative system to outplay stronger opponents.

France, however, approach the encounter with England far less assured than they did against Belgium four years ago, having become a bit more expansive since Russia. Injuries deprived Deschamps of his first-choice midfield of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté, as well as Samuel Umtiti, who would be paired with Raphael Varane at centre-back if fit. He also cut and changed tactics. After playing three central defenders for the 18 months leading up to the World Cup, Deschamps switched to a four-man defense at the last minute and then returned to a version of the setup that proved successful in 2018, despite the lack of time to crack the system. pre-tournament.

Blaise Matuidi, now retired, may be the biggest defeat of 2018. France lack a natural replacement in the dynamic left midfield role he played in their 4-2-3-1 asymmetric. Like Southgate, Deschamps was more positive in the group stage, using a more traditional 4-2-3-1 with Ousmane Dembélé playing as a more orthodox wide man on the right. Unlike Southgate, however, Deschamps is unlikely to back down against tougher opponents.

Gareth Southgate on the touchline in England's 0-0 draw with USA
Gareth Southgate has taken a cautious approach to many matches in the English tournament. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

This, however, may not be wise. Left-back Hernandez was injured in France’s opener against Australia, while Pavard was dropped. Pavard’s replacement, Jules Koundé, also a natural centre-back, also endured mixed form at full-back for France. Deschamps has few options, having curiously chosen only one natural back, left-back Theo Hernández, in his 26-man squad. Dayot Upamecano appears to be Deschamps’ go-to partner for Varane, but the Bayern Munich defender lacks international experience and, although technically excellent, he doesn’t rival Umtiti for his ruthlessness.

France could also be vulnerable at the base of their midfield. Aurélien Tchouaméni is undeniably talented but he lacks know-how in international tournaments and bears a considerable responsibility alongside Adrien Rabiot. Having reconciled with Deschamps after refusing to be on the reserve list in 2018, Rabiot performed well in Qatar but, after struggling with poor club form for a time, the Juventus midfielder could be seen as a weak link by England. He had more freedom than expected in Qatar, often leaving Tchouaméni to cover large areas on his own, which could suit the English counter-attacks.

Uncertainty reigns for both teams. Like England, the true level of this new-look France remains a mystery, with neither side having faced a major test so far. France’s win over a much-loved Danish side in the group stage proves little given the Danes’ abysmal tournament overall and, although Southgate’s side were troubled at times by the United States, the France will present a very different challenge.

Historic victory for France over Belgium in 2018 felt like an Atlético Madrid match” to Griezmann; this meeting between the two best pragmatists of the tournament could look like a match between two Atlético Madrid teams. Both teams will see each other in their opponents. Whichever side feels more comfortable in this chess-like encounter – a hastily revamped France team or a potentially even more conservative England – are likely to reach the last four.

This is an article from Get French Football News
Follow Eric Devin and GFFN on Twitter


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