France are undoubtedly one of the strongest team in the competition. With a deep squad overloaded with talent and individual quality, they are one of the teams to watch this summer.
The team has a lot to make up for after the lost European Championships on home soil two years ago. The talent pool got a lot stronger, in fact I would struggle to pinpoint either position as their clear weakness.
However… the question is how those individuals will gel on the pitch.
The only question remains how their midfield will look. Pogba and Kante seems to have cemented their positions, and Griezmann is set to start as number 10. Who will join them in the midfield diamond remains a doubt.
All in all the shape of the French team in ball circulation resembles more a 2332, or a 4132 depending on how we look at it. The fullbacks are pushing up quite high. Griezmann starts from the top of the diamond. He makes runs behind the defence, asks for the pass through the midfield line, or participates in reverse moves in the halfspace.
France play in a stable structure during their ball circulation phase. When Umtiti has the ball Pogba moves out to the left side, Lucas pushes up between the lines. With Griezmann, Mbappe and Dembele playing all very close to each other, this creates a 4 v 4 against the back four of Italy. On the ball far side the width is provided by Pavard.
The movement of France in ball circualtion can be written down with very simple rules:
- The fullback has to push behind the midfield line if the ball is with any of the players in the first line of the buildup on his side.
- The fullbacks occupy the whole width of the pitch.
- One midfielder always in the central lane. Either between the central defenders or in front of the opponent’s midfield line.
- Two midfielders higher than him, always moving in front of the midfield in the halfspace, or behind the Italian midfield, but always pulling to the outside of the opponent’s 8s.
- Reverse movement between Griezmann and the inside 10s Dembele and Mbappe.
Let’s see some examples of these rules in action.
Griezmann plays as a number ten. Dembele and Mbappe make runs in the channels. Their roles are more vertical, while Griezmann also moves back off the shoulder of the defenders, and receives the ball between the lines if the passing lane opens up between the Italian midfielders. These moments occur mostly when Kante opens the passing lane with his positioning.
Even if his first touch takes him in front of the midfield, Griezmann can hit accurate diagonals to the advancing fullback. The width the fullbacks provide gives France an option to always keep the ball, make the opponent shift sideways, therefore open up more space in the middle.
Mbappe is looking to run into the channel immediately. There are very few scenarios I would be more afraid of as a central defender than this one. The defender has to give depth to Mbappe to counter the speed advantage of the French youngster. Mbappe starts his run very early, even a slight lapse of concentration for the central defender can prove to be fatal. Not to mention that the defender also has top shift towards the ball while doing all of this. Not an easy task.
Variations in the starting positions of the attackers
Against the United States they payed in a 4321 formation, Mbappe and Griezmann close to each other under Giroud. Or the usual 4312, with Giroud and Mbappe wide in front of Griezmann. This was due to Giroud and Mbappe playing on either side of the American sidebacks.
The key in defending against France is maintaining pressure on the ball in midfield, and a compact backline where the players constantly support each other. Otherwise the likes of Griezmann, Mbappe and Dembele time their runs excellently and find the free spaces if the defender stepping out from the backline is not properly supported.
Fullbacks and diagonals
With very little pressure on the ball in the deep halfspaces, and the fullbacks pushing up, the French team can always switch the play from one side to the other. Pogba and Tolisso are excellent at hitting these diagonal passes.
The fullbacks serve as targets for diagonal balls. The trio of Griezmann, Dembele and Mbappe can immediately make the runs into the spaces between the defenders. The attacker on the ball side runs the channel, the other two attackers arrive in the middle. Tolisso moves under the ball on the right side, covering the space behind Pavard.
If the fullback can’t play forward immediately, the midfielder on the same side moves under the ball. At the pass back the attacker who attempted to run the channel moves towards the ball, At this moment a player can attack the space behind.
Due to the positioning of Chiesa when Mandragora stepped up to press Tolisso, the wide passing lane to Pavard was open, as he moved back and pulled De Sciglio out Dembele could move in the reverse direction and run behind De Sciglio.
Kante and the 8s
Kante either pushes behind the Italian striker in the six space or plays between the central defenders. In the first case he might attract a midfielder with him, making the distance between the opponents bigger. This moment Griezmann can move back and receive between the lines. On the far side Dembele runs into the space on the outside of Griezmann’s defender. This prevents the defender from stepping out with Griezmann.
In the midfield Pogba and Tolisso play outside of the Italian midfielders. They only have to decide whether to move in front of the Italian midfield, or to push behind the line. Tolisso pushes past the midfield when:
- Mbappe is not in the half space between the lines.
- The pass goes to the central defender on Tolisso’s side. This has the following positives:
- The Italian 8 is less likely to press Varane.
- Pavard, Mbappe and Tolisso create a 3 v 2 against the Italian winger and fullback.
- Suddenly the Italian back four has 4 attackers to deal with. But there is Pavard as the extra man wide. If the defenders play far from each other to have better access to the wide space and the midfielders stay narrow to prevent passes to the feet of the strikers Pavard can receive wide. If the midfield is wide, the passes to the feet of the attackers are possible.
Attacking processes vs a back five: The curious role of Matuidi
Kante constantly moved back between the two central defenders in the buildup phase against the USA. This allowed the central defenders to open up wide and dribble into the game in an area where the USA team shape gave them poor access to the ball.
Mendy stayed deep, as the 8 moved out to him. This way they created a 2 v 1 with Umtiti on the number 8. Matuidi started from a wide position, pulling the wingback out with him. Meanwhile Giroud was on the shoulder of the sideback, this way a player running into the wide space immediately created an overload. However in this situation Mbappe is too far from this space to make a run.
The Americans couldn’t press Mendy due to his distance from the midfield. It also didn’t help that the wingback always stayed in the backline instead of pushing up to press Mendy. Not to mention that the whole team was too long.
The central defenders always stayed on one line. They could not support each other and take up runners from deep positions. Matuidi took advantage of this with excellently timed runs on the outside of the right sideback. Giroud was on the ball side of this defender, which prevented the defender from taking up the run of Matuidi.
The French attempted to double up on the midfielder attacking Umtiti. For example by Matuidi moving back, therefore also opening the space for Mendy to attack. Umtiti is excellent at beating his opponent even when he gets pressured. He can dribble diagonally, with Pogba waiting free on the other side. Then he can play the long pass to Griezmann making the run behind the defence. Griezmann gets free after making the reverse move with Matuidi.
Giroud and Mbappe often positioned themselves in the opponent’s defence, on the outside of the two sidebacks. This sometimes increased the distance between the American central defenders to the point that Griezmann could run free behind the defence.
France have one of the best talent pools and squad depth in the tournament. With their diamond midfield the formation seems to suit the players available at Deschamp’s disposal. They are one of the teams to watch this summer.