After a legendary career as a player in the nineties, Didier Deschamps has made a name for himself across the last decade as one of the most dominant national team managers of all time. France have a plethora of talent continuously circulating the squad, but Deschamps has managed all the moving pieces incredibly – leading the French team to three major tournament finals in the span of eight years (World Cup 2018; World Cup 2022; Euros 2016). France could now become the first side to win succssive World Cups since Brazil managed the feat in 1962. Here is our analysis of Didier Deschamps’ magnificence with the French national team this year, ahead of the 2022 World Cup Final against Argentina.
SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-2-3-1
France have adopted a flexible 4-2-3-1 system at the tournament, transforming their shape to get the best out of individual players within the formation. This is the hallmark of any top-tier manager. They are not only able to coach their way around a tactical set-up, but actively fit their players into a system and set of principles that bring out the best in their ability.
Within the system, Hugo Lloris has remains in goal, with the experienced head of Raphaël Varane firmly in front of him. Varane returned from injury earlier than expected to help bring solidity to the French back-line, which became a much needed addition after Lucas Hernandez’s tournament ended inside the first match. The man to actually replace Hernandez though was his own brother Theo, who has added a different dimension to gallivanting up the left wing than the French team would have likely had with the Bayern defender. Jules Koundé has also been a bit of a surprise at right-back, knocking the always reliable Benjamin Pavard off the top spot. Pavard’s Bayern Munich teammate Dayot Upamecano has slotted into the back-four, and other than a shaky performance against England, has been completely up for the task.Embed from Getty Images
The midfield has been perhaps the biggest and best surprise of all, after pre-tournament injuries to N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba forced Deschamps to make due with a make-shift midfield of Aurélien Tchouaméni and Adrien Rabiot. Both players entered the tournament in fine form, and have massively benefited the strengths of the other. Rabiot’s been excellent in covering ground laterally and shifting box-to-box, while Tchouaméni’s played a solid role in France’s progression out from the back.
In attack, Deschamps has had another stroke of genius in concocting a unit of players that all perfectly fit together in the puzzle that is this French team. Olivier Giroud’s now become the team’s all-time goal-scorer, and he’s been supplemented by arguably the in-form player in world football – Kylian Mbappé. Mbappé’s role in the team changes the dynamic of the team’s defensive set-up, and as we’ll come to discuss, has massive ramifications for the shape, and for the over-arching way in which France facilitate their attacking endeavours.Embed from Getty Images
Ousmane Dembélé’s enjoyed a positive tournament on the other side of the attack, constantly cutting inside on his left-foot to create shooting opportunities, or to allow Griezmann to float around him. It seems as though FBRef have finally admitted he’s a two-footed player, and even though I wrote about it recently, I genuinely forget which foot is his strongest. Then to cap everything off is my personal choice for Player of the Tournament – Antoine Griezmann.Embed from Getty Images
The Atletico man has fulfilled his role in the team to magnificent effect after some much needed rejuvenation this season, operating in the ’10’ slot that allows him to showcase his astute awareness of space. France simply have so many weapons that can hurt the opposition from so many different areas of the field, yet just about everything good seems to still funnel its way through the man who has now been a key figurehead in all three Deschamps success stories.
ATTACKING PRINCIPLESEmbed from Getty Images
France build out from the back in something of a 2-4-4 shape, occasionally using Jules Koundé in a lower position as part of a back-three, with Rabiot and Theo Hernandez more likely to shift higher. Aurélien Tchouaméni is one of the key progressors as he sits in front of the back-four, but Varane and Upamecano have both excelled with their carrying out from the back.
Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé are also expected to remain more involved in initial build-up phases than the likes of Mbappé and Giroud, floating toward the ball as Rabiot shifts up. Griezmann will seek any space necessary to receive the ball, whether that be on the right wing, into the channels, or all the way toward Tchouaméni.
Adding to the variety, France have the ability to go long into Giroud’s path at any moment, knowing he possesses all the tools to hold the ball up and bring others into the game. This has always been a hallmark of Giroud’s game, and it nicely suits Griezmann’s astute space seeking in a Lewandowski-Muller-esque manner, where the two are always able to find themselves in close cahoots to break any opposition defense.Embed from Getty Images
While France have enjoyed 53% of the possession, where they’ve truly excelled is on the break, where they can use their speed and dynamism of Kylian Mbappé, backed up with the incisiveness and precision of players like Giroud and Griezmann. Mbappé remains high on the left in defensive phases to be used as that natural outlet, and his explosiveness down the wing remains France’s key weapon.
The PSG man has completed 4 dribbles and 4.7 shots per 90 at the tournament, unsurprisingly more than any other French player. Combine that with an absolute wizard creating magic spells with 4 key passes per 90 in Griezmann, and you get some Harry Potter level defense against the dark arts.Embed from Getty Images
The crux of the Mbappé conundrum has been a particularly complex one to solve. If opposition teams decide to double-up, they will naturally vacate space for others like Rabiot or Griezmann to receive. They may also encourage Mbappé to dribble his way out of pressure by driving inside, where he naturally likes to go anyway.
This has wreaked havoc not only for the fullbacks attempting to match him stride for stride, but for the defensive midfielders suddenly tasked with throwing themselves into a challenge. Theo Hernandez can then get up and down that left wing to compound matters, often popping up at the end of moves into the box.
Then as the match winds down, France can persist in utilizing more directness in the form of Marcus Thuram, who is essentially a watered down Mbappé and offers much of the same pace and power on the break. Mbappé will then shift up front as the team’s ‘number 9’, making it all the more difficult for the tired legs of the opposition to contend with the double direct threat of two remarkable speedsters. This is why France have often continued to score goals late into matches, where their fresh legs suddenly inspire new life into an already lively team.Embed from Getty Images
And while Mbappé can evidently take on the world all on his own, he’s generally been quite unselfish in recognizing the moments to pass the ball onto others. Perhaps even more encouragingly for those that only come around every four years to watch the World Cup and then complain about all the diving, The PSG man sees the advantage of staying on his feet and continuing to explode whenever possible. When a bad tackle comes in he’ll embellish just like anyone else, but when full force on the break, he stays on his feet in a way that few others would.
DEFENSIVE PRINCIPLESEmbed from Getty Images
Deschamps has proven himself to be a brilliant tactician on the defensive end over the years, and this is where many of his tactical innovations take center stage. In 2018, that was via the use of Matuidi as a hybrid left-wing-central-midfielder, continuing to get the best out of Mbappe’s attacking exploits over on the right. Now it’s via Griezmann as the man to slot into that midfield three. Griezmann, like Dembélé, will hold more of a defensive role in the team than Giroud and Mbappé, who continuously ready themselves to pounce on the counter. This means that France leave their left-side completely open for exploitation. Theo Hernandez and Adrien Rabiot simply have far too much ground and space to adequately cover the side, and opposition fullbacks can find fun on that side.
As seen against England, when a talented right-winger like Bukayo Saka then drives inside on the ball, chaos can erupt. But this goes back to the conundrum discussed earlier.
This seems like a silly tactic from the way we’ve described it so far, but this is precisely how France have achieved so much joy on the break. Opposition fullbacks like Matty Cash or Achraf Hakimi get forward into the attack to try and make something of their right-sided role, knowing that they offer one of the greatest attacking weapons their team possesses. If the opposition can then properly overload this side, France have issues to solve.
But as those fullbacks vacate their defensive stance, Kylian Mbappé only has more and more room to explode on the break. You can see how even when the tournament’s leading scorer comes back to defend and pressure his opposition fullback, the team will continue to pump balls into that left-channel in transition, only to find out he’s not where he’s supposed to be.
Morocco tried to mitigate this via the use of Amrabat to shift across and provide cover, but the French forward still managed to wiggle his way out of troublesome situations like the one above, before bursting into the attacking third.
England took a different approach by positioning Kyle Walker always firmly in behind Kylian Mbappé, but the wing wizard still managed to find freedom by driving inside beyond the City man, barreling down on the spaces through the centre that Declan Rice couldn’t fully cover on his own for what seemed like the first time in his career.Embed from Getty Images
Perhaps the most interesting byproduct of this has been the defensive emergence of Antoine Griezmann, who has just been everywhere from a defensive perspective for Deschamps team. He’s made 3.3 tackles + interceptions per 90 at the tournament, despite being dribbled past just 0.4 times per 90. The 31-year-old attacker always seems to know where to be from not only the attacking perspective but the defensive one, popping up in ‘Zone 14’ to stop the opposition’s ‘number 10’ throughout this tournament.
Whether he’s slotting in through the centre or to the right of Tchouameni, France can then defend with somewhat of a lopsided 4-5-1. In truth, it’s more of a 4-4-1+Mbappé as the PSG man hangs high completely out of sight. But you won’t be surprised to find Griezmann all the way back into his own defensive third, clearing the ball out of danger and starting the counter-attack from that reserved stance.
In their initial press all the way into their mid-block, Griezmann might float up to the right wing in a lopsided 4-3-3, with intentions seemingly to force the opposition away from Mbappé’s exposed side.
The shape will look better and more naturally form into a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-4, but this has been an interesting implementation from Deschamps in his adaptable press. France have received criticism from others in the analysis sphere for the lack of defensive thrust from Giroud and Mbappé, but the same cannot be said of their central midfielders whatsoever.
Rabiot and Tchouaméni constantly scan the field in their endeavours to screen inverted wingers attempting to roam behind them, whilst simultaneously stepping up when the ball enters their zone. They neutered Denmark’s progression out from the back in this manner, with the attacking midfielders inside their 3-4-2-1 completely at a loss for where to exist on the pitch. To think that Manchester United fans were mocking Ten Hag’s attempts to sign Adrien Rabiot now looks like madness, given how well he’s performed not only at the World Cup, but for Juventus since the start of the season.Embed from Getty Images
Across the back-line, France have only achieved more success through a fairly aggressive approach, using their size and strength to bully opposition attackers. Only Costa Rica have made more tackles + interceptions (32.6) than the French at this tournament (31.0), illustrating their massive success story in defensive phases across the board. Miraculously, they’ve managed to achieve such a feat whilst accumulating the second least amount of fouls (8.2), also to the Costa Ricans.Embed from Getty Images
Deschamps really is just a brilliant manager when it comes to the defensive side of the game. But importantly, the defensive tactics that he sets into place actively benefit the team going the other way, allowing the likes of Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappé to shine as they explode on the break.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Regardless of how France finish, the 2022 World Cup will be remembered as another tactical masterclass from Didier Deschamps and his team. They’ve been incredibly flexible in adapting to the opposition within their own rigidness of personnel and overarching emphasis on counter-attacking football. Some things never change within a Deschamps team, and this has been for the better in reaching three of the last four finals his team have faced since 2016. Argentina look like a formidable unit with Lionel Messi tearing it up on the world’s grandest stage, but my money will be on France and the superiority of their collective, as they look to make history.
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So there it is! Our analysis of Didier Deschamps’ team at the 2022 World Cup. Be sure to check out more of our Team Analyses, World Cup articles, and don’t forget to follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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