The world champions France topped Group F – also known as the Group of Death – and managed to book themselves a slot in the Round of 16 stage where they will take on Switzerland. The two sides will square off at the Arena Nationala in Bucharest.
Despite topping the group stage, France haven’t exactly hit top gear at Euro 2020 so far. They won 1-0 against Germany, were held to a surprise draw by Hungary, and managed to draw 2-2 with Portugal in the final match. The goals have been hard to come by and France have also struggled to keep up with the intensity of the opposition at times.
With one of the best squads, if not the best international squad at his disposal, manager Didier Deschamps has attracted criticism for being conservative in his approach. But is it the manager’s inability to utilise his resources or the result of faith in a long-proven formula that has brought them dividends consistently?
We analyse France’s campaign so far in Euro 2020 below:
DISSECTING FRANCE’S EURO 2020 GROUP STAGE CAMPAIGN
The reigning world champions were up against the winners of the 2014 World Cup, Germany, in their first Euro 2020 match. Despite carrying a lot of hype and promise, the match ended up being defined by both sides’ lack of teeth in front of goal. The night ended with France and Germany recording just a single shot on goal each. While Germany had 10 attempts, the bulk of them arriving in the second half while they were chasing the match, France had just four. France also could’ve thanked Mats Hummels for diverting the ball into his own net and giving them the three points from the match.
Les Bleus were expected to breeze past Hungary in the second fixture of the tournament but it ended up being an eye-opener. Not only did Hungary take the lead through Attila Fiola just before half-time, they also went toe-to-toe with France despite the obvious gulf in quality of personnel. France somehow pulled one back through Antoine Griezmann in the second half and saved themselves from the blushes of an embarrassing defeat.
The final group stage match against Portugal was a relatively better affair for France. Despite the draw, their attack gelled better. Karim Benzema seemed to have found his form after two relatively quiet matches on his comeback for the national team. He scored once from the penalty spot and another just after half-time, but two spot kicks awarded to Portugal and converted by Cristiano Ronaldo saw the contest ending in a stalemate. They topped the group, but looked out of sorts.
TACTICS EMPLOYED BY FRANCE IN EURO 2020
Head coach Didier Deschamps has persisted with the 4-3-3 this year as well but has often switched to a 4-2-3-1 in between matches. He started with the 4-2-3-1 in his final match against Portugal.
In the 4-3-3 systems deployed against Germany and Hungary, Deschamps had opted for a midfield trio of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, and Adrien Rabiot. While Pogba has been nothing short of sensational in the tournament and his passing range has been the chief source of creativity in midfield, Adrien Rabiot hasn’t been too impressive. His role demands more and better link-up with the attackers, more ball progressions and greater ability to exploit vacated spaces. This is the reason Didier Deschamps decided to start with Corentin Tolisso in the final group-stage fixture and even tweaked the system to support the role.
The 4-2-3-1 allows France to function better for several reasons. As mentioned above, Tolisso gets to play a role which allows him to stretch the play better in order to create more space for the forwards.
Antoine Griezmann is also deployed centrally that enables him to often rush back to defend. Griezmann continues to provide spectacular defensive cover despite being a forward and a central role suits him better. Karim Benzema can also drop deeper in order to receive the ball which lets Kylian Mbappe use his pace to rush to the space vacated by the engaging defenders.
DIDIER DESCHAMPS: PRAGMATIC OR WASTEFUL?
Much has been said and discussed about Didier Deschamps, ever since France’s 2018 World Cup campaign. The current generation of the French national team is replete with talent, potential and ability all over the park and even their second and third-string players would start for other major countries
So, the question always arises on why France have to scrape through in order to mount wins. Yes, more often than not, they end up winning. But with a squad like that, they should be hammering in goals and blowing away the opposition, shouldn’t they? Deschamps should provide his midfielders and forwards more creative license and allow his full-backs to push further up the pitch in order to play better football, right?
It does appear that the current nature of slow-moving international football suits him better. Deschamps is pragmatic in his approach and always assesses the chances of his side fairly. To Deschamps, caution is the order of the day and any attempts to exhibit technique, flair, and a collective harmony has risks that outweigh the benefits in his mind.
You could argue that any decent top-level manager would fetch results with this French team and there might be some merits to that argument but this formula has worked well for them. It worked for France in Russia. This pragmatism and cautious approach saw them being crowned the champions of the world. It worked because they have enough players with the ability to dig in and eke out a win.
So Deschamps could argue further ‘If it’s not broken, is there any reason to fix it?’ The template has somewhat worked for them even in the Group of Death at Euro 2020, but will it work in the knockout stages once again? Only time can tell.