RSS

Tag Archives: france

Portugal 1-0 France

Embed from Getty Images
Portugal dispatched of hosts France to claim their first major international trophy courtesy of an extra-time winner from Eder.

     Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 12.01.36 PM

Didier Deschamps named an unchanged XI that narrowly snuck past Germany in the semi-final.

Fernando Santos welcomed back William Carvalho into his holding midfield role, while Pepe returned to the XI to form a centre-back partnership with Jose Fonte.

Portugal stuck to their defensive brand of football here, but Deschamps’ inability to alter his broken system witnessed Santos’ men strike late once again to become European champions.

Deschamps goes 4-2-3-1

Deschamps’ major decision ahead of kickoff was whether to return to the system he started the tournament with or aim to maximize Antoine Griezmann’s talent in a central role. Despite being completely outplayed by Germany in the semi-finals the French manager opted for the latter, which meant Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba formed a double-pivot ahead of the back four, while N’Golo Kante started on the bench.

Though the system caters to Griezmann’s strengths, it certainly decreases the impact France can produce in central areas. With Kante on the bench, Pogba and Matuidi were often adopting deeper positions to ensure the hosts weren’t overrun in midfield, thus making France’s attack quite predictable. It was simply based around knocking balls into striker Olivier Giroud, but only Griezmann was free to play off the striker or run beyond the defence, as the midfield duo were required to maintain their positions.

Portugal without the ball

The pattern of the match suited a Portuguese side that was never keen on being proactive. Their run throughout the knockout round has witnessed Santos’ side drop off into two banks of four, aiming to congest space between the lines and in central zones within their third.

To be fair, Santos was probably pleased that France went 4-2-3-1 because it ensured his men didn’t have to cope with the midfield runs from Pogba and Matuidi. Instead, Nani often attempted to sit goal-side of Matuidi, Adrien Silva stepped forward to Pogba when he received the ball around the halfway line, and William Carvalho was tasked with tracking Griezmann’s movement between the lines.

Attachment-1 (18).png

Full-backs Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna were harried by Joao Mario and Renato Sanches when they received possession, which ultimately deprived France of natural width. Samuel Umtiti and Laurent Koscielny were free to carry the ball forward, and had no other option but to find the attacking midfield trio who sought out space between the lines, but this was what Deschamps must have expected considering Santos made no changes to his defensive approach.

France shape

Apart from the opening 10 minutes of the match, similar to their opponents, France equally dropped off into two banks of four and were reluctant to press the Portuguese defence from the front. This may have backfired against a German side containing genuine creative outlets possessing excellent passing range, but Santos midfield are renowned for being functional and dynamic. Therefore, the hosts could afford to allow Portugal monopolize the ball in their half while they conserved energy.

Giroud and Griezmann occasionally pushed forward to half-heartedly close down the centre –backs – on one occasion the former’s pressing forced Pepe to concede possession and Dimitri Payet instantly located Griezmann drifting across Fonte, but the forward’s nodded effort was pushed over the net by Rui Patricio – and William Carvalho was free to drop deeper to create 3v2 overloads. France, however, covered space in midfield superbly with Matuidi and Pogba closing down their markers, so apart from long-balls over the defence Portugal struggled to bypass the midfield zone.

Cristiano Ronaldo suffering from a collision with Payet in the early stages of the first half, combined with sloppy passing in transition meant Portugal’s offensive threat during the opening half hour was scarce. Perhaps Deschamps could have encouraged his men to win the ball in advanced zones, but Portugal rarely threatened despite receiving space in their third to build attacks because of their poor passing, so Deschamps’ decision was justified.

Santos adjusts

Ronaldo’s unfortunate substitution could be considered the turning point of the match, as it forced Santos to make a key decision regarding his shape. Santos could have summoned Eder to lead the line here with Nani playing off the striker to maintain their 4-4-2 system, but the Portuguese manager decided to alter his shape.

Impact substitute, Ricardo Quaresma, replaced Ronaldo and shifted to the right of a midfield band of five (it was effectively a 4-1-4-1) while Nani remained upfront as a lone striker. This made sense due to Nani’s impressive movement upfront – in the opening three minutes he received a half chance following an intelligent run behind Koscielny to receive Raphael Guerreiro’s long diagonal, but the Portuguese forward fired his effort wide.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 12.03.02 PM

Nani’s passing in the final third was sharp, and on the rare occasion Portugal drifted into France’s third he looked capable of creating a half chance at minimum. Likewise, the system alteration provided Portugal with cover in wide areas, and now gave Renato Sanches and Adrien sole marking jobs against the France double-pivot.

Sissoko

The most peculiar feat of the match, though, was that Moussa Sissoko was the standout attacking player throughout. Renowned for excelling when provided space on the counter attack for now relegated Newcastle United, Sissoko’s inclusion on the right of a 4-2-3-1 offered defensive discipline and powerful running.

However, here, Sissoko darted infield from the right or into deeper central positions to receive the ball and instantly motor past opposing defenders to earn corner kicks. Although Sissoko’s impact decreased significantly in the second half, he still forced Rui Patricio to make a key save when he received a pass from Umtiti between the lines and subsequently tested the keeper from 30-yards – the move illustrated one of the structural flaws Portugal encountered out of possession.

With France lacking invention and penetration in the final third, Sissoko’s quick change of pace and direct running highlighted the structural issues Santos’ men faced. But it equally showcased France’s sole route of attack when Portugal put numbers behind the ball, obviously indicating that Deschamps system wasn’t maximizing the strengths of his star players.

France attack

It was France who created the better chances from open play, yet apart from Sissoko’s individual slaloms through midfield, the hosts generated their attacks predominantly down the left flank. Karim Benzema’s suspension from the national side meant Giroud would always be the first choice striker at this tournament, and while the Arsenal man receives criticism for his production in front of goal, he remains a useful focal point upfront.

Attachment-1 (20)

It was evident Giroud was instructed to nod down balls into Griezmann’s path, whilst bringing other teammates into advanced areas – he effectively created chances for substitute Kinglsey Coman, and a combination with Griezmann led to a Sissoko chance, but Deschamps may have envisioned this route of attack would create space beyond the Portuguese back-line.

Secondly, Giroud and Griezmann constantly stormed down the left behind Cedric to get into good scoring positions. The opening minutes witnessed Matuidi nod the ball behind Cedric for Griezmann, but the Frenchman fired his effort wide of the net. Both strikers received opportunities to take the lead via precise incisive passes from Coman, but both failed to beat Rui Patricio at the near post.

France weren’t particularly poor going forward, but their attacking moves appeared fairly individualistic rather than cohesive. The wider players were now nullified, and the midfielders rarely ventured near the box, so the hosts’ intent to cleverly play quick passes around the Portuguese defence rarely occurred. More so, they were solely relying on Coman and Sissoko’s penetrative runs narrow positions to unlock Portugal’s defence.

Second half

The second half followed a similar theme until the managers made personnel alterations. Deschamps replaced Coman for Payet, which should have resulted in natural width from the left to create more space for Griezmann centrally, and another dribbler/crosser. But Coman’s positioning was identical to Payet, yet he offered pace and quick combinations to fluster the Portuguese back-line. The French substitute forced Santos to react, as Coman’s arrival sparked a brief French resurgence.

Coman created the game’s golden chance when he cut onto his right foot and clipped a cross to the far post that saw Griezmann glance it inches over the net. And along with creating chances in half space for both strikers, he equally combined with Giroud at the edge of the box, and broke away from Fonte, but his heavy touch led to a poor shot at Patricio.

Santos turned to Moutinho for the tiring Adrien, and with the overall tempo of the match decreasing significantly, Portugal improved when they retained possession. Meanwhile, France’s preference of waiting for Portugal to push forward as a unit helped the midfielder settle, and Portugal began to create some half chances from both flanks, but lacked a striker to attack crosses into the box.

The other significant change occurred at the same time with Andre-Pierre Gignac replacing Giroud and Eder being summoned in exchange for Renato Sanches. Gignac moved laterally into the channels to receive the ball and his sole contribution to the match was decisive, as he received Evra’s low cross from the left, subsequently turned Pepe to the ground, but scuffed his shot off the post.

Attachment-1 (19).png

Eder, on the other hand, provided an alternative threat to Portugal’s attack. The Portuguese midfield were now provided a penalty box threat when they delivered crosses into the box, but more importantly, his hold up play brought his teammates further up the pitch, and equally forced the French centre-backs into committing needless fouls. Eder’s arrival resulted two bookings – Umtiti and Matuidi were both cautioned – whilst pushing Nani to the right flank, which saw the Portuguese veteran expertly negate Evra’s threat from left-back.

1-0 

Nevertheless, it was fitting that the game’s defining moment featured the two impact players Santos brought off the bench. The goal came seconds following Raphael Guerreiro’s brilliant free kick that smashed off the crossbar, and it vividly illustrated the positive contrast in Portugal’s game following Santos’ substitution.

Moutinho dispossessed Griezmann following an Evra throw-in and quickly combined with Quaresma before playing the ball into Eder with his back to goal. The Portuguese striker easily shrugged off Laurent Koscielny and ran towards goal – Umtiti retreated backwards to his box – and fired a low shot past goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

Moutinho provided the forward penetrative passing and ball retention Portugal lacked for large portions of the match. Likewise, Deschamps’ men couldn’t cope with Eder’s physical presence, and regardless if whether Lloris was at fault for conceding the long distance drive – or slightly injured trying to save Guerreiro’s free-kick 30 seconds prior – the Portuguese striker represented an unlikely goal threat within the final third.

This was simply the case of proper game management from Santos, while Deschamps panicked following Eder’s winner, and immediately introduced Anthony Martial without a legitimate method of attack to rescue the match.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to find anyone other than Deschamps culpable for France’s downfall. Unable to identify his best XI, the French manager persisted with a 4-4-2 that didn’t get the best out of his dynamic midfielders and equally left his side exposed in central areas. While Deschamps did get his initial system wrong, what’s more disappointing was his inability to acknowledge his mistake: Martial’s mobility and willingness to run the channels and take on defenders was wasted, while Kante was forced to watch from the bench with Pogba and Matuidi being virtually ineffective from deeper midfield zones.

The semi-final against Germany was a prime example that France were unable to reach an elite status if changes weren’t made. Against Portugal they provided scares in brief spells, but Deschamps reluctance to alter his ineffective approach proved crucial. While basing the side around the in-form Griezmann was logical, following his missed opportunities, it’s difficult to understand why Deschamps didn’t alter formations — in short, that’s where he deserves blame.

Embed from Getty Images

Santos deserves credit for Portugal’s triumph as he out-witted and out-coached Deschamps on the night. Portugal were unconvincing for large portions of the tournament, and relied on a few standout performers on their road to success, but they remained unbeaten throughout the tournament which validates their success.

Attachment-1 (21).png

Ultimately you need a bit of good fortune to win a cup competition, and finishing third in their group turned out to be a blessing as Santos’ men avoided the few elite sides in the tournament. More so, this was bigger than Ronaldo, which is once again credit to Santos for properly displaying how to effectively utilize a squad throughout the tournament as all 20 players featured at Euro 2016.

Moving natural wingers upfront saw Ronaldo and Nani transition into timely penalty box poachers, and though his side’s defensive shape wasn’t perfect, it was surely enough to ensure Portugal remained unbeaten at Euro 2016.

Nonetheless, Portugal’s European Cup run epitomizes Santos’ tenure thus far: uninspiring, scrappy games that were ultimately won in the latter stages of matches. With majority of the experienced players likely to be phased out, now, Santos is tasked with building an identity the current winners severely lacked throughout the competition.

Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro, Rui Patricio and Nani were outstanding throughout the tournament, but now they must develop a coherent brand of football to build on this success. They were far from the best team at the tournament, but it’s fitting that a centre-forward is responsible for Portugal’s first major triumph following their decade long search to fill the void in this position.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 12, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tactical Preview: France – Portugal

Embed from Getty Images

Although we’ve possibly witnessed the best games of Euro 2016 in the previous stages of the knockout round, France’s showdown with Portugal is built to be a fascinating prospect.

Two teams that have attempted to join world football’s elite over the past decade offer several intriguing clashes prior to kickoff. Neither France nor Portugal have been remarkable throughout the tournament, but have found a way to cruise through favourable matches thus far.

Germany presented France’s sole threat in the previous round, and Didier Deschamps were completely outplayed for the first half, and were fortunate to pounce on mistakes committed by Joachim Low’s defence. Deschamps men won’t have to worry about spending long periods without the ball or intelligent playmakers across the pitch against Portugal, but the system isn’t relatively convincing.

Possibly the biggest decision the French manager must make is whether to persist with the 4-4-2 or revert back to a 4-3-3. The 4-4-2 has been the catalyst to France’s best performances against Iceland and Ireland, but against the Germans, they were completely outplayed for large portions of the match.

Against a Portuguese side containing the best player in the tournament in Cristiano Ronaldo, Deschamps may have to rejig his shape. Deschamps’ obsession with the 4-4-2 is based around the tournament’s leading goal-scorer, Antoine Griezmann, playing closer to Olivier Giroud in a central role, whilst receiving the space to maximize his talent.

If Deschamps were to opt for a 4-3-3, Griezmann would be pushed out wide, but France would have a solid shape in central areas as they transition to a 4-5-1.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 6.56.13 PM

In ways the system can still be effective with Griezmann and Payet attempting to overload William Carvalho between the lines, as it’s evident both men strive in central positions. Olivier Giroud will attempt to hold off Pepe and bring his teammates into play, but with two roaming space invaders, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba should receive space to penetrate.

However, this leaves Pogba and Matuidi with defensive roles ahead of the back-line, which ultimately decreases their ability to charge forward towards goal. Kante’s inclusion provides a midfielder filled with dynamism and the ability to break up plays and swift counter-attacks, which is exactly what the hosts lacked against Germany in the opening half. France were guilty of leaving too much space between the lines and ahead of the midfield bank – Griezmann and Giroud did very little from a defensive aspect – against Germany, which offered players like Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, and Jerome Boateng space to excel.

Luckily for the hosts, Portugal doesn’t have midfielders at their disposal that are capable of dictating the tempo of a match like the aforementioned German stars. Fernando Santos identified his best XI in the knockout round, as Portugal has operated in an unorthodox 4-1-3-2 en route to the finals, with wide players in Ronaldo and Nani leading the line.

In fairness, neither France nor Portugal have been consistently good throughout the tournament despite their easy road to the final, but the latter in particular has been fairly uninspiring. Apart from a few standout performers in Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro, Adrien Silva, and Nani, there’s very little to get excited about the Portuguese side.

Their attacking play has been predominantly based around crosses from the full-backs, and their functional midfield has been unable to supply service to the frontmen, who in fairness, have made excellent runs throughout the tournament. More so, they struggle to put together slick passing moves in the final third along with exploiting space between the lines.

Frankly, the goals Portugal have scored in the knockout round are telling – Ricardo Quaresma’s counter-attacking goal came when Croatia pushed too many men forward, Renato Sanches’ equalizer against Poland followed one of the game’s few nifty combination plays, whereas Ronaldo notched a set-piece winner and his scuffed shot was fortuitously redirected by Nani to eliminate Wales.

Santos essentially fields three gritty midfielders ahead of William Carvalho that are quite similar in terms of skill level and traits, but severely lack creativity and guile around the penalty area. Meanwhile, although the full-backs have been great from a defensive aspect, their contributions in the attacking third have been equally scarce.

William Carvalho’s return from suspension should see the midfielder push Danilo to the bench, following his difficult afternoon against Gareth Bale in the semi-final win over Wales. Assuming Portugal stick to their current defensive approach and willingly drop into two banks of four out of possession, Carvalho will still face a huge defensive task on the night.

Portugal haven’t been quite convincing out of possession when they transition into a flat 4-4-2, and with Griezmann and Payet aiming to find pockets of space in central zones, William Carvalho could be susceptible of being overrun via a combination of quick incisive passes and deep midfield runs. Likewise, Deschamps has several counter-attacking threats within his XI, so it’s unlikely that Portugal will push several men forward as it would increase the likelihood of being exposed in transition.

The other major talking point involving Portugal is their goal source. Nani and Ronaldo have been positive in this respect, scoring timely goals from minimal service from their teammates. The former’s movement towards the channels has posed issues throughout the tournament, and he’s developed a knack of poaching goals within the penalty box.

Ronaldo’s winner against Wales displayed his set-piece threat, and if Portugal’s full-backs can deliver quality crosses into the box, Santos’ talisman could be the decisive factor. It’s likely Ronaldo will aim to drift to either back post when crosses are played into the box due to his height advantage over diminutive full-backs Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra.

The Portuguese forward’s opener for Real Madrid in the 2012 Champions League knockout round against Real Madrid witnessed Ronaldo leap over Evra to score against his former employers, and here, he may attempt to replicate that feat. It would be expected that Portugal can also rely on counter-attacks if Kante starts on the bench, yet oddly, their transitional attacks have been underwhelming.

In wide areas, both full-backs have become adept to providing width, but there could be a hint of caution displayed from both, here. Cedric and Raphael will be wary of a French counter, and while Sagna and Evra have improved as the tournament’s progressed, Ronaldo offers arguably the greatest threat on the counter ever, which may see Deschamps’ full-backs limit their adventurous positioning.

While set-pieces can prove significant, there are still many key decisions both managers have to address that could impact the outcome. Portugal’s protection of the back four, along with Deschamps’ decision to play a two or three-man midfield will be pivotal. Nonetheless, this is equally poised for Ronaldo to produce on one of the biggest stages for his country, and it will be interesting to see how Santos aims to utilize his captain.

It can’t be overstated the significance of the first goal, but this could be a cagey affair until one team is forced to push forward.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 9, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Germany 0-2 France

Embed from Getty Images

Germany were dominant for large portions of the match, but they committed two suicidal mistakes in their penalty box which handed France a route to the Euro 2016 final.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 6.51.00 PM

Joachim Low was forced to make a few changes due to suspensions and injuries and once again altered his system. Thomas Muller moved upfront for the injured Mario Gomez, which allowed Julian Draxler to return to the starting XI. Emre Can slotted into midfield for Sami Khedira and Benedikt Howedes shifted to centre-back alongside Jerome Boateng.

Despite Adil Rami and N’Golo Kante being available for selection, Didier Deschamps named an unchanged lineup.

Didier Deschamps may have got his tactics wrong, but France’s clinical finishing overcame an impressive German display.

Low’s system change

Similar to the quarter-final stage, Joachim Low’s decision to alter his stem was the main talking point of the round. Here, Low turned to the 4-3-3 that was successful at the World Cup, and it appeared Can’s inclusion was with the intent to offer a physical presence in the midfield zone.

Low probably assumed Deschamps would recall Kante into midfield, but the French manager’s decision to persist with a 4-4-2 left the hosts vulnerable in central areas as neither are natural holding midfielders.  Bastian Schweinsteiger dropped between the centre-backs for additional cover, which enabled the centre-backs to push into midfield and the wing-backs to position themselves in advanced positions by the touchline.

This was another example of Low’s growth as a manager, as his tactical rejig was responsible for Germany’s dominance throughout.

France’s issue

Deschamps didn’t instruct his men to press higher up the pitch, but he focused on limiting space in central areas to exploit. The hosts maintained their two banks of four out of possession, but the peculiar aspect to their approach was the reluctance to close down Germany’s chief passers in Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, and Boateng.

Kroos dropped deep to receive possession and was occasionally pressed by Paul Pogba, but in comparison to the Italians instructing Graziano Pelle or Eder to stick tight to the German, this was a contrasting defensive display. Boateng, on the other hand, was free to step into France’s third of the pitch to hit diagonals to the advanced full-backs, but fortunately for the hosts, neither Hector nor Joshua Kimmich translated their dangerous positions into quality chances.

Besides allowing Germany’s creative passers time and space to dictate the tempo of the match, the main issue Deschamps’ men encountered involved their ability to break on the counter. Apart from positive combinations between Antoine Griezmann and Blaise Matuidi, and the former with Patrice Evra down the left, France didn’t appear capable of testing Manuel Neuer from open play.

Although Germany’s counter-pressing played a factor, but ultimately it was down to sloppy passing in transition that halted possible counter-attacks. There were two situations that witnessed Griezmann launch an attack only to have his pass cut out by Schweinsteiger, and then playing a poor pass back to the Germans.

In many ways, France were responsible for their shortcomings in the first half. Their reluctance to press Boateng, Kroos or Schweinsteiger enabled the Germans to retain possession, and when they did so, it wasn’t cohesive and created space for the attacking midfielders to exploit between the lines. Likewise, this also meant the full-backs, pegged the wingers deeper into their half, so when Griezmann did receive opportunities to break forward, he lacked passing options, which is partially responsible for his poor decision making in transition.

German possession

Nevertheless, the biggest mystery heading into half-time was how France found themselves ahead. The Germans territorial dominance merited a goal, and they used space wisely throughout the final third.

It was evident Germany aimed to exploit space down the right to exploit Dimitri Payet’s unwillingness to protect his full-back. Germany essentially had three players operating in this zone in contrasting directions – Ozil drifted centrally, an advanced Can darted vertically or diagonally into the right channel, whereas Kimmich offered width by hugging the touchline. There were shades of the positional understanding between players on the opposite flank where Ozil passed the ball to Hector and immediately sprinted towards the touchline, with the left-back aiming to cut infield from the flank.

In truth, Low’s approach was working to fruition – the midfielders were able to play forward passes and the advanced positioning of the full-backs enabled Draxler, and specifically Ozil freedom to receive the ball between the lines. More so, Thomas Muller’s sluggish performance proved decisive. Muller was easily marked by both centre-backs in the box, and doesn’t offer an identical penalty box presence to Gomez, who has been the key component to the German attack.

Therefore, Germany struggled in the final third, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering Muller has failed to excel as a lone striker for his country. Meanwhile, Germany’s attack has been predictable and lacking the quick combinations to get behind a low defensive block without Gomez.

The few chances Low’s men created stemmed from the right, and despite the clever passing and interchangeable movement, poor penalty box finishing proved costly.

1-0

With that being said, France took the lead during injury time of the first half courtesy of another German blunder. Boateng was culpable for an additional 30 minutes of extra-time following his hand-ball against Italy, and here, Schweinsteiger committed the same mistake.

It’s unusual to see experience players on elite teams make silly errors, and this was nearly identical to Boateng’s hand ball. Evra attacked a near post corner ahead of Schweinsteiger, and nodded the ball into the German’s hands, which led to Griezmann converting a penalty to put the hosts ahead.

Second half

Griezmann’s opener encouraged the French to sit deeper out of possession, while Low’s men stuck to their initial approach and probed within the final third. Germany’s best chance in the opening 15 minutes of the half witnessed Ozil drop deep to receive and the ball, and subsequently clip it over Bacary Sagna to Hector but the German defender couldn’t control the pass.

Perhaps the German’s created minimal chances in the second half due to France remaining more compact with a deeper shape, but Boateng’s departure for Shkodran Mustafi decreased their creativity from deep. Kroos still dropped deep to cycle possession throughout, but even a change to a 4-2-3-1 with Draxler and Mario Gotze upfront was unsuccessful.

Germany continued to find joy down Payet’s flank so Deschamps turned to Kante to offer protection in midfield and negate Hector’s forward runs by transitioning to a 4-3-3. Oddly, France sealed the game seconds later, as they finally pressed the German back-line in their box for their first time as a unit, and were able to see Griezmann confirm their place in the finals.

The game suddenly became stretched with Germany pushing for a goal. Although it seemed logical France would receive more chances to win the game now, Deschamps’ men still struggled to cause havoc via the counter-attack, whereas Kroos’ set-piece deliveries placed his teammates in several key areas where they failed to convert their chances.

Conclusion

This was arguably one of the best performances of the tournament from Low’s German side, yet they failed to win due to silly errors from their defence. Low displayed his tactical nous by altering to a 4-3-3 which witnessed the Germans dominate central areas, and prevent France from breaking on the counter attack.

Injuries played a significant role in Germany’s road to the semi-finals as Khedira’s dynamism, Hummels’ passing, and Gomez’s presence provides variety to Low’s attack. It must be said, that without a natural centre-forward, the Germans often lack penetration in the final third, which increases the belief that a false-nine system can be futile for a side that doesn’t possess runners breaking beyond the opposing defence.

Still, France’s standout performers – Lloris, Umtitti, and Sissoko – offer hope that the hosts may be capable of utilizing this system in the final, but it would be hugely surprising if Kante doesn’t return to the XI. Deschamps hasn’t been afraid to make bold decisions or change his XI, but the first half against Germany suggested that they’ll need a holding midfielder to avoid being overrun in central areas.

Sacrificing creativity for a solid defensive foundation would be the logical move in a major cup final, and after being outwitted tactically, and outplayed in every aspect, Deschamps could use this fortuitous victory as a learning tool for the final.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 9, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tactical Preview: France – Germany

15070864401_36d24dac24_b

Courtesy of Flickr/William Morice

France’s showdown against Germany has the potential of being the tournament’s standout match. A rematch of the 2014 World Cup quarter-final witnesses a youthful French squad receive another opportunity to place themselves amongst the few elite international sides in the world if they can overcome the current world champions

Both sides altered their traditional systems to secure their quarter-final triumphs, but now it’s interesting to see how Didier Deschamps and Joachim Low approach the match. Needless to say, semi-finals tend to be tight, cautious affairs that are decided by fine margins, and both managers have several key decisions to make prior to kick-off.

Deschamps is expected to recall Adil Rami alongside Laurent Koscielny following his quarter-final suspension, but the main talking point is whether N’Golo Kante will be included in midfield. France have been at their utmost best at the tournament operating in a 4-4-2 with Antoine Griezmann closer to Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba partnering Blaise Matuidi in midfield, yet with Kante in midfield, France possess solid defensive cover ahead of the back four.

France were able to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Ireland and dispatch of Iceland 5-2 in those matches, but Germany offers a larger threat going forward. Neither Matuidi nor Pogba are natural holding midfielders and would likely encounter difficulties coping with Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, and Julian Draxler between the lines, so Kante’s return would be logical.

That means France would operate in a 4-3-3 with Payet drifting centrally from the left and Griezmann darting from the right flank to combine with Giroud. Griezmann and Dmitri Payet have excelled from a central role at this tournament, but conceding too much space between the lines in exchange for creativity would be quite the gamble.

Low, on the other hand, could return to a 4-2-3-1, but may consider adopting a 3-4-2-1 if Giroud plays alongside Griezmann. Mats Hummels’ suspension would see Benedikt Howedes partner Jerome Boateng at centre-back, but if Low were to persist with a three-man defence, Shkodran Mustafi would make his first start since his opening match goal against the Ukraine.

Bastian Schweinsteiger should be fit to start in midfield with Toni Kroos, which ensures competent passing in central zones, but equally deprives the German’s of dynamism going forward. With Payet and Griezmann roaming between the lines, Schweinsteiger and Kroos will need to be cautious with their positioning, as France will aim to exploit the former’s limited mobility.

Low’s main dilemma involves replacing the injured Mario Gomez. Thomas Muller hasn’t been at his best throughout the tournament, and though he’s struggled in a no.9 role for his country, he still offers an aerial threat upfront. Mario Gotze started the tournament in a false nine role, but Germany were frankly too predictable in possession and unable to create multiple chances from open play. Gotze can still feature in an attacking midfield role, with Muller moving upfront, as precise passing and quick interchanging between the lines would pose several issues for the French.

Germany can also turn to Andre Schurrle who has been utilized as a super sub over the past few years. Schurrle offers a direct threat beyond the defence, and his pace would force the French back-line to sit deeper, which could prove beneficial with Boateng and Kroos’ range of passing. In truth, Gomez’s absence is a massive blow for the Germans, because the striker offered a threat in the penalty box, thus offering variety to an attack that can sometimes become too predictable.

Nevertheless, Kroos still remains the key man for Germany. France will have to be wary of Germany’s threat between the lines, but halting Kroos’ ability to dictate the tempo of the match is equally crucial. Italy were forced to have Graziano Pelle and Eder stick tight to the German throughout, and Olivier Giroud may be tasked with this duty. But with Boateng capable of deputizing as an additional playmaker from centre-back, Deschamps will have to instruct Pogba or Matuidi to press forward and negate Kroos’ threat.

Nonetheless, it’s difficult to predict how this match will unfold. Both managers can utilize several formations and are capable of shifting between systems throughout the match. Ultimately this could be down to which midfield can negate service between the lines, but both managers may opt for defensive-minded systems to ensure they avoid defeat.

While majority of the matches at this tournament have been fairly predictable, this showdown offers several plot twists that are truly fitting for a cup final.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 7, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dimitri Payet’s attacking third wizardry allows Didier Deschamps France to dream

payet euro 2016

France’s forward Dimitri Payet celebrates scoring France’s second goal during the Euro 2016 group A football match between France and Romania at Stade de France, in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on June 10, 2016. / AFP / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

It was a strike Dimitri Payet will tell his grandchildren about.

When it appeared that the France hype machine was approaching an unexpected halt, a moment of sheer individual brilliance left the Stade de France crowd in jubilation. What many believed would be a forthright result turned into a physical battle against a resilient Romanian side that were minutes away from a valuable point.

Didier Deschamps opted for Payet’s creativity over youngster Anthony Martial, and the West Ham midfielder justified the French manager’s selection by creating the opener, and scoring the late winner. Opening matches of tournaments are usually the toughest, and despite France’s positive performance on the night, Deschamps’ men didn’t meet their peak form, which in fairness shouldn’t be a surprise.

France maintained their traditional 4-3-3 formation throughout, but at times it appeared to be a 4-4-2 with Antoine Griezmann playing close to striker Olivier Giroud. When Griezmann was caught in advanced zones, Paul Pogba would drift to the right flank to ensure the French maintained a solid shape out of possession. But for all the promise regarding a possible partnership, they rarely formed combinations that pestered the Romanian defence.

Apart from a few scares defending set-pieces – French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was forced into a key save within the opening two minutes – Deschamps’ men imposed their territorial dominance throughout the first half. The surprise, however, involved Romanian coach, Anghel Iordănescu’s, decision to have his side play further away from their 18-yard box to compress space in midfield.

Deschamps may have anticipated the Romanians would congest space around the 18-yard box by employing a low defensive block, but limiting space in midfield was a logical approach by Iordănescu considering the personnel included in the French XI. While Deschamps’ side is filled with several direct ball-carriers, Martial’s dribbling and willingness to run beyond the defence may have posed a greater threat, as France rarely charged beyond the opposing defence.

Nevertheless, despite France’s misfortunes in the opening half, they demonstrated natural balance across the pitch. Pogba dropped deeper on the right to spread play towards the flanks, while Payet received license to drift centrally to create space for Blaise Matuidi and Patrice Evra to charge into on the left. Yet, for all of France’s midfield players floating around central zones, the hosts’ main attacking threat surprisingly stemmed from wide areas. Payet’s crossing from both flanks saw Giroud and Griezmann direct efforts inches wide of the goal, while the latter also nodded a loose ball off the post following a Bacary Sagna cross.

Similar to the fit opening half, Romania enjoyed a dynamic start to the second, but still struggled to spark quick counter-attacks when they regained possession. Romania striker, Florin Andone’s tireless work rate and strength flustered France’s back-line, but he lacked pace and proper holdup play to enable his teammates to join the attack.

The scrappy nature of the second half witnessed a combative Romanian side spending more time in France’s half, but they unfortunately lacked the quality to test Hugo Lloris from open play, despite that Bogdan Stancu coolly converting a penalty following Patrice Evra’s clumsy tackle on Nicolae Stanciu. But even though Romania’s threat in the final third was scarce, France couldn’t afford to push multiple bodies forward without conceding space for Iordănescu’s men to exploit on the counter-attack.

Where Romania persisted to push forward and fluster France out of possession, the hosts relied on Payet’s crossing to create chances. Payet was the most active player in the final third and once again crosses from both flanks created Giroud’s opener and a Pogba volley that resulted in a remarkable Ciprian Tătăruşanu save.

Attachment-1 (12)

Deschamps attempt to win the match saw Kingsley Coman replace Griezmann and Pogba sacrificed for Martial. France transitioned into a standard 4-2-3-1 with Coman and Martial in wide positions, and although neither substitute significantly influenced the match, the tactical alteration positioned Payet in a central role. In fairness, the pivotal aspect of Deschamps’ formation swap solely rests on Payet receiving the ball between the lines seconds prior to scoring the winner, but had he persisted with his initial approach, the Frenchman would likely be positioned on either flank.

Payet will rightly receive plaudits for his overall display, which equally signifies the lack of creative ball-players included in the XI. Although France’s general play was positive for large portions of the match, it’s slightly worrying that Payet’s crossing was their sole method of attack. France don’t necessarily need to tinker with the current XI, but an array of offensive combinations in the final third will be required as the tournament progresses.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 11, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Euro 2016 Preview: How the tournament may be dull but ridiculously unpredictable

2747405134_e824a084f8_z

There’s a contrasting feeling looming around the upcoming Euro 2016 tournament following the decision to include eight additional teams.

Although it offers an increased viewership due to a larger tournament, the overall quality drastically decreases due to a limited amount of great sides.. Now, the inclusion of eight teams paves an easier route to the knockout stage, and can arguably hinder the tournament from a footballing perspective.

Frankly, that belief hinges on the true definition of ‘entertaining football’ – while one used to associate the term with Spain’s ability to retain possession and pass their way through opponents, the sudden shift in success involves organized defending and quick transitions on the counter-attack. Leicester City’s Premier League triumph, combined with another successful Atletico Madrid campaign – despite finishing the season trophy-less – suggests teams may attempt to replicate their approach considering the tournament favourites’ insistence on possession dominance.

More importantly, despite the inevitable likelihood of several limited sides reverting to deep defensive blocks and solely attacking on the counter-attack, realistically, the ploy is fairly logical. Defensive solidity is essential in a knockout competition, and considering avoiding heavy defeats should guarantee progression beyond the group stage, tight games could surface throughout the tournament.

This reactive approach, however, should favour several tournament underdogs if executed properly – the best teams in the world possess various attacking options, and would clearly prefer to operate in space opposed to probing until they find an opening. Likewise, the lack of a genuine great side or tournament favourite equally increases the tournament’s overall interest. The quality is fairly scarce, but ahead of the opening match, it’s difficult to fully justify a clear favourite.

Spain, Germany and France dominate the conversation, but the European giants all possess positional deficiencies that inhibit the belief that they’re superior to their rivals.

Reigning world champions Germany and two-time defending Euro holders Spain can no longer turn to reliable goal-scoring centre-forwards and may both encounter issues providing penetration in the final third. Mario Gomez, Alvaro Morata and Aritz Aduriz will be responsible for the goals despite the possible stylistic inadequacies, whereas Mario Gotze and Cesc Fabregas have featured as significant false-nine options in past tournaments – the former is arguably better in midfield, whereas the latter’s role requires out-of-form wide players David Silva and Pedro Rodriguez to offer penetration.

The reigning world and European champions pose different tactical dilemmas ahead of their opening group games, though. Often accused of over-possessing the ball, Spain have additional direct options in Lucas Vasquez and Nolito to offer variety to their patient possession-based football. Germany, on the other hand, have the option of utilizing Gomez as a legitimate target-man, but will be without key players in Ilkay Gundogan, Anthony Rudiger, and Marco Reus.

Meanwhile, hosts, France aim to hoist their first major tournament in 16 years, and the talent Didier Deschamps’ possesses suggests Les Bleus may never receive a better opportunity to end the drought. The hosts have several direct options like Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba that can play off Olivier Giroud’s impressive linkup play, but defensive absentees Raphael Varane, Mamadou Sakho, and Jeremy Mathieu leaves the French with very few options in defence. It’s also difficult to overlook that France’s recent tournament exits have come against Spain and Germany, and Deschamps’ men still look devoid of the experience to overcome their rivals in a head-to-head showdown.

Elsewhere, the same issues arise amongst the remaining notable contenders.

Italy possess the best defence and goalkeeper in the tournament but offer no creativity in midfield due to injuries to Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio, while their attacking options are extremely underwhelming. Antonio Conte has been heavily criticized for his selection prior to the tournament, but from an optimistic perspective, the Italian manager’s first two seasons at Juventus were fairly similar, with various players from midfield players scoring goals. Conte’s attention to detail, and overall cohesion in attacking moves will define an Italian side that appears sturdy at the back.

14404368218_8456721dfd_b

Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player at Euro 2016, and a free role upfront ensures Portugal won’t be overloaded down the left. Fernando Santos midfield is one of the best in the tournament, and though they also lack major tournament experience, they’re capable of outmuscling and dominating most sides in central areas. The movement of the Portuguese attackers will be interesting, but the defensive options at Santos’ disposal places significant responsibility on the midfield to ensure their shape isn’t disjointed – Ronaldo’s role will always be the difference-maker but Santos must find balance quickly.

Oddly, it’s difficult to identify better striker options in this year’s tournament than the four men Roy Hodgson possesses in Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford. However, with England straying away from a flat 4-4-2, and the rapid growth in youthful, highly-technical players amongst the ranks, England currently suffers from the same issue that’s plagued them for years – striking the right balance and fielding his strongest XI. Needless to say, while many other teams would welcome England’s striking issues, like Portugal, their back-four is undoubtedly the clear weakness.

While this was expected to be the tournament Belgium evolved into world beaters, the same questions are being raised regarding their role amongst Europe’s elite. It still feels like Belgium’s success rests on the form of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne as the front line hasn’t substantially improved, whereas Marc Wilmots is still without natural full-backs. While Belgium’s individual talent still remains – they can count on a rejuvenated Moussa Dembele, possibly the best Premier League’s best centre-back partnership in Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, and two top-class attacking midfielders in Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard – the pressure is now on Wilmots to put the pieces together to launch a deep tournament run.

The tournament is still filled with stars like Gareth Bale, Robert Lewandowski, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic that will be aiming to overcome a lack of genuine support to make a statement, whereas Croatia’s impressive midfield – that still lacks a holding midfielder – is unlikely to make up for a tireless, yet often frustrated Mario Mandzukic and an unconvincing back-line. With more room for error, and no real powerhouses – this is possibly the antithesis of this year’s Champions League – it really leaves the tournament up for grabs.

Denmark (1992) and Greece’s (2004) triumphs – in much difficult circumstances – offers every team a sense optimism, and with the likes of Iceland, Turkey, Austria and Slovakia also involved, this is possibly the most open tournament in recent memory. It certainly may be a truly dull spectacle from a football standpoint, but the possibility of several winners guarantees a high-level of excitement.

So many questions remain unanswered.

So many teams look far from the finished product.

And with the international game drastically suffering with every passing tournament, the level of unpredictability presents a breath of fresh air that many will appreciate.

EURO 2016 is unlikely to be remembered as the best tournament of our lifetime, but the inaugural 24-team format has potential to usher in a new era courtesy of several shock results.

Perhaps now is the time where the impossible becomes possible.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 9, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Samir Nasri’s revival lifts Manchester City

Image

Samir Nasri’s career outside of France has been reminisicent of an emotional roller coaster. Yet, over the past 12-18 months, the Frenchman has also endured negativity in his homeland. The scene was familiar to Nasri. It was happening again.

Nasri, arguably the most vilified footballer on the planet, was held responsible for France’s 1st leg World Cup playoff loss to Ukraine, in Kiev. The media was unimpressed with Les Bleus’ performance, and they shared their disgust in French newspaper L’Equipe. Whilst the French paper referred to the display as ‘the worst ever’, a nightmare, and a black evening to forget, the player rating the Manchester City midfielder received was mind-blowing.

A team low three out of ten – shared with Eric Abidal and Laurent Koscielny – was harshly awarded to Nasri, and it led to his inclusion on the bench in the return leg. Nasri’s role as France’s main creator behind the attacking three was peculiar – specifically because the nifty Mathieu Valbuena was left on the bench. Nasri could’ve had a significant impact on the right flank –  Loic Remy was anonymous, and Nasri’s presence would provide natural balance, thus handing Valbuena the freedom to link play in the final third.

Nasri found himself in deeper positions – the Frenchman drifted yards away from Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi to receive the ball and help France push forward as a unit. More so, when he did get into positions near Olivier Giroud, Nasri played clever incisive passes in the final third. The Frenchman received a great chance to equalize late in the second half, but Andriy Pyatov comfortably saved his tame effort. Simply, it wasn’t his night.

Relatedly, Nasri is accustomed to hostile reception and criticism. His devilish smile, quirky hairstyle and individualistic aspirations have tarnished his once admired demeanour. Equally, he’s a player that’s easy to despise – some would go as far as saying he’s a player you’d want to punch, but this doesn’t faze the 27-year-old midfielder. Pressure and heavy criticism was a formality growing up in Marseille. Nasri stated that the city would mourn a Marseille loss, and frequent visits from the director of football, and president of the club were normal.

The former Marseille ball boy also had to deal with comparisons to Zinedine Zidane during his youth career. It drove me mad. When you’re 17 years old, you don’t play well every week. You can imagine what it was like to be compared to the best player the world has seen in recent years, “ Nasri said in an interview with FourFourTwo Magazine.

However, there’s been a significant change in Nasri’s game. In the past, an international disappointment of this stature would hamper the Frenchman’s overall game, but the atmosphere around the blue side of Manchester is different. Nasri’s enjoying one of the better seasons in his career, and the contrast in performances compared to last season is evident.

Nasri labeled last season the worst of his career. The Frenchman never fully recovered from the controversy that occurred at Euro 2012 – mentally, and emotionally he was in a dark place. “In my head I wasn’t the same. I didn’t play well for City and lost my spot in the squad and at the end of the year, you look at your season and you realize I was not myself,” Nasri said.

The Frenchman couldn’t stay out of the media, and they heavily scrutinized his poor performances and lack of interest on the field. Likewise, former City manager Roberto Mancini’s comments weren’t beneficial to Nasri’s form.

In the past the Italian manager publicly questioned Nasri’s work ethic and stated his desire to punch the Manchester City midfielder – simply because of his inconsistent form – which left the Frenchman displeased. “Managers have different ways of working, some like to say things in the press to make players react and some like to say things face to face with the player. Some players see things in the press, it touches their ego and they react,” Nasri said.

Nevertheless, Manchester City has looked a rejuvenated side this season – albeit they still struggle to obtain maximum points on the road.  But their results at home and in Europe have improved vastly, and Nasri’s inclusion in the squad is a significant factor. His form, swagger and confidence are back. The Frenchman’s nonchalant movement around the final third, along with Jesus Navas’ wide positioning has provided balance in the City attack.

The flair and trickery of the past bewilders defenders, his forward runs into the box are being translated into goals, and his precise, incisive final balls have created several top-class goals. Both of Nasri’s goals for City this season were in blowouts at home against Newcastle and Manchester United. The Frenchman reacted quicker than Davide Santon, and pounced on a loose ball, which sent him free on goal, and he fired his shot past Tim Krul. Whereas against United, he made a 60+ yard run, slyly drifted towards the back post and side-footed an exceptional Navas cross past David De Gea.

Equally, Nasri’s passing has been proficient this season. He tends to drift into central positions to help City sustain possession, but also to create a numerical advantage in midfield. This season alone he’s provided two magnificent final passes to Sergio Aguero that allowed the Argentine to showcase his prolific finishing. Also, as good as Nasri is going forward, the Frenchman doesn’t ignore his defensive duties, and has provided remarkable cover for his fullbacks, when needed.

Statistically, Nasri has been impressive. According to whoscored.com, the Frenchman currently maintains a 90% passing rate – in both the Premier League and Champions League –  and completes 2.3 key passes per game domestically. Only Angel Di Maria has recorded more assists than Nasri’s four in the Champions League, while his 3.2 key passes per game is only bettered by Nico Gaitan, Juan Mata and Franck Ribery.

Nasri’s revival at Manchester City has been positive, and the Frenchman believes Manuel Pellegrini has played an integral role under his return to prominence. “What is different between him and the other manager is he is really present in the training. He stops it when something is wrong and that is interesting for us because he wants us to play with principles and to understand,” Nasri said.

The Frenchman has highlighted a similarity between Pellegrini and his former manager Arsene Wenger’s work ethic and man-management skills. “He [Pellegrini] is someone who talks with the players and it is good for the players to know exactly what he is doing right or wrong. What I like about him is he also talks about everything outside football, to know how you are in your life and it is pretty important for a manager to know these things,” Nasri said.

Nonetheless, Nasri is a player that relies on support and guidance from his manager. The Frenchman arguably spent the best moments of his career – thus far – at Arsenal, and he looks capable of surpassing that level at the moment. “I suppose the best Nasri will come in the future – he has a lot more where he can improve,” Pellegrini said.

Those words indicate belief in Nasri, but it also demands improvement. Nasri is enjoying the best moments of his domestic career since leaving the Emirates in 2011, and has become an integral piece to City’s title contending puzzle. The skill, talent, experience and work rate were always present, but Pellegrini is looking to add one more element to Nasri’s game that will merit him as a top-class player.

Consistency.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 29, 2013 in EPL, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,