It was the final we were expecting with a lot of oohs, aahs and non-stop drama. France resurrected themselves from the dead to drag themselves into the game only to be undone by the lottery of the penalty shoot-out. One of the tactical cards that Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni played was starting attacks on the right and switching it to the left where Angel Di Maria was stationed.
It is a well-known fact that Kylian Mbappe tends to leave a host of space in his wake due to his little contribution to defensive work when France does not have the ball. Hence, Lionel Messi, Rodrigo De Paul and Nahuel Molina created overloads on the left which generated a couple of problems for France. Argentina’s overload attracted Aurelien Tchouameni, Adrien Rabiot and Theo Hernandez over, and to make matters worse, Antoine Griezmann was drawn to Enzo Fernandez to stop him from progressing the ball when he received passes from the Argentine centre-backs.
This allowed Alexis Mac Allister to move into space vacated by Griezmann so that Argentina could switch the play from the left to Di Maria on the right via Mac Allister. Once Di Maria got the ball, the onslaught on France could begin — the Juve winger had Jules Kounde for toast for the entirety of his 64-minute appearance, and as such, Ousmane Dembele was dropping to support Kounde in dealing with him, but this plan didn’t work because Nicolas Tagliafico and Mac Allister moved in such a way that two scenarios were constantly created:
– Tagliafico man marked Dembele so that Di Maria was free to run at Kounde.
– Another way they did it was to have Mac Allister drag Kounde so that Di Maria could have space to drive at; ensuring that Dembele to track back to stop Di Maria. Dembele got dribbled by Di Maria and he tracked Di Maria into the box which led to the penalty.
Since the Argentine fullbacks were for choosing their moments to invert, Argentina could, when in possession, stretch France with Messi operating as the roaming attacking midfielder and support striker, Fernandez, Mac Allister and De Paul sitting as the pivots creating a 4V 2 and in the event that Griezmann returned to the middle or Rabiot was shifted inside, a 4V3 advantage would still be maintained by Argentina.
This ploy by Argentina to condense the central areas allowed them to win the ball back immediately after possession was lost and helped maintain possession. Out of possession, Argentina was structured in such way that Julian Alvarez pressed Raphael Varane when France tried to build from the back so that he could find Kounde, whose sole intention was to find Dembele.
Kounde was being pressed by Di Maria which made it difficult for him to find Dembele or Griezmann who had occupied the space vacated by Tagliafico pressing Dembele and Griezmann, with Mac Allister tracking Griezmann’s every move to limit his impact. On the right, Argentina coped with Messi’s lack of legs by blocking the lane from Dayot Upamecano to Aurelien Tchouameni with Messi’s cover shadow. De Paul was on Rabiot and when the need arose, De Paul drifted to the right to put out danger.
After conceding the opener to Messi, the French team pushed up to get the equalizer, however, their high defensive line plays into Argentina’s hands; Mbappe and Olivier Giroud occupied the centre forward roles and Griezmann was just behind him. Hernandez and Dembele operated as the wingers, Tchouameni and Rabiot played as the 8s and the trio of Varane, Upamecano and constituted the back three.
Disaster struck when Upamencano received the ball and tried to play a pass to Hernandez which got intercepted and Argentina broke with speed; Messi combined with Alvarez, who drove at the back peddling French defence, slipped a pass across to Di Maria who put the ball past Hugo Lloris for the 2-0 lead.
Having seen enough of this tepid performance, Didier Deschamps made a double substitution in the 40th minute — Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani for Giroud and Dembele respectively — before the close of the first half, and their introductions helped France in the defensive phase.
Kolo Muani slotted in on the right side of the attack, Thuram on the left, and Mbappe relocated to the centre. Since Thuram was content with doing both defensive and offensive work, Argentina could not create overloads and on the occasions that they did, France did not need to shift both Rabiot and Tchouameni across to help out Hernandez and Thuram; instead, only Rabiot came across while Tchouameni and Griezmann held the centre.
In the attacking phase, France began to have better outlets, as Thuram and Mbappe swapped positions constantly such that if Mbappe was playing as the centre forward, and Thuram held the width and vice versa. On his part, Kolo Muani drove Tagliafico back. There was, however, a snag, left-back, Hernandez generated atttacking possibilities; but was a constant source of worry for France when Argentina broke.
Deschamps solved this and turned around the fortunes of France with another pair of substitutes — Kingsley Coman and Eduardo Camavinga for Griezmann and Hernandez – in the second half. The job of Camavinga was to sit tight at left back and choose his moments to join the attack. Coman took up his position on the right which necessitated Kolo Muani playing as a centre forward alongside Mbappe.
In Thuram, Mbappe and Kolo Muani, France had players who were quick, comfortably swapping the centre forward roles and left wing role amongst themselves. More importantly, whenever Camavinga held the width, Mbappe could roam, receive the ball in slightly deeper areas and affect play; and France could use crosses from both wings to hurt Argentina.
The first French goal comes from Argentina losing possession from a throw-in, France on winning possession, sent a long ball for Kolo Muani to chase, Nicolas Otamendi was no match for Kolo Muani in a foot race and ended up bringing him down in the box; and Mbappe scored the penalty. The equalizer was born when Messi was robbed by Coman and worked the ball to Rabiot; Rabiot puts the ball in the air for Mbappe, who heads to Thuram, the ball was played into space by Thuram where Mbappe met it with a volley to send the ball into the net.
The constant rush by France to deliver a killer blow to Argentina, left gaps in midfield and in extra time, Argentina exploited this when French lost the ball, Martinez took a shot that got parried and the rebound was scored by Messi; which gave Messi that opportunity was Fernandez and Martinez who were occupying Varane and Upamecano respectively, making Messi a free player. Though the French eventually levelled the through a penalty by Mbappe, the tactical brilliance of both managers, the decision by the players and the sheer hunger and desire to win was a sight to behold.
By Tobi Peter / @keepIT_tactical
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Franck Fife – AFP