Maximum points thus far and qualification for the second round has France fans celebrating but Didier Deschamps and his coaching staff should be concerned with the manner in which France secured their progress. Once again a late goal spared their blushes, but let’s not allow the results to cloud over the fact that for a second game running France failed to impress. It’s particularly concerning that it doesn’t appear Deschamps has a clear idea of the system needed to get the best out of the players at his disposal. Two games have seen two systems used in which different sets of players have impressed and disappointed.
Dimitri Payet and N’Golo Kante were undoubtedly the star men against Romania. Payet operated in a free role from the left of the front three while Kante was placed at the base of France’s midfield three. The main drawback for France in this game was that the system lacked real width. Payet’s role saw him coming off the flank to create while on the opposite side, Antoine Griezmann was expected to get into the box to support Olivier Giroud. This left Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna having to get up the pitch in order to stretch the opposition, which did not work. It was an unbalanced system and the likes of Blaise Matuidi (also made to be more reserved), Griezmann and Paul Pogba struggled.
The problems were there to see and it was clear Deschamps needed to make the necessary changes to: 1. Balance the team and 2. get the best out of his star men. Surprisingly, Deschamps decided that to balance the team the best solution was to relegate the star men to the bench for the game vs Albania. With Pogba and Griezmann out, Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial were brought in and a switch to a 4-2-3-1 system was the result. Before the game many tipped this as a more balanced lineup due to the width the incoming players should provide. On the contrary, France’s best players from the first game, Kante and Payet, were moved around and while Coman did look good, the team’s overall performance was again languid and disappointing.
A pivot of Matuidi and Kante simply does not possess the passing ability to dictate the pace of the game or open up disciplined and deep teams. Today illustrated this perfectly and Payet, in the central attacking midfield role, suffered because of this. Not only was the ball not reaching him in dangerous areas but when he did get it, he was immediately confronted with a barrage of opponents he could not cope with. For the first 45 minutes of the game, France’s front six were isolated. The second half saw the introduction of Pogba for Martial and a return to the 4-3-3 from the first game. Payet in his wide role put in a performance similar to the first game and a win was eventually secured.
After two games, it’s still incredibly hard to read this France team. No one, including the coaching staff, seems to know what their best approach is and that leads to the belief that against the big teams they are there for the taking. A 4-3-3 with Payet in the front three seems to be the best bet at the time of writing but it’s clearly not a bulletproof system. The game against the Swiss will give Deschamps another opportunity to test out some theories but come the second round, and even though they are strong favourites to win the tournament, France need to have a solid system in place.