World Cup 2018: How do France get the best out of Griezmann, Dembele, Mbappe and Co.?
With Didier Deschamps’ job on the line, here’s how RealSport believe he can take France all the way in Russia.
Francois Mori/Pool via Reuters
The European Championships of two years ago was supposed to be the crowning moment of a golden generation of outstanding French talent.
Hugo Lloris was supposed to hoist the Henri Delaunay Cup high into the Parisien night sky. Fireworks would go off by the Eiffel Tower, the success of the nation’s football team illuminating the most beautiful city in Europe.
But they lost.
In truth, they stumbled their way through a weak field. A late Dimitri Payet winner saw off Romania, last ditch goals defeated Albania and then there was the forgettable stalemate with Switzerland.
They scraped by Ireland before managing to beat England’s conquerors Iceland. The one quality performance came against Germany in the semis before a rank-rotten display saw them out-stumble the turgidly stoic Portuguese in the final.
Their 2016 crowning moment on home soil wasn’t to be.
Didier Deschamps just couldn’t get the balance right. If Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid tenure taught us anything it’s that there is a fine art in arranging the world’s best players: an art that Deschamps must master this summer or face the fate that befell Laurent Blanc and Raymond Domenech before him, a departure shrouded in failure.
But how can he gel his superstar side together?
The goals of golden boot winning Antoine Griezmann played a big part in dragging France as far as they got in 2016, his six strikes three more than anyone else in the whole tournament.
In Griezmann, Deschamps has a player that any coach at the finals would absolutely love to have, but how can he fit the Atletico Madrid star in with the rest of his strike force, getting the balance right without heaping too much burden on his shoulders?
The 27-year-old has played his best football in La Liga playing down the centre, linking up well upfront in a 4-4-2 with a big man like Diego Costa or Kevin Gameiro.
So then it would be reasonable to think that logically playing Griezmann with Giroud in a 4-4-2 would be the way forward.
But then that doesn’t work. Rather than Koke and Saul Niguez-like wide midfielders, France have the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele. Paul Pogba struggles to play in a midfield two in a 4-2-3-1 let alone 4-4-2. So there’s that idea out the window.
Mbappe and Dembele would seem perfect candidates to be given complete attacking freedom for France, with their pace and skill devastating on the counterattack.
Finding the balance
So with 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 already ruled out, it has to be 4-3-3. But then where do you put Griezmann?
If Giroud is the focal point, Mbappe to his right, and Dembele to his left – where do you put the team’s poster boy? Is there another system? Can you drop Euro 2016’s top scorer altogether? Of course not.
You drop Giroud.
The Chelsea man may well be tied with Zidane as France’s fourth highest scorer of all time. He might offer the team a physical presence up front. But he’s also what’s holding them back.
Mbappe can play in his regular role on the right flank, Dembele can line up on the left, Griezmann can be given freedom between the two. They can rotate positions and be a dynamic nightmare for defenders trying to pick them up.
A three-man midfield with Steven Nzonzi at the base, Paul Pogba to his left, and Ngolo Kante to his right can offer a firm base and plenty of support.
Against better sides on the counter they will be devastating. Against the more defensive sides they will have the attacking quality backed up by an intelligent midfielder in Nzonzi capable of building attacks, plus the dynamism of Kante and the mercurial magic of Paul Pogba.
And if it’s not working, bring on Olivier Giroud and change things up. The Chelsea target man is the second most prolific substitute in Premier League history – he’s really good at changing a game.
This delivers a solution that fits all of France’s best players in their best roles. It could also save Deschamps’ job – with Zinedine Zidane and Arsene Wenger lurking in the background.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group C in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.