In 2018, France and Didier Deschamps lifted the World Cup defeating an impressive Croatia 4-2 in the Final, and Didier Deschamps became only the third person to have won the World Cup as a player and coach. At club level, Deschamps has also been relatively successful too, having spells at AS Monaco, Juventus, who he guided back to the Serie A after a match-fixing scandal, achieving a 69% win percentage in 43 matches (winning 30) and his most successful reign yet, Marseille where he managed to win five domestic trophies on top of a Ligue 1 title. During the World Cup Finals in Russia, Didier Deschamps came under scrutiny from football fans for his reactive tactical approach. France didn't dominate games possession-wise; on average, France would have 49% of the ball, which ranked them 20th in the tournament. Instead, they opted to remain compact, leaving little space between the defensive and attacking unit and hit teams on the counter-attack, which was effective and an approach that suited their star players. Pogba could pick out a pass, Giroud could hold up the ball, Mbappe and Griezmann had the pace and quality to be clinical. Didier Deschamps set-up this France team mainly using the 4-3-3 system, which often turned into a 4-4-2 when France had longer spells off the ball despite using the 4-2-3-1 during qualifying stages. The 4-2-3-1 did feature during the World Cup, where we saw Blaise Matuidi play out of position on the left flank. This tactical approach allowed the engine to track opposing attacking wing-backs whilst having the ability to tuck inside to support Kante and Pogba in central midfield.
During the World Cup, France's attacking strategies were consistent and relatively simple but effective. Early in games, Mbappe and Griezmann would often make runs in behind the opponent's defence and, by doing so, forced the opponents to drop deeper in the early stages of the match, and this would be seen throughout the game.
Another attacking strategy was finding their target-man Oliver Giroud, who could either help the quick transition by winning flick-ons for Mbappe and Griezmann making runs off him or Giroud could hold-up the ball allow other France players to progress and support the attack. Those two strategies are very effective for a counter-attacking set-up. Still, if needed and depending on the opposition's setup, France also looked to keep good possession within the attacking unit. It had players operating in-between lines, which allowed France to gain superiority and have more of a positive look about them in the game.
Mbappe's pace, wide positioning, and off-the-ball movement were always a key feature for France throughout the competition. He consistently offered a route for the direct ball in the central channels. This was helped because most sides set up attacking full-backs, which gave Mbappe the space to get in behind, but if the opponents chose to sit deep, France would also set-up deeper to get their opponents to push higher to create that space in-behind. Counter-attacking was a constant theme in the 2018 World Cup, but none pulled it off better than France, the winners. The pace and ability of the two wide men were hard enough to deal with. Sandwiched between them was a Target-man who had excellent hold-up qualities, and this attacking unit allowed France to transition very quickly.
“The amount of space available has been dramatically reduced, making it challenging to find openings,” the Technical Report states. The average gap between the farthest player forward and the farthest player back when out of possession was 24 metres for France - smaller than any other team bar Australia and Panama."
When France were out of possession, they didn't opt for a counter-press; instead, to limit space, they had players dropping deeper into their defensive positions. In control, France would typically set up in either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, but when France lost the ball or out of possession, they would set up in a 4-1-4-1, 4-4-1-1, or 4-4-2.
To increase their compactness, they defended in a mid to low-mid block, limiting space between the lines and suffocating the central areas, making it hard for France to be broken down.
Their mid-block was also accompanied by a very narrow shape, conceding space in wider areas as the flanks weren't a threat for France. Allowing crosses into the box was easy to defend against
Despite their counter-attacking nature, they still managed to score the 3rd most goals per 90 in the competition (1.71) whilst having one of the better defences and conceding 0.86 per 90, which ranks them 8th, but they played extra games over the teams above in that ranking. France may not have had the most shots at goal, but the most important stat is goals, and they were very clinical in their approach to scoring goals and achieving an impressive 0.11 goals per shot (5th highest). Didier Deschamps got the best out of his players and played to their strengths, making France a very good together unit. Kante put in typical Kante performances, and he was the side's and competitions top tackler winning 14 tackles throughout the tournament, winning 2.21 per 90. The quality ball-winning midfielder was key in applying pressure in France's defensive and mid-third, completing 3.33 interceptions per 90. The player with the most pressures and interceptions in the world cup. Though Giroud didn't score many at all, he was integral to this system. His ability to win flick-ons helped increase the speed of transitions. His hold-up play allowed France to have the option of slowing the game down to get others further up the pitch, but his work off the ball, alongside Griezmann, may have gone unnoticed, and teams often struggled to build-up attacks from the defence. Paul Pogba was the side's playmaker, often operating as a deep-lying playmaker. Supplying the team with 9 key passes (most for France), he also played the most passes into the final 1/3 (51), and his direct balls often put France on the attack/front foot. This World Cup was arguably the best we've seen from the Manchester United midfielder. Lastly, the full-backs were the main source of width and offered security balls out wide if France couldn't find a route centrally. The wingers (Greizmann and Mbappe) would often make runs centrally, and that opened up space for an advancing full-back as the wingers also dragged the opponent's full-backs centrally. The full-backs then wouldn't hit the byline to whip in crosses, and France rarely crossed from open play. The full-backs would opt to retain possession by playing the ball to a nearby teammate. Thank you for reading my analysis of France's and Didier Deschamps World Cup victory. Please consider supporting the site by signing up to Patreon or site donation. Thank you!