Euro 2020: France Showed Who Is The Boss

France national team started Euro 2020 with an impressive performance. Competing at the Fussball Arena, Munich, Didier Deschamps’ team silenced host Germany with a score of 1-0. This victory, in addition to bringing Les Bleus in an advantageous position, also confirmed their eligibility as favorites to win.

Appearing to be world champion, of course, not a few parties favored France winning the Henri Delaunay trophy. Paul Pogba and his friends did not show any signs of declining performance after winning the 2018 World Cup. France still made a solid appearance and qualified for the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League semifinals.

The composition of the classy squad is enough reason to favor France. The data also speak the same. The Analyst builds prediction models based on betting exchanges and data from Stats Perform, Opta’s parent company. The results of their projection, France has a 20.5% chance of winning at the start of the tournament. After beating Germany, that probability grew to 22.5%, almost double that of second favorite, Belgium (13%).

In the match against Germany, Les Bleus showed the qualities that led them to become world champions. The French actually practice the adage that defense earns you the title. Deschamps’ squad is still facing the match with a solid defense base. France defended tightly and attacked efficiently. When the lead is achieved, the opponent will climb higher and Les Bleus are happy to launch a quick counter-attack. This team is very difficult to deal with.

Throughout the 2018 World Cup, France was able to win without the need to appear dominant. Among the semifinalists, Les Bleus scored the lowest in metrics indicating dominance such as ball possession, shooting average and opportunity quality (xG). However, in fact they almost always win. Opponents may be pressing France more often. However, that doesn’t mean they dominate Raphael Varane and company. Les Bleus’ tight blocks are always ready to anticipate the flow of the ball into a dangerous area. When they have the ball, they try to attack as efficiently as possible with decent cover at the back.

If France manages to excel, then the match will belong to France. The reason is that opponents will take more risks and Kylian Mbappe is always ready to attack the space behind defenders with his speed. This was shown when France silenced Germany on Wednesday (16/6/2021). If you look at the statistics, at a glance the Mannschaft die looks superior and deserves to win. Joachim Loew’s men were more dominant in ball possession (62%), shot more (10), and recorded a better cumulative xG (0.8 versus 0.4). Les Bleus’ single goal was also an own goal that was prone to be misinterpreted as sheer luck.

However, at the Fussbal Arena, it was France who actually “beat” Germany. The odds quality statistics (xG) are incomplete describing how the two teams are threatening each other. The stats do not record the two goals ruled out for narrow offside, one shot at the post, one cross for an own goal and one action that forced Mats Hummels into a brilliant emergency tackle. Germany is putting more pressure on France. But they did not bring up a situation that the opponent had to respond to in an emergency. Les Bleus played tight and opponents struggled to break down their defence.

In this match, Deschamps lowered the basic 4-3-3 formation. The French front line, positionally, has access to pressing against three German defenders. The three strikers are supported by a trio of midfielders consisting of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, and Adrien Rabiot. Pogba plays more offensively and is often a passer from the right half-space. While Kante and Rabiot played more supportively and tended to maintain the density of the midfield.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez played wide when his team had the ball, closing in when the opponent was pressing. Their penetration is relied upon in Les Bleus’ attacks from the wings. France let Germany play in the defensive third, but managed to close access to their passes into the penalty box. Raphael Varane and his friends were not in a hurry to win the ball and chose to defend with positioning discipline. Launching StatsBomb data, the average PPDA (passes allowed per defensive actions) in France is 35.2. That is, on average, they allowed Germany to play 35 passes before trying to get the ball.

Deschamps’ men were happy to let Germany play the ball. France responded to the opponent’s offensive game well. Although die Mannschaft had 279 touches in the final third, they only had 22 touches in the box. Germany did make seven shots from inside the penalty box. However, the alacrity of the back line and poor finishing made four of them was off target and three attempts were blocked. On the other hand, France played more efficiently. Les Bleus made just 93 touches in the final third, but managed to get 13 touches in the opposition box. One of them resulted in an own goal by Mats Hummels.

On the other hand, the German attackers also performed not optimally. Joachim Loew fielded two attacking midfielders who are expected to exploit the space between the lines. Thomas Mueller and Kai Havertz often found space between the midfield and the back line. However, attacks built from there often fail. Mueller, in particular, was underwhelming when he got the ball. Despite being the main target for Germany’s progressive passes, the Bayern Munich midfielder lost the ball six times. He also failed to cooperate with Kai Havertz and Serge Gnabry to enter the opponent’s penalty box.

After Hummels’ own goal, the match belongs to France. If you look at the average position of Les Bleus, it appears that Kylian Mbappe is often far apart in the front area from his colleagues. The Paris Saint-Germain striker was the main outlet for the counter-attack and troubled Germany several times with his pace. This scheme resulted in a Karim Benzema goal which was disallowed for offside. Mbappe also scored one goal, but it was disallowed due to being caught offside.

France is very dangerous on the counter-attack. This strategy will be more effective if Les Bleus manage to steal the advantage. If opponents are willing to take more risks and put more players up front, France will welcome it. They dictate the game from a defensive position. This makes France difficult to deal with. Such qualities have led them to win the 2018 World Cup and become the favorites in this tournament.

Waiting for the Benzema Effect

Karim Benzema has been recalled after a five-year absence. Even though he has only played two test matches, he performed well in the first match of the 2020 European Cup. This Real Madrid striker proved that he was able to carry out the role of Olivier Giroud equally well.

At the 2018 World Cup, France relied on Giroud at post no.9. The quality that stands out from the player is the way he links the game (link-up play). Although he didn’t score, his role was vital in supporting the game for Les Bleus and the sharp appearances of Mbappe and Griezmann.

Benzema can do the same. At Real Madrid, under the tutelage of Zinedine Zidane, the 33-year-old forward links the game well. Benzema often moves down, dragging centre-backs to follow him and opening up space at the back for his team-mates. He can also involve himself in the flow of attacks as well as send breakthrough bait.

In France, he was able to replace Giroud. However, there is one thing that sets him apart from the Chelsea striker: guaranteed goals. Benzema has always scored more than 20 La Liga goals in the last three seasons. Giroud himself has rarely had the opportunity to play in the last two seasons. In contrast, Benzema is still a key player for Real Madrid. It makes sense that Deschamps would prefer the last name.

The presence of Benzema also made France even more dangerous. Les Bleus have a complete striker who is capable of linking the game as well as being sharp in front of goal. The gait of Benzema and France is interesting to look forward to.


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