Argentina faced off against France in the first knockout match of the 2018 FIFA World cup, both teams had so far been underwhelming in the competition’s group stages with Argentina needing a late goal to progress from group D while France were more comfortable, finishing atop their group but their performances left a lot to be desired. There was a sense that this match would kick start the World Cup for either of these teams – whichever one could get a result. The game made for an interesting spectacle.
ARGENTINA: Argentina’s coach Jorge Sampaoli made both tactical and personnel changes from their crucial win against Nigeria, Messi lined up in a false nine position with Gonzalo Higuain dropping to the bench and his place taken by Pavon, otherwise the rest of the team stayed the same.
Formation: (4 – 3 – 3): Armani / Gabriel Mercado – Nicolas Otamendi – Marcos Rojo – Tagliafico / Mascherano – Banega – Enzo Perez / Di Maria – Pavon – Lionel Messi
FRANCE: For his part, Didier Deschamps settled for a sturdy team, designed to hit the opposition on the counter attack.
Formation: (4 – 2 – 3 – 1): Hugo Lloris / Pavard – Raphael Varane – Samuel Umtiti – Lucas Hernandez / Kante – Pogba – Mbappe – Antoine Griezman – Matuidi / Olivier Giroud
Made using TacticalPad
ARGENTINA CHANGE THEIR SHAPE (AGAIN):
Throughout this tournament, Argentina have been unable to settle on either a single line up or system for any two games, sometimes even changing systems within games. For this match, Sampaoli chose to start Messi in a false nine position while playing Angel Di Maria and Pavon on either side of him. In theory, this was to bypass the defensive overload that France sought to create on the left hand side with Matuidi, Kante and Lucas Hernandez, from which they could then make use of Messi’s dropping movements to overload the midfield and progress the ball forward. The problem was that while they sought to replicate the role that Messi played for Barcelona all those years back, under a certain Pep Guardiola, they did not create the accompanying conditions to make full use of him in that role. At Barcelona, whenever Messi was playing as a false nine, Barca would make use of inverted wingers to constantly attack the space behind the defence with diagonal runs to pin the centre backs and free up Messi to overload the midfield (think David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez. Argentina played Messi as a false nine and still played wide wingers hugging the touchline, so when Messi came into midfield, he was man marked (somewhat) by N’Golo Kante and would then move wide to drag the French six with him. Messi would usually win the duel with Kante but even when he was able to find Pavon, the winger was still in a wide position and was no direct threat to goal leaving him with only a crossing option to a nonexistent striker.
Argentina’s #passmap courtesy of @11tegen11. The passmap shows their focus on wide build up with absolutely no central threat. Pavon is more or less on the same line with Messi with no diagonal movement
Argentina focused so much on building attacks out wide that sometimes even their central midfielders moved wide. This was all well and good because in so doing, they were able to pull the French midfielders away from the centre of the pitch but the problem was that there was no one to exploit the space now in the middle – except for Di Maria’s goal that is.
Di Maria’s Goal. Argentina start the move out wide on the left with Banega going to the touchline and taking Pogba with him, this leaves Di Maria in acres of space and when he gets the ball he has the time to take a touch and curl one in before anyone can get to him. This is pretty much the only time Argentina use the space created by drawing the French midfielders out wide.
Their wide focus in possession also negatively impacted their ability to control the French counter attacks as whenever they lost the ball, the French team were just able to advance centrally up the throat of the Argentine defence and this was painfully evident in the build up to the penalty that Griezman converted as Mbappe ran through the heart of the Argentine defence until he was fouled by Marcos Rojo.
FRANCE COUNTER ATTACK:
The French game plan was designed to maximize their strengths against Argentina’s weaknesses. They rarely pressed the Argentina centre backs directly, instead sitting back to invite the Albiceleste forward and hitting them with quick breaks when they were able to regain possession. Pogba and Mbappe were highly instrumental in this regard, with the former consistently hitting long balls for the PSG man to chase with his superior pace against Argentina’s defenders. With Giroud and Griezman feeding off each other, Mbappe was given license to roam diagonally from his wide right position and he was the main outlet for French attacks in this game.
Build up to Griezman’s penalty goal; see as Mbappe outpaces Argentina players centrally with the other three on the right hand side.
Blaise Matuidi played a hybrid role, shuttling between being a fourth midfielder and a winger but was predominantly positioned in the left half-space both in and out of possession. However, France mostly focused their attacks down the right where Mbappe was so he wasn’t such an attacking force, with the only crosses coming from his flank delivered by the overlapping left back Lucas Hernandez.
SECOND HALF AND ARGENTINE DESPERATION:
In the second half, with the introduction of Federico Fazio, the Argentine defense looked even more brittle as the Roma man looked off the pace from his first touch; Argentina did take the lead in fortuitous circumstances with Mercado deflecting Messi’s shot into the goal. France soon equalized and then when two goals up with an Mbappe double and THAT goal from Pavard, so Sampaoli brought on Aguero for the ineffective Pavon and Meza for Enzo Perez, Argentina’s shape then resembled a 4-2-3-1with Messi playing behind the striker. This shape coupled with the game state and reduced intensity from the French allowed them to control the match better. Di Maria switched over to the right and began to dribble inside more. This meant that Messi had more outlets for his passes though the final actions of the wingers sometimes left much to be desired. Argentina were able to pull one back after a glorious Messi pass and might have even gotten level at the death if Meza had converted the last chance.
In the end, France deserved to go through as they created a lot more chances and clearer ones; the 4:3 score line was even a bit flattering to Argentina as they could have conceded even more if France had been more efficient.
What could Argentina have done better? Well, they might have taken care not to always leak their lineup and tactics a day before such a crucial game. Also, in view of their wide focus in possession, perhaps playing Dybala might have been more productive both due to his ability to attract pressure and also because he is better equipped to take advantage of the amount of space that usually opened up centrally whenever Kante followed Messi wide. Also, perhaps a more conservative set up might have proved wiser due to the speed advantage that France enjoy over Argentina, Sampaoli might have done better to drop his back line a yard or two and coupled with some sweeping from Armani, they might have been able to reduce the threat from Pogba’s balls over the top.
In the end, they are out and there is a lot of building to be done if this team is to be ready for the next international tournament.