France made it into the Semifinals of the FIFA World Cup as they beat Uruguay 2-0 in their match against the South Americans. It was a closely contested game which was very cagey in nature due to the resilient defenses of both the sides. However, France’s individual quality coupled with their strong counterpressing ensured that they were able to get the win with minimal fuss. I shall provide a comprehensive tactical breakdown of how the match panned out here.
Made using TacticalPad
France (4-3-3) Manager: Didier Deschamps
Lloris; Pavard, varane, Umtiti, Lucas; Pogba, Kante, Tolisso; Mbappe, Giroud, Griezmann
Uruguay (4-3-1-2) Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Muslera; Caceres, Gimenez, Godin, Laxalt; Nandez, Torreira, Vecino; Bentancur; Stuani, Suarez
Uruguay’s focus on winning second balls:
Uruguay started with a clear focus on trying to win second balls and attack France by inducing a bit of disorder in their defensive shape. With the absence of Edinson Cavani upfront, Uruguay were lacking in terms of quality, but had an able replacement in the form of Cristhian Stuani who was capable of executing the actions that were asked of him. Uruguay were very direct with the way they attacked, with zero emphasis on circulating the ball at the back. Instead, long balls were launched forward for Stuani and Suarez to win. While they lacked Cavani’s prowess in these aerial duels, they made up for it by forcing the likes of Nandez and Vecino to push up a bit more than usual to recover the second balls.
This strategy had its advantages as the onrushing midfielders would have the momentum on their side and would also have the advantage of being able to anticipate the second balls better than the French defenders, as they were drilled in this set pattern of play. Even if the ball could not be won, the players were optimally positioned to counterpress and win the ball back to hit France with quick turnovers.
France were able to hold their own against this plan mainly due to the positional awareness of the fantastic N’Golo Kante, while both Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti won most of their aerial duels. France’s counterpressing and the coverage of space in Uruguay’s half whenever they lost the ball became better as the game wore on. This meant that the Uruguayan defenders or even midfielders had very less time to release the ball and make accurate passes over long distances.
The other factor that caused Uruguay problems was the inability of Uruguayan midfielders to make themselves available for the knockdowns and the second balls as the game wore on. France were able to pin Uruguay back with their possession and Uruguay had to stay compact to avoid being opened up. The packing of the majority of the players in their own half made it impossible to cover large distances over a short period of time, consistently for 90 minutes.
Making use of third man runs:
With both teams being well equipped to defend in a compact structure, plus the presence of high quality defenders in both their ranks, both France and Uruguay would find it difficult to break down the opposition. Both teams came up with varied ways to wear the opposition down and find spaces to attack. Making use of third man runs was a common theme that recurred in both the sides’ attacking game plan.
Uruguay involved Caceres a lot in the opening exchanges of the game as he was a prominent figure on the right hand side for them. Both Suarez and Stuani positioned themselves close to each other so that they could combine for quick exchanges and make the run in behind the defense. Bentancur was always to be found in the proximity to help with the combinations, often providing the telling pass to release a teammate down the line. Suarez assumed equal creative burden in this regard, an aspect in which he excels in. Caceres and Nandez were crucial in this regard as their combinations down the right would create space down the flanks for the pass to be played into.
France on the other hand would look to make use of Griezmann as the fulcrum of any combination play that took place in Uruguay’s half. His movement off the ball was key in creating space for the likes of Mbappe to run into, while Giroud, who excels in quick, one-touch combination play, could supplement Griezmann in this regard.
Such combinations were not often to come by though, mainly due to the fact that Uruguay were camped in close spaces and were able to demonstrate high intensity to cover ground. Also, each Uruguayan player is capable of winning the ball efficiently, so it was difficult to combine quickly in close spaces when Uruguay had men behind the ball as well.
France in possession:
Having started Corentin Tolisso in place of Blaise Matuidi, Deschamps retained the same blueprint that France exhibited against Argentina, albeit with a bit more focus in switching play. This was due to obvious reasons as Uruguay defend resolutely and switches in play would stretch the play, creating space. Pogba was positioned deep in the right half space, predominantly in and around the right flank during buildup. France were focused on building down the right side and everything that they created came down that side. Pavard, Griezmann, Pogba and Giroud all were involved in the passing on that side to create inroads into the Uruguayan defence.
Kante was stationed at the base of midfield and moved up the pitch relative to his teammates in order to counterpress and win the ball back. Tolisso had an interesting role in this system. He was a hybrid wide man/third midfielder in the system, similar to how Matuidi functioned in his game against Argentina, albeit with more focus on sticking to the centre of the midfield. Tolisso had an important role in possession though.
France made use of quick switches in play, in succession. They switched the ball from the right to he left, almost always from Pogba to Lucas, before Tolisso, who would be positioned in the left half space, would switch it back to Pavard on the right.
France looked to make use of quick, successive switches in play to stretch the Uruguayan defense and create space on the outside. Pogba effected these switches before the likes of Tolisso or Griezmann made the switch again to the right where Pavard could cross.#URUFRA pic.twitter.com/6b84cJcbnp
— Football Bloody Hell (@fbhfootball) July 6, 2018
This pattern of play would be effected only when Tolisso was positioned centrally, tucked inside. If he was near the touchline, to provide width, Lucas and Tolisso would combine with Griezmann to cross the ball into the box, or rather create space for Pogba in the centre of the pitch. This was ideal for France as Pogba would exhibit a high degree of variability- he could either stretch the play again by shifting it to Pavard, shoot from distance or make use of his dribbling ability to quickly combine with Griezmann and Giroud.
Pogba was often the one who switched play, at the base of the right side. Tolisso and Lucas looked to receive the switch after the right side had been overloaded.
Griezmann played an important role in most of France’a attacks as he provided the link to all sides of the play. He was used as the reliever of pressure, as an alternative to Pogba’s dribbling inside Uruguay’s block. Mbappe was often found tucking inside in the right half space to latch onto any layoffs from Griezmann or from the head of Giroud.
Mbappe’s run drags Vecino wide. Pogba can now bypass the lines and find Griezmann in space
France’s counterpressing game grew stronger as the game went on due to reasons as stated before. Uruguay had only themselves to blame as they lacked any sort of penetration into the France’s final third in normal situations. They needed to thrive off transitions to catch France out and looked to use Bentancur to beat the press to advance. This was to no avail, as Kante and Tolisso were excellent in this regard to nip the ball back or present themselves in the proximity immediately to pressurize the ball carrier.
The first goal scored by Varane from a setpiece demonstrated Uruguay’s inability to play through the pressure from France as Tolisso won a foul by winning the ball off Bentancur. The congested spaces worked in France’s favour in these situations and Uruguay sorely lacked an outlet. Unlike previous games, Laxalt and Caceres could not immediately bomb forward to provide width, with Laxalt in particular being cautious of Mbappe’s presence on his side.
France’s possession game left a bit to be wanted, as has been the case throughout the tournament. I don’t see it bothering Deschamps as much because of the way France are set up under him. Defensively solid, trying to maximise their transitions and use their individual quality to present solutions against low blocks has been the theme of Deschamps’ reign so far. I do not find much fault with this setup though as it is more likely than not that France will find an opening with the individual quality in their ranks. With Brazil having gone out against Belgium, it also removes their only opposition that can match them in terms of quality. They will be the team to beat with the tournament going into the final four teams, with a solid spine and the pivot of Kante and Pogba getting better by the game.