No Ligue 1 Does Not Mean No French Football

Even though Ligue 1 is currently on a break, it is no time to sleep on French football. Upon this international break, let’s take a closer look at how the French national team performed in their 2 home matches against the Netherlands and Luxembourg:

France’s last 3 matches have a record of 2 wins and 1 loss. Les Bleus wins came against Luxembourg (3-1), Sweden (2-1), and the only loss came against Sweden (1-2). Their international break was rather unusual, as they destroyed the Netherlands and tied at home against Luxembourg. Here is a closer look at the full squad that Didier Deschamps called up:

Lloris, A. Areola,  S. Mandanda, L. Koscielny, D. Sidibe, L. Kurzawa, S. Umtiti, P. Kimpembe, L. Digne, C. Jallet, P. Pogba, B. Matuidi, C. Tolisso, A. Rabiot, T. Lemar, N. Kante,  A. Griezmann,  N. Fekir, K. Coman, F. Thauvin, K. Mbappe, A. Lacazette, O. Giroud

As you can see, Deschamps called 3 goalkeepers, 4 full-backs, 3 centre-backs, 5 central midfielders, 3 wingers, 1 central-attacking midfielder, and 4 centre forwards, for a total of 23 players on the squad. The available players provide depth, versatility, good physical presence, and allow for very direct football. Sidibe, Kurzawa, Coman and Lemar on the wings meant Deschamps would attack regularly down the wings, while leaving the central axis to Mbappe, Fekir, Griezmann, Lacazette and co. For this matter, Deschamps decided to shift towards a ‘Monaco-esque’ 4-4-2. The team looked compact in their double line of 4 when the ball was in the initial third. Their wing backs provided width, while the wide midfielders operated in the half-spaces. One forward usually acted more as a pivot while the other, usually Griezmann, acted more as a centre-forward by dropping into a deeper role.

France-Netherlands

As commented, France began with a 4-4-2. Their starting 11 looked like this:

Lloris; Sidibe, Koscielny, Umtiti, Kurzawa; Coman, Pogba, Kante, Lemar; Griezmann, Giroud

The team’s style of play was, as previously stated, very similar to Monaco’s during the 2016/2017 campaign. Sidibe and Kurzawa were active across the whole pitch, with defensive solidity and attacking importance. Umtiti was crucial by playing out of the back, constantly finding Kante and Pogba with space. Pogba had a lot of freedom due to having N’Golo Kante playing alongside him. Lemar drifted inwards at times, while Coman mostly acted on the wings and in the half-spaces. Griezmann was seen constantly doing damage behind Strootman and Wijnaldum. Giroud played a classical ST role by pivoting against de Vrij and Hoedt.

Griezmann’s Electrifying Beginning to the Match

After being sent-off in Atleti’s first match in La Liga against newly-promoted Girona, Antoinne Griezmann surely had a different look against Netherlands this break. He was active in all parts of the pitch, mostly behind The Netherland’s central-midfielders. To contribute to his fantastic beginning of the match, he managed to score the opener with a lovely finish under Cillessen’s legs.

This goal by the ex-Real Sociedad man set the path for what the game was about to become. Holland’s midfield was looking weak and defeated by France’s quick transitions and combination plays. Another event that would majorly contribute to the final score line would be Kevin Strootman’s red card in the 61st minute. The Roma midfielder got two preventable yellow cards within 5 minutes of each other, putting Advocaat’s men in serious trouble.

Lemar’s First Goal for France

Thomas Lemar was one of the most rumoured players to leave during last month’s deadline day. Moves linking him with Arsenal, Liverpool, and even Barcelona made clear the magnitude of a season Lemar had last year. Arsenal’s 90 million Euro offer, however, was not enough for Jardim to let the Frenchman go off to the Premier League.

His contribution to France’s play against Holland was immense, and his first goal was the highlight of the match. He scored off a cleared cross from Sidibe, banging in a world class strike into the top corner.

Cillessen never stood a chance, as France took a 2-0 lead in the 72nd minute of the match. The next goal would come after a well-executed counter-attack by les bleus. Sidibe took the ball upfield before timing his pass to Griezmann to create a 3v1 against the goalkeeper. The end result was an easy goal for Lemar, as he completed his double on the day he scored his first international  goal.

Mbappe’s First International Goal for les Bleus

Following his deadline day move to PSG, the young prodigy showed nothing but his best self. He continues to impress all football fans every weekend, and this international break was no different. Rather than playing a central role, Mbappe was seen attacking both the right half-space and the wing. His first goal ever with the senior French squad would resemble his footballing talent, as he danced around a defender before conducting a smart finish to beat Cillessen.

Like Lemar, Mbappe’s future with France can only yield success. France have an extremely young squad, with Mbappe and Dembele being the biggest talents in the continent, if not the world.

Mbappe’s conclusive 4-0 meant France smashed Advocaat’s men at the Stade de France. Holland is now 3rd with 13 points, while France are first with 17 points.

France vs Luxembourg

France’s second match was much more uneventful, as they failed to score after 34 shots. The game began with about 3 or 4 opportunities for France to open the score, however, their failed precision when shooting saw a frustrated French crowd chant for more. As the minutes went by, what began as the typical match between a bigger and a smaller team, where the stronger team enjoyed many chances in the first half yet failed to capitalise, now looked like a complicated scenario for France. Below, some of France’s misses against Luxembourg:

As the video shows, France had no problem creating scoring opportunities, however, they missed all 34 of them. Perhaps one of the most decisive factors was the Atleti-man Griezmann. Compared to his leading role against Netherlands, where he opened the scoring and was brilliant throughout the whole match, Antoinne failed to score routine chances for a player of his calibre.

Aside from the fact that he missed shots he usually doesn’t, Griezmann’s match was positive overall, as he created many chances for his teammates and did a good job at breaking down Luxembourg’s 4-5-1 low-block.

Luxembourg’s Moment

The modest away nation deserves much credit for playing in such an atmosphere, against some of the best in the world, and not cracking down under pressure. They condensed two lines of 4, with 1 player in front of each line, forming a 4-1-4-1. During periods of the match, they would vary between their original game plan and a 4-4-2, which allowed them to crowd the wings, causing France more trouble when attacking wide.

With a 0-0 score and nearly 10 minutes left on the clock, Luxembourg had a chance to take the lead. It all started with a solo run from Rodrigues through the left flank. The whole French side was up the field, meaning Koscielny and Umtiti were alone to defend the action. Rodrigues continued down the line, drifted centrally, and was denied by the post. Luxembourg could have also scored on the rebound.

Luxembourg Make History

After missing 2 chances in the final minutes of the match, the ref blew for the final whistle. The away side saw a sign of relief after the ref ended the match. For the first time since 1914, France did not defeat Luxembourg in an official match. This merit had world-wide recognition by football fans. Everyone was talking about how a team ranked 136th could hold off France after 34 shots. Clearly, the luck did not go France’s way, yet Holtz defensive system worked very well.

Conclusion:

More off the same irregularity for France, as they managed to beat a direct rival but tie against a modest nation. The shift towards a 4-4-2 seemed extremely positive in ball circulation and chance creation, so Deschamps will be taking that from this break. Good overall performance from France, however the whole team can’t rely on Griezmann to crack the score open every single match. Deschamps must find a way to create more chances for Lacazette and Giroud.