the absence of Benzema, a boon for Deschamps? / World Cup 2022 / Gr. D / France / November 20, 2022 /

While the Real Madrid striker, injured in the left thigh, was forced to leave the France group on Sunday morning, Didier Deschamps finds himself in an ideal position to reinstall his winning formula from the summer of 2018 and put this he has been wanting to find for several months: a solid and more balanced block.


The sentence fell in the middle of August, in 2021, more than fifty days after the Bucharest bowl against Switzerland, which Didier Deschamps always wanted to sum up to “ten short minutes” . Always, except once, during a long interview given to The Teamwhere the coach of the Blues had conceded these words on his change of system post-inaugural victory against Germany and draw against Hungary during the last Euro: “I did it because even if we were very solid, Germany had control and I wanted to improve the offensive aspect in creativity. I wanted us to try to be a little brighter knowing that we were going to be less solid. On arrival, it may be better to be a little less shiny, but more solid. » How ? After a competition spent juggling between formulas without this permanently preventing his block from being pierced in the heart, Deschamps will have first bet for several months on a 3-4-1-2 above all thought to bring closer to the maximum his attacking trio inside the game without this providing very convincing answers during the phases without the ball, with the notable exception of a half against Belgium in Turin, in October 2021, and of some sequences against Spain, a few days later. This French team has never been a high pressing team and has, in recent years, only been coherent defensively when it has returned to a compact, united, connected, tight 4-4-2.

Average position without the ball of the French team in 2018.

“We will have football matches, but also fights, so we will need good warriors and be rigorous without the ball. » Lucas Hernández

In Russia, more than four years ago, it was above all him, in particular the strength of his inner square formed by the Varane-Umtiti-Kanté-Pogba quartet, which allowed the Blues to shine under the waves and then trigger the rolls thanks to the launches of Paul Pogba, the brain of Antoine Griezmann and the speed of Kylian Mbappé. A few days before showing up in Qatar, the announced objective of Deschamps was then clear. The time has come to bring out the spears. The coach bombarded him first on the day of his list: “We had a long reflection with the staff, a few discussions with certain players, and we decided to return to a four-man defense. We did good things together, very good things sometimes, but we were also very often out of balance, and I know only too well that to exist in a big competition, you have to be solid defensively. I am convinced that this is our best option. » Then it was relayed by some heroes of 2018, Hugo Lloris – “The objective, through this tournament, will be to regain a certain solidity” – and Lucas Hernández – “Everyone is hungry. We will have football matches, but also fights, so we will need good warriors and be rigorous without the ball. Afterwards, we know that we have attackers who can score at any time. » Since Saturday evening, the France team, already deprived in the middle of a Pogba-Kanté duo undefeated together since the final of Euro 2016, has one less: its Golden Ball, Karim Benzema, touched at the left thigh and who had to forfeit overnight for the whole of this 2022 World Cup. A bad thing? Yes, but maybe also for a good.

“I am wary of copy-pasting. I wouldn’t pretend to say today that I know what I should do, but at least I sometimes know what I shouldn’t do, and that’s not bad enough. » Didier Deschamps at AFP

The return of the #pivotgang or a place for Rabiot?

It is naturally strange to be positive when, two days before his first game in a World Cup, a defending champion loses one of his best attackers, especially when he is in the form of his life and that he has a CV as complete as it is unique (moving relay, rare quality of heading, calm in the surface, quite phenomenal reading of the game). It must be remembered, however, that without Karim Benzema, the France team was beaten in Denmark (2-0), but also delivered one of its most full meetings of 2022, against Austria (2 -0), in September. This evening, like another against South Africa (5-0), at the end of March, saw Kylian Mbappé and Olivier Giroud connect with their eyes closed in front of Antoine Griezmann. Better, Mbappé then showed up in the mixed zone of the Stade de France to praise the second top scorer in the history of the country and indirectly put a cleat on PSG: “Here, I have a lot more freedom than at the club. The coach knows that there is a number 9 like Olive, who occupies the defenses, and that I can walk around and go into space. »

The figures for that night then told a lot of things: Mbappé had shot seven times on goal (for three shots on target and one goal), attempted fourteen dribbles for seven successful (i.e. as many as against Belgium at the 2018 World Cup) and touched a little less than 90 balloons, almost a record in his tricolor life. Two days away from crossing swords with Australia, this is where Didier Deschamps stands: if the loss of Benzema, whom he has so far struggled to fully reintegrate into the circuits despite some brilliant moments, is naturally a blow for the group – “I got it by messages, he was upset” (Eduardo Camavinga, Saturday) -, above all, it places the coach in an ideal position to reinstall his winning formula from the summer of 2018 and will allow him to regain better stability in his defensive animation. On this point, a thorn in his finger has just been removed.

The Real striker, who was not replaced, leaving Deschamps without a creative leader back-up to Antoine Griezmann, although he may not be a problem case, he remains a status player, and the fact of now having only one element in this case – Kylian Mbappé, whose game has evolved greatly since 2018 – should offer more latitude to the first coach of France in his offensive animation – a story of preferential zones and playing habits of the different profiles in place – and allow him in a certain way to strengthen the balance of his group. It now remains to be seen who will be the fourth offensive player chosen by Didier Deschamps: Ousmane Dembélé, praised by everyone since the start of the rally, like Youssouf Fofana, who came on Friday to discuss “the permanent danger in the last 30 meters against whom we don’t know what to do” what does the Barça winger represent? Kingsley Coman, who might offer more defensive guarantees? Adrien Rabiot, in the role of the hybrid player balancing way Blaise Matuidi 2018? The problem with the Juventus midfielder is that he plays on the left side where Deschamps needs a pawn on the right side. Can we then imagine seeing Mbappé take the tip instead of Giroud to make room for Rabiot on the left? Hard to believe, at the moment. “I am wary of copy-pastingslipped Deschamps a few days ago to AFP. I wouldn’t pretend to say today that I know what I should do, but at least I sometimes know what I shouldn’t do, and that’s not bad enough. » Something says all the same that he knows very well what he wants to see: tight against the winds, the French team, which has got into the habit of starting competitions with a mask before changing it during the road, first prepares to bring out her favorite dress.

By Maxime Brigand, in Doha


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