decoding the tactical battle between Argentina and France

The 2022 World Cup final comes to a climactic end when Argentina take on defending champions France on Sunday. With an average of 2.63 goals scored from 62 games of this competition, we can expect to find the two highest netting teams in the World Cup, especially with Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe on the pitch. However, the question of which team will lift the cup will come down to the tactical options used by Lionel Scaloni and Didier Deschamps.

How can Argentina stop the threat of France?

Deschamps’ pragmatic attitude is highlighted with France – they have the most non-xG penalties of any nation at this World Cup (11.9), with Mbappe and Olivier Giroud accounting for much of it. On paper, Scaloni’s job is simple – neutralize Mbappe and Giroud.

Mbappe resisted the counterintuitive — Morocco opted for a direct approach with Achraf Hakimi and Sofyan Amrabat staying tight and using an “agricultural” approach. This worked until Mbappe showed his arsenal of tight control (and luck) recently. Argentina’s disciplinary system is in flux — their 14 yellow cards are the most at the World Cup — and with the right approach, Mbappe is trying to run away, especially when they can be a four-man defence.

But better than Scaloni is suffocating Antoine Griezmann, who created the most chances (21) and has the highest xA (3.5) of any player.

As a result, Angelus di Maria could not start, with Alexis MacAllister and Roderick de Paul working on the wings in the same 4-4-2 against Croatia. Griezmann’s tendency to start from defensive midfield and end up in wide areas has caused many defenses to try to mark him one-on-one. The training of Argentina’s local mid-men should be enough to suppress Griezmann, which is neither of France in transition, and could consequently threaten Mbappe and Giroud.

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One Gundisalvus Montiel or Nahuel Molina will have nothing to do with Mbappe, but De Paul and Cristiano Romero should be supported in the channel. Nicolas Otamendi and Romero should have enough between them to stifle Giroud and prevent Mbappe’s talented assists. Marcos Acuna is a better defensive presence than Nicolas Tagliafico, and he’s given a nod to Ousmane Dembele.

How Argentina can maximize their threats

Argentina have the highest xG of any team in this World Cup (12.2), but they owe a lot to earning four penalties (3.16). France have also conceded the most penalties in this World Cup (3) and with the feet of Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez caught in the box, the recipe for Argentina is best placed to use a direct approach.

As Messi tries to thwart the world’s best defenders, he often tries to rely on the tactical method of giving him the ball…and praying. Arguably the greatest athlete of all time is tending to answer those prayers, but Argentina clearly needs to do more. Enzo Fernandez could prove pivotal if the defensive duties are relieved, especially for Alvarez. France is usually used in the middle at low stakes again, and with space at a premium, Fernandez could be best used in a purely creative role.

However, all Messi’s ulcers are proceeding in the right channel. 53% of Morocco’s attack went down to France, with Theo Hernandez left alone to give Mbappe the job of staying high up the pitch. Deschamps can tweak things to have a defensive shift to either side of the midfield to provide cover, but this will leave only MacAllister or Fernandez space to oppress on the opposite side. It can again come down to the Messianic eye-of-the-needle tie passer like the one in Belgium. Alvarez’s hard-nosed forward must create space for others, as France are unlikely to give him the space he provided Croatia.

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How France can stop the threat of Argentina

Nara is commonly known as Lionel Messi. They were motivated by Messi’s only trophy award to cheat him, his last ever World Cup game. A manager who rarely likes to tinker with the line, Deschamps could very well start the World Cup final with the inexperienced combination of Guglielmo Saliba and Dayot Upamecani.

It is a testament to the richness of the French team that whoever throws the backline seems ready to attack the most. The presence of Messi, however, could tweak the defensive force, which would require Antoine Griezmann to channel his inner N’Golo Kante and remain as a defensive presence. Deschamps has used Griezmann beautifully in this way, which allows the two defensive men to cross over and provide cover for Hernandez on the left. Griezmann floated for the most part, but could be held back to shield Messi’s threat.

Another option to deal with the threat of Messi is in the bond De Paulo, who has 115 passes with his teammate, much more than the next Fernandez with 68.

France scored in the morning against England and Morocco, which may have explained the damage and low possession of the states (43% and 39%). However, this is a usual defeat for Deschamps, and it is unlikely to change against Argentina. Alvarez could be awkward against a low club and all of France’s defensive options have the qualities to frustrate him.

How can France maximize its threats?

The qualities of Mbappe and Giroud are well known and Scaloni has a definite plan to play with, as well as Griezmann. Where France comes from, it is surprising how they use Ousmane Dembele on the right wing. Dembele kept a good bit on the right side of the reserve, but against the Argentinian left side that is not very safe could ride. His ability to carry centrally and play incisive passes with either foot could prove crucial in transitions, while also offering a right-footed option.

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However, with Mbappe eager to prove he is the heir apparent to Messi’s crown, it might be wise to stick with what has worked for France. Sit high and pass quickly on the counter, Griezmann and Giroud providing Mbappe to run at the back. If Giroud can occupy the center back and allow Mbappe to isolate himself against Molina or Montiel, it is a nightmare scenario for Argentinian fans.

Argentina have been the second best in aerial duels in all competition this World Cup, which must have Giroud salivating. France’s all-time top scorer was able to point out that there are few in the air of Otamendi and Romero, who could be useful from set pieces or even on counters.

10 factors – substitutions, extra time and penalties

Angelo di Maria could prove crucial for Argentina if he needed a late goal. The discovery of the French backline may cause some problems, as it leaves Argentina a little short in defense. In France, their options to change things up are limited in the absence of Karim Benzema, but Marcus Thuram has proven himself to be tricky for tired defences.

If this game goes to extra time, France could very well find themselves at a disadvantage in their squad. Emi Martinez already sent the Argentina cup with power in the penalty and to start the favorite against Hugo Lloris, although the leader of the French has already saved a penalty in this tournament. In all likelihood France will have the job done within ninety minutes if they are to retain their crown.

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