Didier Deschamps changed his starting XI, formation and tactics for France’s game against Peru.
Olivier Giroud focused France’s offence, much as he did for Chelsea, while N’Golo Kante played more horizontally than he does for the Blues, but with the same effect.
Despite the identical margin, France was much more solid and coherent in their 1-0 win over Peru than their opening 2-1 win against Australia. Didier Deschamps started Olivier Giroud atop a 4-2-3-1 against Peru.
Just as Giroud gave Chelsea a true target on the attack in the second half of the season, Giroud was the reference point France was missing against Australia.
Antoine Griezmann was in the centre of the 4-3-3’s front-line against Australia. He, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele tried to out-pace, out-finesse and overall out-class Australia.
Their play was indicative of France’s greatest vulnerability in that game and in the tournament.
They were a collection of extremely talented individuals trying to do it all themselves. They were not an attacking unit, and Les Bleus were not a team.
The formation change with Giroud as the striker seconded the individual talents of the other attackers to Giroud’s unmistakable role on the pitch.
Attacks would develop through his hold-up play and would finish in his direction in the box. From those simple precepts, Griezmann, Mbappe, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba had their reference point.
Giroud’s positioning, hold-up play and presence facilitated the individual skills of the other three forwards. He blazed the paths for them to follow, instead of them moving haphazardly in quests for individual glory.
Giroud’s physicality also gave him a role on the press and in defending set pieces.
If Peru retreated under France’s press and played the ball back to their goalkeeper, Giroud would run all the way up-field to pressure the keeper into a clearance.
His pressing appeared limited only to those moments. Deschamps would not want to waste Giroud’s energy with frequent, darting pressures.
But if Peru sent the ball into their own penalty area, Giroud followed it, hoping for a mistake but content to disrupt any attempt to play out and force a turnover off a hurried long-ball.
Giroud linked Paul Pogba to Kylian Mbappe for France’s winning goal against Peru. Giroud’s run pulled two defenders and the goalkeeper towards him as he brought down Pogba’s pass.
This left only one Peru defender with awareness of Mbappe running in on the other side. But Mbappe already had two steps on his defender, rendering him completely free.
Giroud’s shot deflected over the goalkeeper, and it may have gone in on its own but Mbappe secured (snatched?) the goal with a tap-in.
Kylian Mbappe also played a key role with Chelsea’s other representative on France’s squad, N’Golo Kante. France shifted into a 4-4-2 as they transitioned from offence to defence.
Griezmann stayed with Giroud up top, while Matuidi and Mbappe flanked Kante and Pogba on the midfield line.
Kante and Mbappe made a dynamic pressing unit. Mbappe would dart forward to press the Peruvian ball carriers advancing on France’s right side.
Kante would shift to cover a few steps behind Mbappe, a move with several effects. First, this put him in a perfect position to recover the ball if Mbappe disposed the Peru player.
Second, Kante closed the passing lane along the touchline. This forced another Peruvian player to come close to create an outlet. Kante would then follow the pass to mark this player.
If Peru sent the ball back towards their zone under pressure, Kante would sometimes continue the press and Mbappe would hold Kante’s place in the line.
At different times throughout the game, Kante would linger higher up the pitch than Mbappe while monitoring Peru’s passing against their defenders. Upon some trigger, he would quickly retreat to the midfield line to restore the four across.
When France was transitioning into possession, Kante played much more horizontally than he usually does at Chelsea. Instead of his usual box-to-box coverage, he patrolled across the pitch: half-space to half-space. This allowed Paul Pogba to take his creativity and tactical intelligence into the attack.
Both Chelsea men played a variation of their usual role and were instrumental in France’s win.
N’Golo Kante finished the game with 11 defensive actions, second-most on the team: four tackles, four interceptions and three clearances.
Giroud had two shots, three key passes, an unofficial assist and two tackles. More importantly, they enabled France to play as a cohesive, balanced team.
Didier Deschamps is much closer to finding the right suit for his World Cup squad. Depending on Chelsea’s tactics and formations next year, Olivier Giroud and N’Golo Kante may be getting a jump start on their Premier League preparations.