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Tactical confusion and Mbappe missing in action – what went wrong for France?

By June 29, 2021No Comments

World champions and Euro 2020 favourites France were dumped out of the tournament by Switzerland on penalties having led 3-1 with only nine minutes remaining.

Here the PA news agency looks at why Didier Deschamps’ side fell at the first knockout hurdle.

France were supposed to go deep in – if not win – this tournament, what went wrong?

Tactical confusion and Mbappe missing in action – what went wrong for France? PLZ Soccer
France coach Didier Deschamps made a tactical mistake against Switzerland (Vadim Ghirda, AP)

Deschamps’ side are so used to being at the top of their game that sometimes their sense of superiority counts against them. In the wake of their surprise exit their attitude was questioned against a Swiss side who were not expected to cause them too many problems. But there was no press from the front three and that left the midfield exposed. “There wasn’t any togetherness, there wasn’t any spirit. We didn’t play as a team so we didn’t deserve to go to the next round,” was former France World Cup winner Patrick Vieira’s assessment.

Why were they so disjointed?

Tactical confusion and Mbappe missing in action – what went wrong for France? PLZ Soccer
The experiment of playing midfielder Adrien Rabiot at left wing-back did not work (Daniel Mihailescu/AP)

With no fit left-back Deschamps switched to a back three, a formation France had not played this year, and Adrien Rabiot, more used to pulling the strings in midfield, was asked to do a shift as left wing-back. The system also meant Paul Pogba was one of only two central midfielders, a position he is not comfortable with as it requires more discipline than he is used to displaying. It was a fudge and the France boss recognised as much with 10 minutes of the first half remaining by switching to a back four. “A disaster. I didn’t recognise some of the players,” Vieira commented.

So why did this formation change make so much difference?

Tactical confusion and Mbappe missing in action – what went wrong for France? PLZ Soccer
France’s Clement Lenglet played his first match in almost six weeks and only lasted until half-time (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

It introduced Clement Lenglet as the third centre-back, a defender who had not played since his red card for Barcelona on May 16. Lenglet was at fault for Switzerland’s opening goal, failing to even get off the ground as Haris Seferovic towered above him to head home. The Barcelona centre-back did not re-emerge for the second half. The wing-backs also did not provide the width they should have so France focused their attacks centrally, allowing Switzerland to exploit the space out wide.

But France were nine minutes away from going through?

They were, but the instability at the back, weakness in central defence and uncertainty in midfield cost them as Seferovic exploited his advantage to score another header, and Switzerland’s 90th-minute goal came via one pass straight down the centre to the edge of France’s penalty area.

Who gets the blame?

Ultimately Deschamps has to shoulder the responsibility for his confusing set-up but he was not helped by some of his star players struggling with form, most notably Kylian Mbappe. The 22-year-old is rightly regarded as being the next-generation superstar but the Paris St Germain striker had a tournament to forget and this game encapsulated that. On his best day Mbappe could probably have had a hat-trick but he looked lacking in sharpness and departed the tournament having failed to score.

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