Despite the number of key players faltering just days ahead of the World Cup, France was among the favourites to retain the title. Two factors have been integral to Les Blues’ run to the semifinals: their incredible squad depth and head coach Didier Deschamps.
Paul Pogba, NG’olo Kante, Karim Benzema, Lucas Hernandez, Presnel Kimpembe and Christopher Nkunku were ruled out yet the French’s quality in reserve has made up for their losses. Deschamps, who has been at the helm for 10 years and has led them to two tournament finals, has found the balance between attack and defence.
France also has the best player in the world right now in forward Kylian Mbappe, who at 23 has nine World Cup goals – five in 2022. France has had an average possession of 48% in the tournament and is happy to play the waiting game. In Mbappe on the left and Ousmane Dembele on the right, the two-time champion has frightening pace and creativity to hurt the opposition in transition. Only Mbappe and, to a lesser extent, Dembele are relieved off defensive duties, with their energy and running utlilised in attack.
France don’t set out to play the most attractive football but has been effective in its approach. Deschamps sets his team out in a 4-3-3 formation with three central midfielders in Aurlien Tchouameni, Adrien Rabiot and Antoine Griezmann. In these three, Deschamps have three hard-working midfielders with unique qualities where Tchouameni is tasked with breaking up play, Rabiot is deployed as the box-to-box midfielder and Griezmann has the creative outlet in the middle of the park.
Griezmann’s role has been remodelled from four years ago in Russia, where he played off Olivier Giroud in attack in a no. 10 role. In Qatar, the Atletico Madrid star has spent more time on the ball in the middle third on the pitch than the attacking third as compared to the 2018 World Cup. The numbers are telling to. While he had four goals and two assists in the title-winning run, he has registered three assists – joint-highest – in this campaign. He has also created the most number of chances (17) in this World Cup so far. Griezmann’s evolution has helped offset Pogba’s absence in midfield.
In defence, Deschamps has finally settled on a back four of Theo Hernandez, Dayot Upamecano, Raphael Varane and Jules Kounde. In build-up play, only Hernandez offers overlap runs and width on the left flank but Kounde, a natural centre-back often holds his position alongside Varane and Upamecano. Hernandez has created 11 chances in four games and is only behind Griezmann and Lionel Messi in the leaderboard.
While France hasn’t kept a cleansheet in the tournament, skipper Hugo Lloris has made a big difference in goal with his saves. He has thwarted eight of the 12 shots on target in his four matches and was instrumental in the quarterfinal win over England.
One of the biggest success in this edition has been Giroud’s goals up front. The big target man didn’t score in any of the seven matches in 2018, but here he has scored four already. At 36, Giroud still offers work-rate off the ball in helping his team regain possession and in dealing with set pieces in his own box.
The only match it has lost so far was the inconsequential group stage match against Tunisia, where it rested nine first-team players.
France’s road to semifinal
How to overcome Morocco?
In Morocco, France will find an opponent, who will look to frustrate them on the ball. Morocco has surpised all-comers with its run to the semifinal. Among the semifinalists, Morocco has scored the lowest number of goals (5) and has conceded the lowest number of goals (1). Walid Regragui’s men have had the lowest average possession (28%) among the teams left with its highest possession in a game coming up against Canada (36%).
Morocco sets up in a low block defensive system and look to close of the passing lines in between the midfield and behind the defence. The Atlas Lions have conceded only an own goal in five matches and their goals against (xGA) metric reads only 4.23. While chances against them have been at a premium, the attackers have to go up against Yassine Bounou in goal.
Regragui wll be sweating on the fitness of left-back Noussair Mazraoui and centre-back pairing of Nayef Aguerd and Romain Saiss, who was stretchered off in the win over Portugal. While Morocco will put up a fight without the trio, their presence will provide them with a big boost against France.
When Morocco do come in possession of the ball, it will look to attack directly at pace in the form of its wingers – Sofiane Boufal and Hakim Ziyech -- and the support provided by its full-backs – Mazraoui and Achraf Hakimi. France will look to its full-backs and midfielders to thwart Morocco’s runs through the flanks.
Giroud’s ability to find spaces to conjure shots and his aerial presence will be key in overcoming the Moroccan rearguard. France needs to create overloads on the left for Griezmann, Mbappe and Hernandez to get in to crossing and cut-back positions for Giroud to get on the end of.
Another key battle will be Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) teammates Mbappe and Hakimi going up against each other on the wings.
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