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For the first game of its short South American tour, France lost in a friendly against Uruguay (1-0). Three tactical thoughts on the third defeat in four games in 2013 for Les Bleus.
August 2012. France hosts Uruguay in Le Havre. Didier Deschamps‘ first game in charge ends up with a goalless draw for the fourth time in a row between the two teams. The former Marseille manager opted for a 4-4-2, pairing Benzema and Giroud up front. Since then, time has passed and choices have been made.
France’s main formation is now a 4-2-3-1, like the one set up on Wednesday night. Mathieu Valbuena stood up as the real play-maker. But other sectors are still under construction : the center-back pairing, still fluctuating, with the new-comer Eliaquim Mangala being tested in Uruguay ; the right winger position, where no one has established himself ; the composition of the double pivot in front of the defence.
On the contrary, Oscar Tabarez has hardly made any changes to his system. In the second half, his 3-5-2 resembled a lot the formation set up in August. Only some men, especially up front, were different. His project has been running for several years now, while Didier Deschamps’ remains quiet sketchy.
1. Each team had its chance on the wings
The tactical battle between a 3-4-1-2 and a 4-2-3-1 can lead to mismatches in several areas of the pitch. On the wings, for instance, with only one player on each flank in the former formation, compared to two in the latter. But that does not necessarily give the 4-2-3-1 a superiority in these areas.
Thus, La Celeste was threatening from its right wing. Maxi Pereira‘s intermediate position, being not a true winger nor a right-back, unsettled France defence. Yoann Gourcuff, like Dimitri Payet on the other flank, was apparently told not to cover him, focusing rather on cutting Coates‘ passing-lines. As far as Benoît Trémoulinas was concerned, he remained in the alignment of his defence, as chasing Maxi Pereira high up the pitch would disrupt France’s zonal marking.
That left space in front of the Benfica player, allowing him to run at Tremoulinas. And when Diego Forlan – and later Luis Suarez – moved to the right flank, they created two-on-ones. The only goal of the game came from such a play. It was scored by Suarez (1-0, 50e), whose contribution will be detailed later on.
For their part, Bacary Sagna and Benoît Tremoulinas also created two-on-ones with their runs down the wings. But their numerous crosses led to nothing, partly because of their imprecision, but also because Olivier Giroud lacked support against the three Uruguayan centre-backs.
2. The danger came from the Valbuena – Payet relationship
Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille) and Dimitri Payet (Lille) were the best Ligue 1 assist providers this season (twelve assists each). On Wednesday, they displayed a sweet understanding on the pitch(1). Payet normally plays on the left wing with Lille, but he was lined up on the right flank this time. He still played as usual, cutting inside to create chances for himself and his team-mates. Thus, he had many shots on goal, but failed to score. “I had no pressure”, Payet said after the game. “I wanted to play, to have fun. I had good sensations, I enjoyed myself.”
Mathieu Valbuena played a big part in the building of these chances. By dropping deep, he dragged Arevalo Rios out of position, thus opening space for Payet. Playing very close to one another enabled Valbuena and Payet to combine. They played intuitively, fastening the circulation of the ball. In contrast, Yoann Gourcuff looked slow and clumsy.
3. Ramirez and Suarez turn things around
Off to a good start, Uruguay then lost the control of the game as the first period went by. Its block stretched, with a low defensive line to compensate for its slowness and forwards still high up the pitch to play the counter. Arevalo Rios and Walter Gargano‘s pressing was very intense on the ball handler but lost its efficiency. La Celeste had to play long balls from the back, and its only chance in the first hald came from a Forlan corner headed wide by Caceres (10e).
At half-time, Oscar Tabarez reorganised his midfield. Sebastian Eguren and Gaston Ramirez came in for Nicolas Lodeiro and Arevalo Rios. The triangle was inverted and solidified around Gargano. That slowed down France, with one more player focused first on his defensive duty.
Offensively, the addition of Ramirez’s work-rate and his accurate left foot were game-changers. Suarez was also decisive, coming in for Diego Forlan at the half. “We should have led at the half”, Didier Deschamps said after the game. “But Suarez coming in did us harm.”
Less of a play-maker but more unsettling. The kind of world-class striker that France painfully lacks at the moment. An all-round threat, skilled with the ball, evasive, dropping back as well as calling for through balls. His goal came from the latter, after a nice long ball from Ramirez to Maxi Pereira.
1- It may have pleased OM fans, as Dimitri Payet is said to be a Marseille transfer target.