In the 2018 FIFA World Cup, France showed the entire planet what they are capable of, winning the trophy for the first time since 1998. Not many teams have the longevity and quality to win back-to-back major national tournaments i.e. Spain between 2008 and 2012, but this France team may be able to challenge that notion. With an intent to play intense, attacking football and a squad that compliments this philosophy, they are the many people’s favourites to win this year’s UEFA European Championship.
The French have suffered the taste of defeat three times since that 2018 triumph, falling second-best in games against the Netherlands, Turkey, and most recently Finland. This tells us that while they have an immensely talented squad with good depth to it, they are not an invincible team. However, since that 2018 World Cup final win over Croatia, they’ve demonstrated the ability to beat the best of the best, picking up wins against teams like the Netherlands and Germany.
Above is arguably France’s strongest starting XI, using the formation that has been most common for them in recent fixtures. There are a number of positive elements about this line-up, aside from the actual quality of the individuals that is. Firstly, the majority of these players are yet to even reach their prime years as footballers, so their ability will only develop over time. Secondly, something that is more relevant to the upcoming Euros is their strength in depth, with strong options on standby in every position.
The defensive unit embodies the style of play that manager Didier Deschamps wants his side to deploy – each player possesses at least average pace, with a good level of ability on the ball: being able to comfortably play out of defence via passing or dribbling and being strong as a defender. Furthermore, like the rest of the predicted starting 11, the back four all have experience at the very top level, having competed for domestic titles and Champions Leagues in recent years. With the likes of Lucas Digne and Clément Lenglet amongst the substitutes too, there is no shortage of cover in the case of an injury, suspension, or purely squad rotation. Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte will also be in and around the first team, and will give Deschamps a selection headache as to who starts alongside Real Madrid’s Varane. With several teams having dangerous attacks, this back unit will be pivotal if France are to find any success.
The midfield unit could be one area that raises questions, more specifically about the consistency of Paul Pogba and whether they opt to play Mbappe on the wing to allow Benzema the central role. A player like Moussa Sissoko offers depth in central areas, ready to be called upon to undertake any number of roles depending on the match scenario. N’Golo Kante offers something that is priceless to France as there are not many players like the Chelsea midfielder. His defensive capabilities will be essential in France being able to plug opposition attacks and quickly turn them into attacking moves of their own.
Their attacking unit is something that nearly every nation will be envious of. Kylian Mbappé has shown the world time and time again what he is capable of – at both club and national level, and we believe he will operate as an attacking left-winger to ultimately link up with Karim Benzema in the number 9 role – a potential switch to 4-4-2 midgame to allow the two to play together up front is also on the cards. The experienced Olivier Giroud is just one of the options available from the bench and offers France a different attacking route as his game is centred more around his physicality rather than pace.
When we look at the ages of French players who we expect to be in with a shout of call-up to the team for the Euros, we see that the majority of the expected starters are, as touched upon earlier, yet to reach the years of their career. While a lack of experience is not an issue for this team as their squad isn’t hugely different from the 2018 World Cup squad, the footballing knowledge of senior players like Kante, Giroud, Lloris etc. could be priceless, especially for things like game management and dressing room influence.
There are also a number of players who are yet to reach 23 years of age, including Mbappé, meaning France’s squad will be in safe hands for the next few years. Players like Christopher Nkunku, Houssem Aouar, and Eduardo Camavinga to name a few have huge potential to help France maintain their incredibly high standards in the next few major international competitions. These players have also collected a good amount of match experience at club level (relative to their age) based on their number of minutes this season. Despite there being some stiff competition in a number of positions, players such as Griezmann and Kimpembe who have been regular starters for their respective clubs throughout this campaign, are likely to heavily feature for France this summer.
Below is the confirmed 26-man squad for France this summer:
Wissam Ben Yedder
This attacking radar France can give us an indication of their preferred attacking tactics. With a rank of 48% possession per game, we shouldn’t expect to see them deploy a Barcelona/Manchester City-esque approach where they look to push the opposition deep into their half and play slower, more patient football around the penalty. On the flip side, don’t expect them to sit back and play very defensively – their possessional approach is simply more focused on quick build-up play.
However, as we can see by their numbers in forward passes per 100 passes and directness in possession, they are no strangers to recycling possession and looking for an alternative avenue of attacking. This is where players like Paul Pogba become very useful: an ability to create chances/forward an attack from a variety of methods is rare, and we have seen Pogba produce in relation to this for France in the past.
Winning offensive duels clearly isn’t a strength of the French, meaning they look to play efficiently, making the ball do the work, not looking to get into many 1v1 duels – whether that’s on the ground or in the air.
They do rank well in the xG department, and if you look at their results over the last year or so, scoring goals isn’t a big issue for them – and nor should it be with the players at their disposal. They also rank around midway when it comes to touches in the penalty area and shots per match, which shows they can pose a threat to opposition midfield and defensive units.
One element of France’s game that will be a danger to other sides is their ability to play through the lines to launch an attack into dangerous territory. With the opposition midfield occupied with closing the space in France’s half, it sometimes leaves considerable space between the midfield and defence, and as we can see above, France have the right player in Griezmann to make the most of these sort of scenarios. The Barcelona man drifts into this space and makes himself free, before receiving a fizzed-in pass. But we know this isn’t just a random one-off happening for France as their progression after this first pass allowed them to create a clear-cut chance. As the ball travelled into Griezmann’s feet, Pogba peeled away from his starting position and made himself available in a better position to receive the bounce-back pass from his teammate. With the opposition midfield unable to recover quickly enough, France are able to exploit this and surge forward quickly to take on the defence.
France have an element of variation to their attacking philosophy, but attacking via the flanks is a popular one with them. While the build-up play remains practically the same to reach areas like the one they find themselves in above, their end product varies on who their striker is. In this instance, Giroud is the man leading the line, so we see more direct play – more floated crosses into the Chelsea striker for him to make an aerial challenge. Analysing this scenario first, we see that the wide midfielder will almost always have support from the full-back, either making overlapping runs or drifting in close-by to become a passing option. Furthermore, another midfield will likely be close to the crosser to offer himself an alternative option – this can also drag an opponent out of position to mark him, freeing up space to be exploited. We also see Griezmann floating at the edge of the box, with a space to his right to be taken advantage of. While we won’t see a great deal of that from him, we have seen it from Mbappe when he’s played as a left winger with Giroud up-front.
Moving onto how France would approach from the wide areas with Mbappe present as a striker, we may still see floated crosses, but only if there are a number of other teammates in the box to cause danger. Aside from this, expect to see a few more passing combinations to get France towards the byline before a low-cross/pull-back to a lurking France player.
France’s team has the ability to be very solid defensively in midfield, as we will see below. However, they also have the ability to give attacking licences to more midfielders than they usually would, especially in games that they expect to dominate, with the opponents chasing a goal. Each player in the attack will take up a position that looks to exploit either an open space or some poor positioning from a defender that they can create a passing combination from. Poise and composure is key in these scenarios, timing the next pass is the make or break action: with the players in this France side, however, this should not be an issue. The thing they would have to be cautious of, though, is losing the ball and quickly being overrun in midfield as the opponents transition into a counterattack.
We said earlier that France’s defensive unit will be crucial to any success they find in the summer, and we can see that has been the case prior to writing. While they struggled in duels higher up the pitch, they are obviously very capable in these areas at the back: high rankings for defensive duels won, aerial duels won, and recoveries in their own third indicate that they are difficult to break down, and also that their defensive players are capable in a variety of 1v1 situations.
They also rank nicely for recoveries in the final third, which gives a big insight into the philosophy for when they lose possession. They look to win the ball back as quickly as possible with clever positioning in a counterpress.
Here we see a defensive tactic that we are likely to see quite often from France this summer, with the average quality of opponents being higher than what they faced during the qualifying campaign. While Deschamps’ side are unlikely to park the bus and sit deep for a large period of the game, we will see them set up to block an incoming opposition attack by limiting the space and therefore the passing options. In these instances, the midfield unit is solely responsible for remaining compact enough to do exactly that, leaving little space between themselves and their defensive unit too. Each player in that midfield unit also positions themselves to be effective at stopping an opponent near them should that be required. In front of the midfield will be the attacking unit – whether that’s the lone striker and the attacking midfield in their 4-2-3-1, or both strikers in their 4-4-2 formation. Notice how Giroud and Griezmann are inside their own half, leaving little distance between each other as well as their own midfield unit, again limiting that midfield space for the opposition. It’s those areas where France will look to close in and win the ball back to cause a turnover in possession before launching their own attack.
As we mentioned, France won’t deploy the same off-the-ball strategy every time. We will also see them look to press the opposition, especially in midfield areas. This will often be based on triggers such as a poor pass, poor first touch, or even the opponents turning/passing backwards. Essentially, as soon as the threat to France is lowered, they will apply pressure to force a mistake from the opponent. The nearest player will shut down the man on the ball, with a number of surrounding teammates either keeping a close eye on potential passing options or covering space behind the first presser. In many cases, as the midfield unit are able to push the opposition back, we will also see France’s backline and remaining midfielders push higher up the pitch, closing the gap and ultimately applying more pressure to the other team.
France will look to execute a counterattack in most cases where they manage to stop an opposition attack and retain possession (keeping the ball in play and under control), but the intensity to which they do so depends on the situation (game time, score line, where they won the ball etc). However, the principles of their attacking transition remain the same regardless. The midfield who regained possession, Rabiot in the image above, will have a winger/striker directly ahead of him surging forward as an immediate option. On the far side, another runner will get himself into a position where he can be of assistance once the attack reaches the final third – the central striker also does this. A number of supporting teammates will also join the attack, but won’t dash forward in front of the man on the ball, instead simply remaining closely behind him. This performs two actions – it makes them available as the safe passing option if the opposition are able to shut down the attacking options, but it also offers defensive protection in the event of another possession turnover. In attack, though, France will keep things fresh in terms of where they attack – they are not strictly limited to just attacking the flanks.
In terms of how France react to losing possession, we will see a similar mindset to their approach in attacking transitions. More often than not, they will look to swarm the opposition with intense pressure, forcing either an immediate turnover in possession, or forcing the opponent into a mistake like a stray pass. France do this by having the midfield compact, ready to surround the opponent on the ball. The nearest man will apply pressure with a tackle if possible, with covering midfielders on their toes ready to either collect the ball or to commit to a tackle if an opponent rushes at them with the ball. While this is a high-pressure method which is very difficult to play through, there are teams in the Euros who will be well equipped to deal with this method, so France will need to ensure that they have the necessary cover to combat this.
In some scenarios, however, we will see France retreat to limit the danger of being exposed between midfield and defence, or to preserve energy – again this depends on variables like the score, the opponent, and the time remaining in the game.
The split graph above helps us decipher how clinical France’s strikers are, and which players they may turn to in games/situations where taking an alternative approach is required. It comes as absolutely no surprise that Mbappe is out on top in both of the graphs – his involvement is highlighted in a very positive light above. With a healthy number of shots and touches in the penalty area averaged each game, we can get a good sense of how much he likes to be involved in attacking phases – this also becomes apparent if you simply watch him play for a few minutes. France also have a surprise return in the form of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, who has been recalled to the national side for the first time in years. As our data suggests, he is still a lethal striker who will be able to provide fantastic cover in any situation where Mbappe is absent from the striker role.
Mbappe isn’t the only one with impressive numbers in either/both graphs, though. Celtic striker Odsonne Édouard is a very dangerous backup option for Deschamps to consider, with the 23-year-old demonstrating quality and consistency in goal contribution metrics as well as his involvement in the penalty area.
While the experienced Olivier Giroud finds himself middle of the pack on the left-hand-side graph for shots and touches in the penalty per 90, this is reflective of his play style as he often likes to drop in deeper to help link up the play to progress the attack. We all know the quality Giroud offers in front of goal, and if any doubt remains, his xG goal contribution and goal contribution % numbers should put that to rest. Griezmann’s numbers in these areas are also worth paying attention to while remembering his operations will likely fluctuate between the role of an advanced midfielder and a shadow striker for Mbappe.
Another noteworthy element of the above graph is that yet again we get an idea of the immense strength of depth Deschamps has at his disposal – even the names towards the lower ends of the graphs would be able to offer a good level of attacking threat and an alternative attacking method. Deschamps would have had arguably the best backup striker in the entire competition had Karim Benzema still been in and around the national team picture.
The split graphs for the midfielders help paint a picture of who we should expect to be contributing to build-up play and getting on the end of attacking phases. Firstly, we will focus on the two central midfielders who we predicted will start in France’s strongest line-up – Kante and Pogba. As we know, Kante’s most effective traits relate to the defensive side of the midfield role, acting as protection for his back-four behind him. Despite this, we can see that he offers a good number of progressive passes per 90 minutes, showing that once he has retrieved the ball from the feet of an opponent, he has the mindset and technical know-how to release the ball into a more advanced area of the pitch. What isn’t much of a surprise, though, is his contribution towards goals – again though, this is reflective of his role in that midfield both for France and Chelsea. Pogba was outstanding for France in their previous World Cup campaign, and Deschamps will hope to bring that side of his game to the forefront once more in this year’s Euros. Like Kante, Pogba finds himself playing a high number of progressive passes, which we see from him frequently in a Manchester United shirt, and we expect to see it in a France shirt this summer, especially in games where France may be forced to take an approach centred around counterattacking.
Behind those two are some interesting options for France to explore in terms of creativity from midfield areas. Steven N’Zonzi and Adrien Rabiot are two solid understudies for Kante’s role, should he become unavailable. N’Zonzi’s experience across a multitude of leagues has him well equipped for pressure situations, while Rabiot’s ability to have a calming impact in midfield could also come in useful.
Looking at the numbers a little more closely, we may see the likes of Corentin Tolisso of Bayern Munich play an important part, as he has shown that he can contribute nicely in xgoal contributions, passes to the final third, and progressive passes – all important elements of France’s style of play.
The graph on the left gives us an insight into how France’s defenders perform in a defensive capacity, looking at their interceptions as well as their average number of successful defensive actions per 90. 23-year-old right-back Ruben Aguilar impresses in both of these areas, and with that level of consistency, the Monaco player will be very good competition for Pavard at that right-back spot.
Ferland Mendy may struggle to win a regular place in Deschamps’ side this summer, partly because of how well Lucas Hernandez has played this season, but also because of Mendy’s lack of consistency. According to our data, the Real Madrid left-back has struggled in both of the above defensive areas.
Modern football requires defenders to be comfortable on the ball, offering their team another dimension of breaking out and building up play. Therefore, we have the graph on the right-hand side to uncover which French defenders shine when it comes to progressive runs and passes. Clement Lenglet is another defender who stands out in the data who could provide a strong defensive option for France. The Barcelona man, despite having a season of mixed fortunes, possesses the tools capable of being of benefit to this back line. It is likely that he will compete with Kimpembe for that left-sided central defensive role next to Varane.
Again, we can get another idea of how important Lucas Hernandez may be for France this summer, showing that he is very good both defensively and on the ball. His pace and technical capability will allow him to contribute in a variety of scenarios.
While there are a number of players who will be crucial for France in several areas of the pitch, we believe Kylian Mbappe will be their biggest asset, and our data will give you a good idea as to why.
If we firstly consider his performance in the area of attacking and shooting – where we will see him primarily operate for France, we can see he boasts incredible records for several different metrics, blowing the median of other Ligue 1 strikers out of the water. His goal record isn’t reliant on penalties, and he chips in with a goal contribution in a strong number of games. However, as we can see, one area that isn’t as strong (still not really a weakness for him) is his headed goals average. He may still be a threat in the air, however, due to his power and athleticism, but many teams would prefer to defend against him in an aerial duel rather than a ground duel. His dribbling is also an important part of Mbappe’s game: whether it’s a quick burst of acceleration or his pace over longer distances, this player running at full speed with the ball at his feet is very difficult to stop without giving a foul away.
Moving onto his performance in the passing and progression section of analysis, we can use the data to gauge an idea of how consistent Mbappe is with passing in various scenarios. Again, for the majority of the areas covered above, he is above the median for strikers in the division. He gets into good positions to be able to provide assists or important passes that progress an attack, making a good number of key passes and passes into the penalty area too. This tells us that his footballing IQ is high, and he is more than just a clinical goalscorer.
It isn’t worth putting a major scope over his defensive input, as this won’t be something we see much of from a France striker in this tournament. We can get a good idea of how successful he is once he gets into a duel, however: Aerial duels is not an area where he shines, but his percentage of defensive duels won suggests that he also has some defensive qualities in the locker too.
PREDICTIONS FOR THE TOURNAMENT
As we mentioned earlier, for many people, France are one of the favourites to win the 2020 European Championship, and quite frankly they are well equipped to do so. They have good experience in dealing with the pressure of playing in high-pressure games and on their day they look dangerous enough to beat anybody by a convincing margin. If they can maintain consistency in players like Pogba and Lemar, as well keeping their defensive unit competitive yet united, they will be very difficult to score against, never mind beat. Ultimately, France will be expecting themselves to win the tournament this year, but with strong competition from the likes of England, Portugal, and Spain to name just three, it likely won’t be a walk in the park.