“Bold and audacious”: What France fans can expect tactically from prospective new head coach Hervé Renard – scout report
Corinne Diacre will go down in history as one of the most divisive head coaches of the French women’s national team, with some around the national setup stating their approval of her and others severely disagreeing with her methods.
However, when it came to the players, and particularly those with influence in the side, there is no doubt what the feeling was, with captain Wendie Renard announcing in February that she had become “fed up with the lack of professionalism” around the national side, according to French football journalists, and being swiftly joined by Lyon Féminin clubmates Perle Morroni and Griedge Mbock Bathy and PSG Féminine forwards Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani in stepping away from the team until changes were made.
At that point, the Fédération Française de Football (FFF) stated that they would look into the way that the team was being run, but also reminded everyone that no one was above the institution of the national side. Only five days later though, things got worse for Diacre when FFF President Nöel Le Graët, who had been one of her last remaining supporters, announced his own resignation, following investigations into claims of inappropriate behaviour. With no one left to back her, it came as little surprise when she followed Le Graët out of the door, with her dismissal as head coach being confirmed earlier this month.
The search to replace her unearthed several candidates and some people were interviewed for the role, but the person who now looks set to take over is current Saudi Arabia men’s head coach Hervé Renard. He has been in his current role since 2019 and will be familiar to many football fans as the person who led his side to a remarkable win against eventual champions Argentina in their opening group game of the 2022 men’s World Cup.
He will need to work fast if he is to successfully implement his ideas into the French women’s side, with their own World Cup getting underway in just over four months’ time, and this tactical analysis will look in greater depth at what he could change tactically before and after then and how France could eventually look under his tutelage.
The first thing to mention is that Hervé Renard likes his teams to keep the ball and to not take risks when moving it around, with every side that he has coached during his 23-year career tending to dominate possession statistics (they have averaged 63.7% in 2023 so far) and regularly rack up the pass count.
That idea of not taking risks is particularly evident here, with Saudi Arabia trying to feed the ball into the area behind Oman’s defensive line during the recent Gulf Cup. With the space available and a player making a run into it, there is an opportunity to play the ball directly into their path, but what Saudi Arabia actually do is to play through Turki Al-Ammar, as the yellow arrows show, with two shorter passes being made and not one aerial ball.
By doing so, Saudi Arabia immediately decrease the risk of possession being conceded in transit, with players able to control the ball and continually maintain the accuracy at each stage of the move, and that is the key here.
It is not only unique to his time in the Middle East because journalists and analysts in Africa also noted his desire to not take unnecessary risks when he was in charge of the Zambian and Ivorian men’s teams. Therefore, this tidier style of moving the ball around is definitely something that French fans can expect their side to adopt if he is appointed as Diacre’s replacement.
Playing with that mentality does depend on players having a good touch of the ball though, which is not something that every team has. Fortunately for Renard, the Saudi Arabian players have registered an 82.2% passing accuracy during 2023 and had an 83.2% accuracy for the entirety of 2022, so they rarely give the ball away, and that is one reason that he has been so successful tactically during his time with them.
Here, during one of their many transitions from defence to attack, they are playing through the Yemen midfield with a series of shorter passes, and, as the arrows indicate, their ability to keep hold of the ball means that they don’t find it difficult to locate the open space on the far side of the field.
There are several specific characteristics that playing this way requires though, with communication and excellent spatial awareness being two key ones. Therefore, this only works if players recognise where they need to be and where the next pass needs to go, and it does take time to execute well. Given that there isn’t much time between now and the World Cup, it might not be something that Renard introduces straight away, but it could be a tactic that becomes more visible in the longer term.
However, it’s not just about endless passing in Renard’s tactics, and this is where the hybrid element of his game plan comes in. When in games, he always wants his players to continually scan for opportunities to release the forwards into the areas behind the defensive lines, and that means that they need to be good at recognising when to pass along the ground and when the time is right to abandon that and play directly into the final third.
Here, in their recent friendly against Venezuela, the space has been created by the defensive line moving up the field, and Firas Al-Buraikan has now turned to make a run into that area, with his teammate spotting this and immediately sending the ball in his direction.
Therefore, whilst his primary aim is to keep the ball on the ground and play through opponents in a risk-free manner, Renard also likes his teams to be direct when chances like this present themselves, and those sharp switches in play can and do catch opponents out.
Final third play
The combination of possession-based tactics and direct play is one of the main reasons that Hervé Renard sets up with a 4-2-3-1, which has been Saudi Arabia’s most-used formation under him, because it allows him to maintain numbers in the midfield in order to keep the ball and work opportunities but also to have a target player at the top of the field ready for when those longer balls become appropriate to use.
In order to make that way of playing successful though, Renard needs to be able to trust the player at the top of the field to manage the opposing back line on their own, as is the case here. This can be difficult to find, but what Saudi Arabia have done to ensure that they implement it is to continually rotate who is in that advanced position so as to ensure that they never have to stay there for too long.
This not only allows everyone to get involved in the game through the free-flowing movement that they play with, but also makes it harder for opponents to predict who will push forward and when, so it is another way that Saudi Arabia have adapted to another of their coach’s key demands and made it work.
Another key point to mention about the player in the centre forward role is that they are not just a goalscorer but a creator too, with them needing to be just as good at manipulating opposing defenders and forcing them to leave spaces open as they are at getting on the ball and testing the opposing goalkeeper.
In this case, with left-back Ahmed Bamsaud looking to transfer the ball into the middle, Raed Al-Ghamdi, in the white circle, has opted to move forward and to try and create space behind him for Sumayhan Al-Nabit to receive the ball in, recognising that his role here is not to shoot at goal. Once he starts to edge forward, the two Yemen centre-backs, Harwa Yousef Al-Zubaidi and Mudir Al-Radaei, match his movement, and they instantly lose sight of the ball and allow Al-Nabit to score here.
Therefore, there is variety in the way that Renard’s teams attack and create chances, and that is another thing that will suit the French players at his disposal, with lots of different profiles in their midfield and forward units and a squad that will be able to adapt to his methods.
That variety is shown when looking at another fundamental idea of Renard’s attacking tactics, with his sides also known for making the pitch as wide as possible. Here, Nasser Al-Dawsari has received the ball on the near side of the pitch and is as far over as he can get, and the fact that there was no hesitation from his teammates in the middle when sending the ball towards him shows how moving the ball towards the wing is often the first thing that Saudi Arabia think of when looking to keep their attacks alive.
Elongating their setup in this way also has an impact on the opposition, because it forces them to stretch out and not set up with a compact shape inside their own third. This then plays into Saudi Arabia’s hands, with gaps opening up in the defensive ranks for them to exploit, and the fact that Venezuela right-back Alexander González came out here but was easily isolated demonstrates how this is something that Saudi Arabia are well-drilled in and know how to use to their advantage.
In this case, once González had moved towards the ball, Abdulaziz Al-Bishi was able to run through the gap and receive a short pass from Nasser Al-Dawsari, with the team once again keeping things simple and not taking unnecessary risks.
When his teams are out of possession, Hervé Renard tends to focus on making them as robust as possible, and, whilst he has his preferred shape when they need to be difficult to break down, he is open to switching things around if there is a need to do so.
The game against the USA back in September was a prime example of that ability to alternate because Renard initially asked his team to play in a 4-4-2 shape when out of possession, with players continually rotating and taking turns to move forward and press the ball.
However, there were issues with that setup that became clearer as the game progressed, with the gaps between individual players and between the lines making it easy for the USA to play through them and into the areas behind.
As a result, Renard changed his thinking and transitioned to a 5-3-2, which had an instant positive effect for his side, as their lines were closer together and they had an extra player in their back line to fill the holes that had previously been so prevalent. Here, that means that Chelsea’s former Borussia Dortmund forward Christian Pulisic is no longer able to move the ball into the middle with quite as much ease, due to his teammates not being in a position to control it and move it up the field. As a result, it is now a lot harder for the USA to break Saudi Arabia down.
In previous analysis of Renard’s defensive tactics, it has been noted that he tends to keep an eye on what the opposition are doing with the ball and make tactical decisions accordingly, and that ability to read the game and act when there is a need to is one of the reasons that he has earnt plaudits from those studying his tactics throughout his career.
His ability to adapt to different situations early and do what is needed to rectify them could be something that caught the FFF’s attention during their search for Diacre’s replacement, and it could be what led to him becoming the frontrunner for the role.
However, despite the shape continually evolving as needed, there are a number of elements that need to be in place for Renard’s defensive tactics to have the maximum effect, and one is the need for numbers at the back.
Put simply, Renard never wants his side to be outnumbered inside their own third, as he knows that being so will give the opposition an advantage whenever they get into that area. Therefore, he insists on his team having at least three players in the back line at all times, and, before one player moves out to close the ball, another has to drop back in to maintain that structure.
In this case, with Iraq’s Hasan Abdulkareem getting dangerously close to the Saudi Arabian goal area, Bamsaud has recognised the need to move out and close him down, but he is unable to commit to any form of pressing until Madallah Al-Olayan has moved back towards the rest of the defensive line.
This ability to continually adapt and work together at the back is one of the main reasons that Saudi Arabia don’t concede many goals per game, with them letting in an average of 1.5 in 2023 and just 0.92 in 2022, whilst they have been successful in 71.6% of their defensive duels during their four games so far this year.
Therefore, if Renard’s appointment as France’s head coach is confirmed as expected, France would have a coach who knows how to make his team tough to beat, and that might help them to regain confidence in their overall play after what has been a tumultuous period with Diacre at the helm.
In terms of when his teams tend to engage their opponents, that also tends to fluctuate, with this graphic indicating Saudi Arabia’s average defensive territory throughout Renard’s time in charge.
However, what is also clear to see is that Saudi Arabia tend to make a greater percentage of their interceptions inside their own half and commit more fouls in the opposing half, which suggests that they are more adept at defending in deeper positions and don’t often succeed when pressing up the pitch.
That is not always the case, with it being noted during his time in Africa that his sides did push up the field to win the ball, so what that again demonstrates is that Renard is adaptable and comes up with game plans that suit what he has available to him. This is something else that the FFF may have been attracted to and which will definitely help as they build towards what they hope will be a positive World Cup display.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked at what fans of the French women’s football team can expect from their prospective new manager, Hervé Renard, with talks reportedly reaching a successful end in the last week and the only thing still to be sorted being his severance from the Saudi Arabian Football Federation.
What has been clear throughout the analysis is that he would bring a lot of clarity to France’s play and that he is not afraid to make changes during games if there is a need to do so. His tactics have been described as “bold and audacious” by some who have studied them, and that will give the players a lot of hope that this is the start of a new era for them and one that includes more harmony between them and the coach. So far, the reports are that they have taken well to his expected appointment, which is already a positive sign, and perhaps those who spoke out and exiled themselves will now come back into the fold.
However, even with the expectation that some previously burnt bridges will be partially if not completely restored, it should be kept in mind that Renard has never managed in the women’s game before, so it will be an entirely new experience for him and he will need time to adjust to its demands.
Unfortunately, with a major tournament on the horizon, that is a luxury that he won’t have, with the clock ticking ahead of the trip down under, and work will need to start immediately if he is to have the desired impact and meet fan and board expectations when the action gets underway.