EURO 2020: how France got it wrong by playing Griezmann as a winger against Hungary – tactical analysis
The group of death from Euro 2020 saw another interesting clash between world champions France travel to Budapest to take on underdogs Hungary which on paper looks to be the most one-sided clash of the group.
While France came into the match on the back of an impressive win against Germany, Hungary were handed a 3-0 defeat by Portugal which looked to be very harsh on them as they competed extremely well against the defending champions. Contrary to the expectations, the game turned out to be an evenly contested fixture as Hungary put in a spirited performance to earn a draw.
Marco Rossi made one change to the lineup that played against Portugal as he brought in Loic Nego in place of Gergo Lovrencsics in the left wing-back position. France on the other hand went with the same team that beat Germany 1-0 a few days back as Deschamps was keen on playing his best team to be in pole position to win the group and secure an easier knockout fixture.
Hungary’s efficient system disrupt France
Hungary’s 3-5-2 system caused a lot of issues for Portugal in their first game as their intensity and efficiency in transitioning their system from a 5-3-2 into a 3-2-5 and vice versa proved to be very tough to handle until a late collapse. They went with the same tactics and looked to trouble France the same way. Their 3-5-2 system predominantly settled into a 5-3-2 mid-block as the two forwards and three midfielders formed a box at the centre of the pitch to stop them from progressing centrally. We can see an example of that in the image below where Rabiot receives the ball inside that box but is not able to turn and pass as he would be quickly closed down by the Hungary players from all angles.
Hungary didn’t look to press the centre-backs very high and knew the threat that would occur if they did so and conceded the space in between the lines for Mbappe or Pogba. They did set some pressing triggers and they mostly occurred in the wide areas. When France looked to play the ball down the wing due to lack of central progression, the Hungarian wing-back on that side would jump immediately to press the full-back while the central midfielder on that side would press the French CM. This man-man zonal system largely caused France to stop certain attacks from progressing. We can see an example of that in the image below.
This pressing would however also be flexible where sometimes the wing-back would not go higher up to press and if one of the France players commit himself higher then the wing-back would stay deep and the central midfielder would take the responsibility to press the wide player while also being smart in maintaining the cover shadow to a nearby player like in the image below.
The obvious challenge for Hungary would be to be disciplined throughout the game and maintain their principles. They had to deal very well with the threat of Mbappe and Benzema stretching their defence vertically and finding gaps in between the lines to receive the ball. So being principled and disciplined throughout the game was very vital for Rossi’s men.
Though they had very little possession and territory throughout the game, whenever they had the ball they looked to play out from the back by looking to draw France higher up the pitch. This is to bait them into pressing higher and looking to find gaps in between the lines for the likes of Szalai and Sallai to drop and receive the ball and run at the defence.
Also playing a 4-3-3 system, France found it extremely difficult to press Hungary and maintain proper coverage through the pitch. With the centre-backs positioned very far away from each other and wide, the forwards weren’t able to cover the players behind them and press the centre-backs. We can see an example in the image above where the Hungarian centre-back can step forward as Griezmann was unable to close the passing lane to the wide centre-back and changed his positioning paving way for the step forward. With the wing-back high and wide, Hungary now have double-teamed on Pogba as they have a 2v1 situation in the wing. Pavard could not step up in time to press him and Hungary progressed the ball forward.
In the above image, we can see another example of the same instance with Griezmann as the Barcelona forward cannot find an optimal cover-shadow to the wide wing-back while he pressurized the CB. The Hungarian LCB now has a passing lane to the wing-back and with Schafer dragging Pogba, the Fiola can now easily play a pass to Nagy (circled) into the interior.
Hungary were always going to target France on the counter-attack and they came with some tactics to implement that. The first one was to target the space behind N’golo Kante when he stepped forward to carry the ball or move up the attack. With Kante not being a progressive passer from the deep but a decent carrier of the ball, the Chelsea talisman was inclined to carry from the deep when he had the ball. This meant that the backline was exposed without someone screening the backline. We can see an example of that in the image below where Hungary intercepts the ball and look to break. Kante (circled) is higher up the pitch and has vacated the space meaning that now Kleinheisler can now attack the space and run at the defence.
Analyzing their goal, we can see that they used their system to good effect by targeting the deficiencies of the 4-3-3 system against the wing-back system. We already mentioned before Pavard was unable to press the Hungarian wing-back when the ball was played out wide. France already found it difficult as Hungary found it as a tool to progress the ball. So when Pavard decided to step out of his line and be more proactive like in the image below, it was the right moment for Hungary to target the space behind the defence. As Pavard stepped up, he was caught in no man’s land and a quick one-two between Fiola and Szalai saw the former being released to score a goal.
France get it wrong with Griezmann’s position
Though Hungary were extremely good and stuck well to their plan, France’s issues were also down to their strange tactics from Deschamps. The main problem was playing Griezmann as a right-wing forward. Deschamps shift from a 4-3-1-2 to a 4-3-3 was logical given that France struggled to progress down the right flank due to lack of progression from Pavard on that side. This forced Deschamps to move Griezmann to the flank to help with the progression. We can see an example of Griezmann positioning a little deep and playing a cross from the deep to the likes of Mbappe and Benzema.
Though these crosses from the deep caused some issues initially, it became too predictable for Hungary as the game went on. Griezmann is someone who isn’t a natural winger that can take on defenders by cutting inside. His influence is more valuable when he receives the ball in between the lines and plays key passes to the front two making a run in behind. With him not taking defenders and unstabling them, Hungary found it easy to defend as the game went on. We can see how there is a gap in between the lines and those are the spaces where Griezmann would drop into and look to be threatful.
With Griezmann positioned as an inside forward, France didn’t have a player to connect their defence and attack centrally. In the example below, Kimpembe looks to play the ball through the lines to find a player but he couldn’t find anyone and it fell right to Nagy who didn’t make a huge effort to intercept it. We can also see how isolated the front line is without any bridge between them and the defence.
Most of France’s best and threatening moments came when there was a player ready to drop in between the lines and receive the ball. We can see an example of such an instance in the image below where counter-movements from Rabiot and Mbappe (the former makes a run higher up the pitch to engage the defence while the latter drops) means that Mbappe can drop as Rabiot has kept the defensive line stretching. He immediately turns after receiving the ball and plays a shot-assist to Benzema.
Griezmann also got into these positions when he had a fluid interchange with the likes of Pogba where the Manchester United star often positioned himself in the wings to play a cross if needed. These situations could have been used a lot by France as it definitely played to Griezmann’s strength of finding himself in these pockets of spaces in between the lines while the supreme technical ability of Pogba means he can provide the width by playing the cross that is usually expected from a full-back.
Also, there was a non-Griezmann issue for France which was their strategy during the buildup. They used just two centre-backs during build up instead of three which meant that the full-backs were afraid to go higher up the pitch and act as wing-backs as a break would mean the CBs would be exposed in a 2v2 situation. The likes of Kante or Rabiot could have dropped more often as that would have given France two unique advantages, one of the centre-backs could have stepped forward with the ball more often and also the wing-backs could have positioned very higher that could have stretched the defensive line horizontally. An example of this can be seen in the image below where all the three French midfielders are higher and none of them have dropped. This forced the full-backs to stay deeper and Hungary can defend without being stretched by the forwards.
France eventually scored from a counter-attack and also had few great chances in the match which they should have scored. But from an overall view, it was largely a poor performance from the World Champions as they struggled to break down the resolute Hungarian defence. Their game against Portugal now gets more interesting where either of them can qualify or get knocked out if they don’t make it as one of the best 3rd place teams. Especially for France, they have scored just 2 goals in 2 games and those could be very influential when the goal difference of the teams are level. Hungary meanwhile will travel to Germany and will look to pull off an upset and look for an outside qualification into the knockouts.