This stage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 leaves us with the crème de la crème of women’s football. The final eight teams have been decided and we now enter the more exciting match-ups of the entire tournament. The next of the quarter-finals is a gigantic game between two powerhouses in the United States and France. Both teams came into the summer tournament as favourites to take the crown but now face each other in a battle for supremacy and a place in the semi-finals.
Both France and the United States have looked out of sorts lately with both teams scraping through their tough round of 16 ties against Brazil and Spain. France needed an extra winner from captain Amandine Henry whilst the United States were fortunate with their penalty to win by two goals to one. However, both teams will look to put their bad run of form behind them by putting in a fearsome performance for their semi-final opponents. The winner of this tie will have wiped out a major threat from their path to the title.
This tactical preview analysis will look at how both sides will look to impose their strengths and limit their opponents from dominating proceedings.
Squad & Line-ups
Under Jill Ellis, the United States have employed a 4–3–3 formation that has been a pillar to their success this tournament. Alyssa Naeher looks set to start in goal with Abby Dahlkemper and Julie Ertz as the centre-back pairing. Full-backs Kelley O’Hara and Crystal Dunn will likely start alongside them. Ellis’ only real selection headache has come when choosing between the two defensive midfielders. Ertz and Lindsey Horan have both played well, however, there might be the possibility of Ertz slotting into a central defensive position giving Horan a start. The attack should continue with the trio of Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe who have looked excellent so far.
Corinne Diacre will be expected to continue her tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation that has been a success throughout the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The main focus will on the wide areas with Amel Majri, Eugénie Le Sommer, Marion Torrent and Diani providing the attacking impetus. With the United States’ favouring their attacks through Heath and Rapinoe, the two full-backs will need to be slightly more disciplined in their defensive duties. Amandine Henry and Élise Bussaglia will stabilise the central areas and assist the two wide defenders for any potential overloads.
American forward press
The front three for the United States have been critical to their success throughout the tournament. Rapinoe, Morgan, and Heath have terrorised defences using their speed, vision and intelligent movement to outfox defenders. Ellis’ side were the highest scorers in the group stages scoring 17 goals conceding none, however, their first real test came against Spain the round of 16 where they were tested against a spirited Spanish side.
The United States attacking and defensive phase starts with the forwards. When the opposition is in possession, the three forwards look to press the centre-backs forcing them out wide. These passes out wide acts as a trigger for the team to press as the full-backs are stationed higher close to the wingers.
The entire objective is to force the opposition to pass back towards the centre-backs and look to entice them to make mistakes. Their collective press makes them successful in speeding up teams and forcing them into mistakes high up the field. The relentless and intelligent pressing angles are a key to winning games with the front three excelling in this with their constant running.
The above illustration portrays their potential pressing ability and pressure they can put on the opposing team. This high positioning of the full-back creates an overload and forces the opposition to change sides where the opposite pair lay in wait to pounce on the opportunity. Eventually, the team in possession make a mistake with the United States ready to counter-attack immediately.
France have been weary against high pressing strategies in the past where teams have looked to put their defensive players under pressure. There have been moments in this FIFA Women’s World Cup where France have lost possession in dangerous areas against weaker opposition. Teams such as the United States will likely punish any sloppy possession and test the goalkeeper.
As the graphics below show, notice how the Korean attacking midfielder rushes Bussaglia before she receives the ball. The French defensive midfielder is quickly closed down and surrenders possession because of the pressure put on her. The two Korean attackers were ready to initiate an immediate counter-attack.
While Morgan and Rapinoe have stolen the headlines, it is Heath who has shone under the radar for the United States. The winger has been instrumental to Ellis’ tactical system and has provided energy and gusto from her wide position. With the ability to drop deep and influence play going forward, Heath allows her striking partners to profit by creating space and opportunities. Her movement and passing has been particularly impressive with the Portland Thorns winger able to find her teammates with relative ease even from the most impossible scenarios.
During the United States’ game against Sweden in the group stages, we can see Heath has come up against a disciplined and rigid Swedish defensive line. Her only clear option is to seek out Sam Mewis (#3) on the near side, however, Heath instead spots Rose Lavelle asking for possession. After a deceptive through ball towards the Washington Spirit midfielder, Heath immediately moves into the unoccupied space on the edge of the penalty area. Her one pass pushed the Swedish defence deeper allowing her space to shoot.
This pass map from their round of 16 tie against Spain indicates how high Heath usually positions herself. The winger is seen to be the highest stationed player and is yet highly involved in their build-up from deep. Her incredible work rate has seen her rise to become one of Ellis’ golden girls and first name on the team sheet.
France’s defensive transitions
However, France are capable of defending diligently and are quick to transition into a defensive formation that is perfectly equipped to deal with this dangerous wide attacking play. They managed to nullify the Norwegians and keep starlet Caroline Graham Hansen quiet for the majority of the fixture. In truth, this was down to a Diacre master class by nominating Henry to man-mark Hansen in a defensive midfield role. Henry is seen by many as one of the best players women’s football has produced and the French captain has led by example throughout the tournament.
The French team usually transform into a defensive 4-4-2 formation with the full-backs tucking in and wingers slotting in as auxiliary full-backs. This adds an extra layer of protection to France’s defence and forces the opposition to send hopeful deliveries into the centre from deep.
This example clearly highlights France’s off-the-ball positional structure. Both Gaëtane Thiney and Valérie Gauvin are pressing from the front as the rest of the team have slotted into position. Both Le Sommer and Kadidiatou Diani have stationed themselves just in front of the full-backs with the aim of dropping in to cover the empty spaces.
Together with Bussaglia and Henry, they create a de facto back six. The two defensive midfielders patrol the space around them giving France more spatial control as the gap between the centre-backs and defensive midfielders are short. The added benefit of closed off passing lanes makes it extremely difficult for the opposition to penetrate through.
Henry has been defensively intelligent and an influence offensively. The Lyon midfielder influenced both ends of the pitch with her intelligence in positioning and decision-making. Knowing when to make a forward run or cautiously hold back and assess the situation makes her an ideal candidate for a central midfield position. As the graphics below show, Henry has read the situation superbly by ghosting in front of the Brazilian midfielder to calmly intercept the incoming pass and initiate a counter-attack.
White or blue?
Having analysed the French team over the course of the tournament, I believe they still have another gear to push. The analysis showed they were outstanding and clinical against South Korea whereas the knockout round against Brazil required to craft and experience. France have adapted to their opponents, putting in a shift and playing free-flowing football when the chance arose.
Both the United States and France have shown their capabilities throughout this FIFA Women’s World Cup but haven’t performed to the best of their abilities in the last couple of matches. Being able to produce the necessary results whilst playing well enough to scrape past their opponents shows a mark of a champion. I think France’s destiny was written from the first kick of the ball in Paris and will go onto lift the most coveted trophy in women’s football. The United States will not go down without a fight and I expect this to go down to the wire.
If you are following the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 then you will find our FREE tactical preview magazine the perfect compliment to the tournament. You can download it HERE – each nation is previewed and we also profile their key player and young player to watch. Enjoy!