FIFA WC: One Tactical Change For Each Semi-Finalist
And then there were four. After 60 games, 157 goals, 19 injury-time goals, 11 own goals, 3 red cards, 3 penalty shootouts, 28 eliminated teams and an umpteen amount of drama, the 2018 FIFA World Cup has come down to four teams: France, Belgium, England and Croatia.
At this point in the competition, every team needs to be at their best if they are to bring the trophy home (or football in England’s case). Yet none of these teams have done that yet- France’s attack still seems to lack teeth, Belgium almost lost to Japan, England struggled to defeat Tunisia and Croatia are only here because of two consecutive penalty-shootout wins. So what are some tactical changes that each manager can consider for the most important game of their lives?
France- Play a Proper Left ‘Winger’- Thomas Lemar
When one takes a look at the France squad, it is impossible not to see them as an offensive juggernaut containing the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Thomas Lemar and Ousmane Dembele. After all, this is a team that could afford to leave Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette and (gulp) Karim Benzema at home. However, in reality, Didier Deschamps has made his side a defensively-sided team as Les Blues have only conceded four goals in the tournament.
In terms of their attack, they have actually struggled- only scoring eight goals up to this point. For comparison Belgium has scored 14, England has scored 11 and Croatia have scored 10. One reason for this is that Deschamps has decided to play an immobile and uncreative striker in Oliver Giroud instead of an additional winger like Lemar, Dembele or Nabil Fekir. However, Deschamps should continue this because his only alternative as a target man is Kylian Mbappe. The 19-year-old would be better served to wreak havoc against Nacer Chadli on the French right.
Instead what Deschamps can do is to play a proper left winger. So far the France manager has preferred to play natural central midfielders (Blaise Matuidi or Corentin Tolisso) in that role. While this provided defensive solidity, it has meant that France has relied on left-back Lucas Hernandez for any attacking production from that side.
Against Belgium, Deschamps can afford to play an out and out winger because Belgian wing-back Thomas Meunier is suspended. All alternatives for Meunier are likely to be defensively minded and thus the left midfielder will not need to defend much. Thus, France could use the attacking quality of someone like Thomas Lemar to break down the Belgian defense.