France, the favourites to win EURO 2020 following their World Cup victory, crashed out in disappointing fashion on Monday night. Shyam takes a deep dive into why they lost against Switzerland.
30th June 2021
Cockiness and Complacency: made in France
“No spirit, no togetherness and a poor attitude,” Patrick Vieira said with an expression mixed with disbelief, disgust and anger after witnessing France’s capitulation vs Switzerland. Stinging words, but reflective of the performance put in by Les Bleus, as they threw away a 3-1 lead to the Swiss before being beaten on penalties. Coming into this tournament, France were clear favourites. And why wouldn’t they be? Reigning world champions, world-class players in nearly every position and an experienced manager in Deschamps.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that there was an air of complacency about them throughout the EUROs. From the media’s comments before the game to Pogba’s celebration after his goal (that included no less than 6 unique celebrations), the overall impression was, “we’ve won the tournament already. These games are just a formality”. One can only imagine what’s going through the minds of every French player, journalist and fan following their humbling.
Formation, formation, formation? A problem with France’s foundation?
However, France’s problems ran deeper than just a bad attitude. Didier Deschamps was forced into a 3-at-the-back, having no fit left-backs available for selection. Previously Deschamps experimented with little success with the 3-4-1-2, with the conclusion being it demanded too much discipline from Pogba. This formation demanded that he play as one of two midfielders and failed to get the best out of the attack.
Now add to the mix, an out-of-form Clement Lenglet and a makeshift left-back in the form of Adrien Rabiot and you have a recipe for disaster. The disconnect between the midfield and attack prevented France from creating meaningful chances and Deschamps acknowledged this, switching to a back 4 eventually.
What about the real France?
Deschamps switched to a back 4, and suddenly for 25 minutes we saw the “real France”. Les Bleus dazzled with free-flowing, electric football culminating in a 30-yard screamer from their poster boy Paul Pogba. It was maybe the first time we saw the team we expected. The one that created chance after chance, putting relentless pressure on the opposition until they got their goal. Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba also showed us how their individual brilliance could conjure a goal out of nothing.
However, France inexplicably collapsed in the last ten minutes. Following some particularly shocking defending from Kimpembe and Varane, Switzerland had equalized. The penalties, the ultimate test of composure, were always going to be a struggle. Granit Xhaka, the Swiss captain, had the entire team energized and the passion was palpable. Judging by the shell-shocked look on the faces of the French, the dreaded thought of losing probably played on their mind and resulted in them losing the shootout.
Is Deschamps to blame?
France’s problems could also be attributed to the squad. When choosing a 26-man team from a country that possesses such unbelievable talent, Deschamps was always going to leave some players out. But his decision to take two left-backs, coming off of long-term injuries, was one that proved costly. Lucas Digne and Lucas Hernandez both got injured in the group stages forcing Deschamps to switch away from his preferred formation.
Other decisions such as taking Moussa Sissoko over Camavinga and Ndombele were questionable at best (and criminal at worst). The fact of the matter is that France underperformed with the set of players they had. The shot of Mbappe walking alone to the tunnels with no players consoling him spoke volumes about the French squad. A squad of superstars lacking cohesion.
France will probably stick with Deschamps for the next World Cup in Qatar, but expect to see some changes in the squad, the tactics and most importantly the mentality of the team.