France vs Argentina is the most anticipated match of the World Cup Round of 16. On one hand, you have the French, boasting probably the most talented team in the tournament – a squad so deep that they had to leave out the likes of Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette.
On the other hand, you have an Argentinian attack with so much quality that Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala regularly find themselves on the bench. They also have a guy called Lionel Messi.
Nonetheless, both teams are not without their problems. France have failed to click as their star-studded attack still struggles to gel as they have only scored three goals in three games.
Argentina had a roller-coaster ride in the group stages as strange tactics, ineffectual play, an unpopular manager and horrible chemistry saw them only pick up one point from their first two games. While a win over Nigeria ensured their entry into the knockout stages, it is still uncertain how the team will perform moving forward.
Despite this, Argentina continue to be a dangerous team and beating them will be difficult for France. Considering Les Blues’ attacking issues earlier in the tournament, Didier Deschamps would be a fool not to consider any changes to his tactical system. So what are three possible changes that Deschamps could make to help increase the chances of a French victory?
#1 Drop Oliver Giroud and play Kylian Mbappe up front
Oliver Giroud has been unnecessarily belittled by football fans for a while now. The Frenchman is an excellent striker who has consistently contributed goals to his clubs and is one of the few French players to have matched this form for his country (having scored 31 goals). That said, Giroud should not be starting for this French team.
The Chelsea striker has struggled enormously in the tournament so far as he has had an average WhoScored player rating of 6.45 – the lowest for any French player to have played more than 90 minutes. Simply put, the Frenchman hasn’t been scoring goals and he brings very little to the table apart from that.
So far, Giroud has only averaged 0.7 successful dribbles per game while his average pass success percentage has been a lowly 65.9% (the lowest in the squad). While dropping Giroud for a few poor performances may be harsh, the attacking talent in the squad is simply too much for the team to be playing a (relatively) technically flawed player like Giroud up front.
Instead, Deschamps should try and unleash the full attacking potential of his squad. Mbappe was a natural striker at Monaco where he flourished. Moreover, Mbappe’s ability to drop back and create chances for his teammates would allow the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele to make runs behind the fragile Argentine defence. This move would also allow France to accommodate another player instead of Giroud.
#2 Play Thomas Lemar
That player could be Thomas Lemar. The Monaco winger has been excellent over the past two seasons. There is a reason why Lemar has been valued at more than 50 million pounds by one of the most thrifty major European clubs in Atletico Madrid. While Lemar struggled in his first game of the World Cup against Denmark, that was partially due to the lack of dynamism in France’s attack (no Pogba or Mbappe).
Even during that relatively quiet game, Lemar showed his skill- creating two chances with a ridiculous pass success percentage of 94.1%. Lemar’s ability to take on defenders is valuable especially against an Argentine team which still looks fragile at the back.
Moreover, Lemar could interchange positions with Mbappe, Griezmman and Dembele thus causing confusion in Argentina’s defence. Deschamps may not be able to unlock the full attacking potential of the French side but by playing Lemar instead of Giroud, he will at least give himself a chance.
There is certainly an argument that playing Lemar would leave France vulnerable with only two central midfielders. In France’s first game (where Giroud did not start), Deschamps preferred to go with another central midfielder in Corentin Tolisso. However, France do not necessarily need more midfield solidity considering the presence of N’Golo Kante.
The Chelsea player is a machine in centre midfield and has been among France’s best players in the tournament so far, averaging a ridiculous 2.7 tackles and 3.3 interceptions per game. In addition to Kante’s defensive solidity, Pogba provides attacking dynamism from the position (having been key to all three French goals so far).
Kante and Pogba’s ability to boss the midfield means that an additional midfield player is unnecessary. Instead, Deschamps should play Lemar.
#3 Bring on Florian Thauvin from the bench
After having sealed qualification into the knockout stages with two narrow wins, France experimented with their squad in their final game against Denmark. Thus, Deschamps has already given an opportunity to 20 out of 23 players. One of the players he hasn’t played yet is the excellent Florian Thauvin.
The winger was one of the best players in Ligue 1 last season as he scored 22 goals and provided 11 assists as he led Marseille to 4th place in Ligue 1. The only players to match those numbers in Europe’s top 5 leagues were Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Mohammed Salah.
What makes Thauvin special is his creative ability. The Frenchman averaged 2.2 key passes per game (5th in Ligue), showcasing the type of industrious play that a rather stale French attack could use. Thauvin also averaged 3.4 dribbles per game, showing an ability to take on defenders.
Such performances would mean a starting role on most teams. Yet because of France’s multi-faceted attack (and Deschamps’ strange decisions), Thauvin still hasn’t played a single minute in the tournament.
That should change on Saturday if France are not leading in the second half. Thauvin has the ability to break down the brittle Argentine defence. Moreover, this would be an unexpected move from Deschamps and could help foil some of Argentina’s defensive preparations.
Over the past few weeks, Deschamps has made quite a few strange decisions (including playing defensive midfielder Blaise Matuidi as a left-winger) but against Argentina, he should keep it simple- drop Giroud, play Lemar and use Thauvin when necessary.