with Didier Deschamps, change is a step back

Training session of the French team, in Doha, November 19, 2022.

The experiment stretched over a little over a year. Around a three-man defense with two lane players, it suggested a late conversion from the French coach to more attacking football. Didier Deschamps went to the end of his idea, but, at 54 and after a decade at the head of the Blues, one does not give up his old habits so easily.

Before putting his world title on the line in Doha, this anarchic megalopolis which, like Las Vegas, has grown in the middle of the desert, “DD”, now deprived of his Ballon d’Or Karim Benzema, is not the type to do carpet. With three wins in eight games, the Blues are worrying in 2022. Their boss has decided not to take too many risks and to build his starting lineup on solid foundations.

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A few weeks before the start of the World Cup, he said privately that he had chosen his tactical system. Between the lines, we had to guess a return to a four-man defense and a device closer to his coaching DNA. Against Australia, Tuesday, November 22, at the Al-Janoub stadium (8 p.m.), France should start their tournament in 4-4-3 or 4-2-3-1.

The numbers vary, the spirit remains. Didier Deschamps feels the smell of major competitions rising and leaves no room for sentimentality. The ex-Lensois Jonathan Clauss, a player with a refreshing profile, was the first to bear the brunt of it when the selection list was drawn up, sacrificed with the three-man defense and the “piston” positions on the sides.

“We weren’t very strong”

Solidity and balance, this return to basics comes as no surprise. Especially since the Blues, between injured and convalescents, have fueled the health section a lot lately. To the point that “La Dèche” has certainly revisited a famous formula of former President Jacques Chirac: “The shit, it always flies in squadron. »

Packages have indeed multiplied. The latest took place on Saturday during a training session. Spared until then because of muscle discomfort, Karim Benzema injured his left quadriceps. His removal from the list was recorded late in the evening. The midfield bosses, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté, were the first to give up well before the World Cup. Presnel Kimpembe and the second goalkeeper, Mike Maignan, imitated them. Tuesday, November 15, during the last training at Clairefontaine, the young Christopher Nkunku twisted his knee and left Randal Kolo Muani to find an emergency Tokyo-Doha to replace him.

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Faced with this avalanche of absentees, the coach needed certainty. But the system with three defenders did not offer him enough, despite the promises of the beginnings. “It’s the coach’s decision to play four, we’re all behind him. It’s the best way to go as far as possiblevalidated defender Lucas Hernandez to AFP. Lately, defensively, we haven’t been very solid. With this system, I think we will be more so. It suits us well, we were world champions with it in 2018.”

Since September 7, 2021, and a victory against Finland in the World Cup qualifiers, the Blues have chained thirteen meetings in the same way, in 3-4-1-2. That year, they even won the Nations League with victories over Belgium and Spain. In March 2022, they offer a festival of goals against South Africa (5-0). At the time, Deschamps then assumed the imbalance – for a long time a dirty word for him – of this device “to create more danger”.

Tactical trial and error

In the League of Nations, on October 7, 2021, the imbalance had however almost won his team, led 2-0 by Belgians not far, even, from scoring a third goal. In the second half, the talent of the Benzema-Mbappé duo proved the coach right and made us forget the air pockets at the start. After the effect of surprise and euphoria, tactical doubts appeared in June against Denmark (2-1 defeat), Croatia (1-0 defeat), and Austria (1-1), before to be confirmed against the Danes in September (2-0 defeat). So the legendary pragmatism of Deschamps returned at a gallop.

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But tactical trial and error is not necessarily a bad omen. It is also part of the palette of a coach and successful campaigns. During the two French successes in the World Cup – in 1998 and in 2018 – the Blues had started in one way before finishing in another. As an old friend of victory, Didier Deschamps recalled it before the opening of the World Cup: “It can go very quickly. If I take 2018 as an example, some started the first game and didn’t play the second. The team that played the second game is the one that went to the end. It can also evolve later, like in 1998, from the quarter-finals. »

In 2018, disappointed with some of his holders against the same first Australian opponent, he opted, from the second meeting, against Peru, for a change from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 with the integration, in particular, of Olivier Giroud and Blaise Matuidi. Follower of a midfielder with three players with a more defensive profile, Aimé Jacquet had started the 1998 World Cup with two elements of this type before returning to his favorite scheme – at the request of certain players, including… Didier Deschamps – in an epic quarter-final against Italy.

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Before the first match of the Blues at the World Cup, Didier Deschamps keeps the bad memory of the defeat in the round of 16 of Euro 2021 against Switzerland. Constrained by injuries, the coach had already abandoned the 4-3-3 used in the three pool matches for this 3-4-1-2 cobbled together with players not always comfortable in their evening position.

This elimination still trots in his mind, and the way even more. With four defenders (after a catastrophic first half hour at three), France had led 3-1 before squandering their advantage and losing on penalties. “The DNA of this team was solidity. In the space of ten minutes, we lost her, for various reasons. As soon as you do less, you give the opportunity to the opponent to take advantage of it.explains, with hindsight, a year and a half later, the coach.

In Doha, Deschamps is still advancing with its share of uncertainties, despite this return to tactical orthodoxy. Like Euro 2016, where his team had oscillated between two devices (4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1) from one match to another before adopting the second for the half -final and the final, the contracting authority of the Blues hesitates with his offensive animation. Deschamps can always make a judgment of Solomon, modulating the two systems, one in the defensive phase, the other in the offensive phase. The package of “KB9” (the nickname of Karim Benzema, composed of his initials and his jersey number) reshuffles the cards, even if he will probably be replaced post for post by Olivier Giroud.

More than tactical debates, some coaches like to say that it’s the animation – that is to say the players – that makes the difference. The double world champion knows it: “Without the mind, the state of mind and the determination, it is impossible to win at this level. » It’s up to him to find his favorite role as leader of men, the one who instils a feeling of invincibility in his players. Orphans of Karim Benzema, his Blues need it more than ever.

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