France came into the World Cup with a lack of expectations in terms of success, but lots of expectations in correcting the tainted image of French football after the horror show an and off the pitch four years earlier. Qualification was a struggle, led by a hard-fought performance against Ukraine, but they’ll count their blessings at getting a somewhat easy group.
Easy primarily because of their first opponents, Honduras. The North American side consisted of players not playing at the top of World football, while their type of football was also one befitting of minnows with the emphasis on the defence. Nevertheless, they were a good physical side and over-looking any team at a World Cup can have monumental repercussions.
Formation & Line-Ups
France (4-3-3): Lloris, Varane, Sakho, Debuchy, Evra, Cabaye (Mavuba 65′), Pogba (Sissoko 57′), Matuidi, Valbuena (Giroud 78′), Griezmann, Benzema
Honduras (4-4-2): Valladares, Beckeles, Bernardez (Chavez 45′), Figueroa, Izaguirre, Najar (Claros 58′), Garrido, Palacios, Espinoza, Costly, Bengston (Garcia 45′)
Goals: Benzema 45′, 72′, Valladares OG 48′
Cabaye’s deep lying role, spreading play wide
PSG’s Yohann Cabaye hasn’t quite got a regular run of games while at French club PSG but he retains his place in the national team with Deschamps not letting the lack of domestic football influence the balance of his selection. Although Cabaye does like to sit deeper and dictate play, against Honduras we saw him play much more deeper than expected, giving us an idea of how they’re looking to set-up the midfield.
Cabaye was signficantly deeper than his fellow midfielders, Matuidi & Pogba, taking up that role somewhat central of his centre backs. He collects the ball from the back and really gets the play going from there. With Honduras looking to sit deep and not really favour a pressing strategy, Cabaye was afforded all the space in the World. But what was interesting was the type of passes he played, which again, gives an idea of Deschamps’ philosophy. Rather than play it into attack, Cabaye is required to spread play wide with the attack taking shape from these areas.
As the illustration above displays, all of Cabaye’s passing was spread into wider areas with a couple of central ones not quite coming off. The plan with Cabaye for Deschamps was probably never to get him creating chances, but rather keeping the play moving from the back. It seems a bit strange that, given that Cabaye’s playmaking ability can prove to be a real attacking threat for the French.
Alternatively, credit must be given to Honduras too who we know rely on their defensive strength. Cabaye’s inability to get balls straight into the attack from central areas was down to how deep the Hondurans sat, even more naturally once the red card took place. But the fact that Cabaye barely attempted any penetrative passes makes one question the role he is playing. It’s not that Deschamps isn’t favouring a long ball strategy, just not favouring Cabaye putting them in.
Mathieu Valbuena wasted in his role out wide
That French side certainly looks capable of holding their own against top sides. That midfield, if used rightly, can be better than most others at the World Cup and on it’s day, who knows.
Valbuena is an epitome of the explosive fast-paced football France are employing. The tempo to the French’s game was remarkable (as was Honduras’ ability to fairly keep up with it). But while Valbuena may be able to put in a cross or two, playing through the centre certainly allows him to make a more powerful impact. His ability to take on players, close control and composure on the ball adds up well with his ability to combine with the front players.
The Marsellie man is someone who dwells on being given the freedom to move around the attacking third, helping him in terms of creativity as well. He has a natural tendency to drift in-field as we saw against Honduras. If you have your wide man constantly drifting in-field, it could create defensive problems for the side. His ability to track back is also lacking meaning he isn’t able to adequately cover Debuchy’s forward movement.
If I were to offer my two cents based on the performance of Valbuena and taken into consideration the performance of Griezmann, playing with the same XI, Deschamps should consider putting Valbuena permanently in the centre, Griezmann up top to form a front two while Pogba & Matuidi can provide the cover to when the full-backs add width to the French attack.
Benzema display helps the French system function
While enough praise can’t be levied towards the French system and their set-up in midfield (which is a bit raw but can be absolutely effective when pulled-off), the system is able to work & function primarily because of having a player of Benzema’s quality up top. He is by no means one who will only play off the shoulders of the last defender, but in stead someone who is willing to retrieve the ball in deeper positions & willing to press the defence up ahead too (the only French attacking player who pressed Honduras in advanced areas).
But the key to Benzema’s role which was evident yesterday, no matter how deep he may drop, he’s always in the right areas at the right time to get at the end of an attacking move. In fact, against Honduras, he spent as much time inside the box, as he did just outside it (according to Squawka). But as you can see in the illustration below, he made space for himself inside the box and all his shots were taken from within the area.
The only shot he took from outside the box was actually a horribly worked set-piece routine that saw him attempt a header from the edge of the area. Having a goal-scoring striker of Benzema’s ability inside the box will be crucial to get the right results. All the set-up in midfield, the use of the flanks and the wide men in the attacking third are able to function effectively as a result of Benzema’s play.
KEY PLAYER OF THE MATCH
It’s hard to choose one player who performed the best for France, with the obvious choice being Benzema. His near hat-trick performance deserves to be highlighted but it would be unfair to ignore the influence Valbuena & Griezmann have in the attacking third, with the former being used a bit out of position. Cabaye too has potential to do so much more for the French, but for this game alone, would have to give the goal-scoring instinct and general performance of Benzema as the key role.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE THEM
France were expected to win this one, and although they were helped by the red card, they were more than convincing throughout the game. Personally I have predicted them to finish among the top scorers in the group stage; can certainly see that taking place. A good solid win further enhancing their chances of progress, which they should achieve.
For Honduras, it doesn’t get any easier. They are the weakest side, they’ve lost arguably their most experienced player at the top level and a key man that holds the balance of midfield. Palacios will be missed vs Ecuador, and based on their performance against Switzerland, they should taste victory over Luis Suarez’ men.