A regular series as part of our World Cup coverage under the Talent Radar banner is aimed at the tons of aspiring football hipsters out there. We will track the progress of all young players at the World Cup, focusing on each and every game and compiling a detailed analysis. The eligibility criteria for this is simple, the player must have been 21 or below at the start of the season (2013-14).
France’s midfield has won many an admiring glance over the course of their World Cup journey and the match-up against Germany saw the clash of the 2 arguably best central midfields. With Cabaye playing in the regista position, both Matuidi and Pogba have been responsible for providing thrust to the French attack using their physicality and embarking on their trademark driving runs. However their offensive roles were understandably curtailed against Germany especially in the first half, an understandable move from Deschamps given the quality of the opposition midfield. Pogba in particular had a more conservative role throughout the game.
The young Frenchman was part of a disciplined line in midfield where the focus was on maintaining shape rather than pressing aggressively. Only one of Pogba or Matuidi actively pressed at any point of time depending on which side of play the ball was which meant the other could sit deep to try and thwart Germany’s combination play in the final third. The fact that Pogba had a slightly more disciplined role in this game as opposed to previous ones is illustrated by the graphic below. Much of his play was restricted to the middle third against Germany indicating that he had a specific job to do whereas against Nigeria, Pogba enjoyed the freedom of a more conventional box-to-box midfielder.
The problem though was that at times Pogba found himself in no-man’s land. Although the focus was on maintaining his position, it proved ineffective. Often with the likes of Kroos and Schweinsteiger on the ball, Pogba did not go out to meet them in a more advanced position nor was he able to cut out their incisive passes in between the lines. Thus his defensive contribution suffered as more often than not he was simply bypassed in midfield by the clever movement in behind him and the passing ability of the opposition in front of him. If Deschamps’ plan was to ensure that Pogba could limit the number of final third entries by Germany, then it’s safe to say it didn’t work as Pogba made only 1 interception, 1 tackle and 1 clearance as shown below.
The focus on positional play was bound to limit his attacking contribution, a real shame considering the fact that Howedes at left back was a potential chink in the German armor. Even in the 2nd half with France chasing the game, it was Matuidi who bombed forward on multiple occasions to support the attack as the French focused their attack down the left. It was a tad surprising considering that Valbuena is very much a player that thrives in a more central role which meant that there was scope for interchangeability between the duo. This did not materialize though and as Cabaye was withdrawn later in the game, the playmaking responsibility fell on the duo of Matuidi and Pogba.
With Griezmann constantly looking to get behind the German defence, he was a natural target for diagonal ball over the top. Pogba joined in as well with a good ball which the Real Sociedad player failed to bring under control. This was one of the few incisive passes from Pogba though who completed 27 passes out of 38. On the ball, the young Frenchman did showcase his technical ability with some delightful moves particularly a neat piece of skill to get away from the attentions of Toni Kroos in the first half. In all the Juventus midfielder completed 6 out of 8 take-ons during the course of the game.
Despite being only 21, Varane was France’s first choice centre-back leaving Koscielny and Sakho to battle it out for the other position. The Real Madrid defender had a decent game but in the end the solitary goal of the game came directly as a result of his error although credit must be given to Mats Hummels too who was excellent on the night aside from his goal.
After fellow Talent Radar inductee Pogba had conceded a free kick on the left flank, Germany took the opportunity to throw their big men forward. It is customary for centre-backs to mark each other and Varane found himself squaring up against Hummels. As Kroos delivered the ball, Varane was guilty of retreating a tad early and after which he couldn’t recover as Hummels held him off with his arm. With his eyes fixed firmly on the ball, Varane found himself too side on with Hummels and could only try and propel himself towards the ball unsuccessfully as the German nodded the ball on to plant what turned out to be a decisive blow.
Defensively, Varane had perhaps a quieter game than he would have expected with the heat and the occasion leading to a somewhat scrappy affair. Varane did well alongside Sakho to thwart a number of German attacks and his positioning was satisfactory as the Germans failed to penetrate the French defence. Varane made 6 out of 6 clearances and a crucial block late in the game to deny Schurrle and keep France in the game as shown below.
On the ball Varane and Sakho split apart allowing Cabaye to drop into the “third centre-back” role to start attacks. This meant that the onus on the centre-backs to find incisive passes was eased. Having said that, Varane did well on the ball as we’ve come to expect from him. Passing stats are much maligned but a passing completion rate of 93% especially with Germany pressing is not something to be scoffed at. With Griezmann trying to get in behind the defence as mentioned above, Varane played a number of probing passes into the right channel. Aside from this, he also played a few useful cross-field balls to change the direction of attack. With Cabaye being a marked man, Varane looked to distribute the ball to the wide areas on multiple occasions as shown below.
France did well to even get to the Finals after overturning their two goal deficit in the play off against Ukraine and honestly a quarter-final appearance would be a satisfactory result for the French. The manner in which they exited the tournament however was a bit strange in an uninspiring game. For the likes of Pogba and Varane though, it’s their first taste of World Cup football and such is their talent that future French teams could well be built around them.