Didier Deschamps is focussing in stifling Lionel Messi to hurt Argentina in their Round of 16 match of the FIFA World Cup 2018 on Saturday but the France manager must also look to get the best out of his own players.
France advanced to the knockout stages as Group C toppers are wins over Australia and Peru and a 0-0 draw against Denmark but the story has been far from rosy.
France, despite having some of the brightest young talents in the world, have not exuded dominance. Despite sailing through smoothly, they have not been at their menacing best.
Argentina, on the other hand, barely scraped through. After a draw with Iceland in their opener, they were completely outclassed by Croatia. In the final match, they needed a late winner from Marcus Rojo to beat Nigeria and book their place in the last 16.
Despite the fact that French stars are yet to truly arrive at the biggest stage in world football, the narrative behind France vs Argentina has largely been dominated by Argentina’s over-reliance on Messi and their difficult path to the last 16.
At his news conference on Friday, Deschamps was asked repeatedly how France would stop Messi, and he answered patiently until a fourth such query triggered a small sigh of exasperation.
“This player is outstanding so we have to take a number of precautions,” the former World Cup-winning captain said.
Starving Messi of the ball by winning the midfield battle would seem the obvious starting point for Deschamps’ precaution-taking.
Croatia managed to blanket Messi by having Ivan Strinic and Marcelo Brozovica screen behind midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, and take turns at running with the Argentine danger man.
N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi may be pressed into similar stopping roles, and Deschamps could elect to revert to a more conservative 4-2-3-1 formation with Matuidi covering the left wing rather than a more attacking option such as Messi’s Barcelona team mate Ousmane Dembele.
Concentrating too much on Messi, however, could also prove stifling for France’s attack which has shown itself to be a collection of expensive moving parts yet to move in synch.
Deschamps sacrificed a golden chance for them to gel by shaking up his side for the 0-0 draw against Denmark, which secured qualification but did little to improve team cohesion.
Another shake-up looms for the Argentina match, with Deschamps unlikely to have teenage juggernaut Kylian Mbappe starting on the bench again or to rest Paul Pogba.
Antoine Griezmann’s form is another concern and Deschamps has yet to find a combination that can get the best from the striker.
With no clear sense of direction being set by Deschamps’ selections, it may be up to the players to find their own way to deal with Messi.
News credit : Indiatoday