Laurent Blanc’s France team entered Euro 2012 on the back of a 21 unbeaten international run to face an embryonic England side, freshened by the recent arrival of Roy Hodgson, who themselves have looked resilient in their run up to the tournament.
France have been far from impressive in recent tournament football, especially when you consider their domination around the turn of the century. They had drawn their last 3 opening games in international competitions, whereas England were looking for their first EVER win in an opening game at the European Championships
Blanc opted for his favoured 4-3-3 system, very much focused around the ability and rotation-based attitude of his forward 3 – Nasri, Ribery & Benzema. In Alou Diarra, France have a ‘Makalele’ type holding midfielder to sit and protect those behind him, giving licence to full backs Evra & Debuchy to provide attacking support.
France have never changed their philosophy of how the game should be played and still look to be patient in possession and dominate teams in terms of dictating the play.
Les Bleus played a lot of sideways passes, particularly in their own half (see above) and tended to keep their play very short. Of their 654 passes (92% accurate), 631 were ‘short’, leaving just 23 (3.5%) that were played long. In comparison, England managed just 345 passes in total, 33 (9.6%) of which were long.
In moving the ball fluently and quickly either square or over short distances forward, France waited on the clever movement of their forward 3 – Yohan Cabaye frequently ‘punching’ the ball forward to Benzema as a focal point and getting involved in integrate combinations.
The combination play data clearly shows how France’s forwards liked to link up, while also demonstrating the square-type passing (Mexes to Rami) they were keen to use to help open up angles for passing forward. You can also see that France preferred to originate their attacks down the left, with Evra and Malouda being the highest combining pair on the field.
Notice from the graphic above the average distances between the front 3 and how they worked together cleverly in central areas, and notice how high up France allowed their full backs to play, constantly providing a threat from wide areas and producing crosses.
Notice also the depth of Rami and Mexes to combat the pace of Welbeck and Young – France were prepared to allow the room between their defensive and midfield units in the absence of Wayne Rooney knowing full well England didn’t have the personnel to exploit those gaps fully.
Ribery & Nasri
There is no doubt that these two have the class to set this tournament alight this year, but with Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery, its always a case of which ‘player’ will turn up. Nasri didn’t have a great finish to the Premier League season and Ribery has failed on the big stage on many occasions prior, like in the Champions’ League final where he was far from his best.
However, against England, these two really had the bit between their teeth. Their movement was slick, not just across the pitch, but in-depth also. Their creativity and drive at times was very hard for England to handle and they proved constant menaces for the game’s entirety. France created 17 chances – no less than 14 came from Ribery (8) and Nasri (6).
The above graphics show the whereabouts of both Ribery and Nasri, highlighting where they picked up the ball. You can see how they were constantly changing position, rotating in their roles and always on the move to fashion creative opportunities for themselves and others.
Amongst glorifying how well some of France’s individuals performed, lets not forget that England earned a very credible draw. Roy Hodgson has instantly moulded England into a very difficult team to beat – their two banks of four in the first half and a four and a five in the second, held very solid and denied France the space to work.
England restricted ‘Les Bleus’ to work from distance. Of the 21 attempts (see graphic below) France had at England’s goal, only 6 came from inside the penalty area. Furthermore, only 3 of these were on target – a header that produced a super save from Hart and 2 from a tight angle. France also worked the ball down the sides well at times, but of their 26 manufactured crosses, only 3 managed to find a blue shirt.
France will be disappointed not to have clinched a victory after dominating the game for long periods and will be frustrated that they weren’t more clinical. But, England worked tirelessly to reduce France to crosses and long-range shots, identifying their weakness in the air and denying space in their units.
It was a case in the end of the old cliché – France played to win, England played not to lose!
Thanks to 4-4-2 StatsZone and ESPN for the images.