AAnd so it ends, not with a bang but with a moan. France were dispatched by a courageous and opportunistic Swiss side, but also largely by the frustrating tactics and selections of their manager. Didier Deschamps’ team was the favorite to win this competition since the final whistle of the World Cup final in 2018.
There have been some minor personnel changes since that game, with Blaise Matuidi retiring from international service and Samuel Umtiti being downed by injury. Overall, however, his squad seemed more than ready to follow in the footsteps of the France teams of two decades ago, which won the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championship two years later.
However, the team’s current iteration, which has struggled to integrate Karim Benzema – despite scoring four goals in the tournament – lacked solidity, the game in Germany aside. In that 1-0 win over Germany, nothing suggested that France, playing with three of the four full-backs who won the World Cup in 2018, with Presnel Kimpembe for Umtiti, would concede. Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard are both idealized hybrids of center-backs (in their physique) and full-backs (in their pace of work) and they didn’t seem vulnerable at all. Raphäel Varane was imperious in defense, his experience and communication helping Kimpembe (who had won just 14 caps before the tournament) to progress in the game.
With Hernandez unavailable for the game against Switzerland due to a knee injury, and his more offensive replacement, Lucas Digne, also absent, Deschamps reorganized his much-vaunted 4-3-3 to 3-4-3. The risks of making such a significant tactical change mid-tournament are obvious and, given how quickly France withdrew from it, we can safely say that it was as misguided as it looked. Any group of players would have struggled with such a drastic change in the short term, but Deschamps’ chosen defense only added to their difficulties.
A natural decision would have been to bring in Kurt Zouma to the right of the three, given the Chelsea man has been exposed to this form on a regular basis this season. Zouma’s pace would also have eased some of the pressure on Benjamin Pavard deployed in a more advanced role. With Kimpembe on the left, Varane – who is a wonderful organizer and skillful passer but hasn’t always looked the fastest with his foot in this tournament – could have been positioned safely in the middle.
Instead, Deschamps opted for Clement Lenglet, a player coming out of a mediocre season with Barcelona and hadn’t even played a minute in the group stage or in France’s two pre-tournament friendlies. . With Kimpembe and Lenglet by his side, even the normally reliable Varane looked out to sea and his tackling efficiency was quickly reduced by an early yellow card.
More important than Varane’s reservation, however, was Lenglet’s lack of form. He was poorly exposed in Switzerland’s opening goal and was knocked out at half-time. Deschamps must regret his failure to involve Aymeric Laporte over the past 18 months. Considering Umtiti’s injury issues, the fact that the Manchester City player has never been capped is simply inexcusable. To make matters worse, he will play for Spain against Switzerland in the next round.
France seemed more consistent in the second half, with the arrival of Kingsley Coman and the team’s clear move to a 4-3-3. However, Deschamps’ choices made things unnecessarily difficult again. Instead of deploying Lyon full-back Léo Dubois, who has played more than a dozen times as a left-back in Ligue 1, he asked Rabiot to play as a makeshift left-back. Rabiot had presented himself as a makeshift winger in the same way in the first half before and while he is a more than competent midfielder, he adds no natural breadth.
On top of that, Rabiot had to deal with an ankle injury, which makes the role of full-back particularly unsuitable given the demands it places on a player. Even with Digne and Hernandez both unavailable, it was a surprise to see more pressure on Rabiot, who had, to his credit, had a competent first half. It’s no surprise to get injured after a long and difficult season, but France’s problems didn’t end there.
As in previous matches, the relationship between Kylian Mbappé and Benzema has too often sunk, with the two forwards often occupying similar areas on the left flank. This confusion in terms of positioning – something hardly helped by Benzema’s long spell in the international desert – meant that France’s attack often lacked cohesion, despite Antoine Griezmann’s determined efforts to play. the n ° 10 behind the first two.
Mbappé, perhaps frustrated with his limited service and lack of opportunities, has too often seized the opportunities. Yann Sommer made a nice save to deny the striker’s penalty, but his inability to find the net from open play surely weighed on his mind during the shootout.
In the game against Germany, it didn’t matter much how many chances attackers missed as the team was in control, especially in terms of defensive aptitude and continuity – just like in the Cup. World 2018. But with that continuity gone, the ripple effects were just too great to overcome. Even Paul Pogba, who scored a brilliant goal from a distance, sometimes looked frustrated. And the underrated passing ability of his midfielder partner N’Golo Kanté also went unused. Despite his usual work ethic, the Chelsea man was almost invisible.
All is not lost for France. This is the advantage of having the World Cup so close to the Euro. Deschamps can sort through the system and staff he thinks are the best and reflect on the mistakes he made, even though the injury and form has strained his hand to some extent. If injuries hadn’t affected what would have been their first four-way pick, France surely would have had enough to win this game, if not the entire tournament.
That said, some in France will question the future of Deschamps. His reliance on the counterattack is one thing when you reach back-to-back major finals, but it’s another when you concede three goals to Switzerland and come out before the quarter-finals. Deschamps’ contract runs until the World Cup next year and, despite his missteps against Switzerland, the FFF will likely give him another chance.