TFrench philosopher and mystic Simone Weil once said: “Beauty always promises, but never gives anything. While Weil’s thinking may seem out of place in the context of Euro 2020, his words sum up how football tournaments are won: with substance rather than style. France illustrated this in their impressive 1-0 victory over Germany in Munich on Tuesday night.
It was the most anticipated match of the group stage, pitting the last two world champions against each other, and both teams entered the tournament surrounded by drama. Joachim Löw had brought Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller back to his side, a move spurred on by their brutal exit during the World Cup group stage in Russia three years ago. Didier Deschamps, for his part, had recalled Karim Benzema from the international desert. With Benzema in sparkling form for Real Madrid, the French coach has decided that the legal issues could be ignored for a month.
While we had a good idea of what Hummels and Müller would offer Germany, Benzema’s fit for France was more intriguing and uncertain. It was a risky decision for Deschamps, especially in what still seems to be a very difficult group, with defending champions Portugal ahead.
With Griezmann working tirelessly in his usual role of attacking midfielder and Kylian Mbappé stretching defenses further forward, Benzema was the wild card. The Real Madrid striker associated Mbappé in a 4-3-1-2, replacing the most imposing (and very effective) Olivier Giroud as the more physical foil of Mbappé’s electric presence. While the interaction between the trio – which is expected to continue until next year’s World Cup barring injury – still requires some adjustments, Mbappé and Benzema had the ball in the net against Germany (same s ‘they were flagged offside). The start of a successful relationship seems to be here.
In defense, Presnel Kimpembe, who many thought was a potential weak spot in his first major tournament, was solid, and Raphael Varane was imperious. There was also a good balance in the midfield, which remained compact but had just enough Paul Pogba invention. Adrien Rabiot is not as versatile tactically as Blaise Matuidi, whom he replaced in midfield, but France’s approach is almost identical to what it was three years ago at the World Cup .
Full-backs sit deep, while N’Golo Kanté buzzes past the defense, aided by a leather display from Rabiot. Pogba now has more freedom to join the attack, unlike when he partnered with Matuidi at Euro 2016 and stayed deeper as a two-man midfielder in a much quieter role. His (slightly) longer leash this time around meant he not only protected all four defenders against Germany, but also served as a relay for France’s play at the break. He showed his impressive range of passes on several occasions, breaking the lines of German defenders, and he also pushed forward to deliver the last ball in attack.
He was even sometimes more advanced than Griezmann, especially for the only goal of the match. He chose left-back Lucas Hernandez, who shot into a cross that was deflected into the goal by Hummels. As familiar as we are with Pogba’s exquisite overtaking, he also made his way through a mountain of work, suffocating Müller and his teammates in the center of the park and forcing the Germans to the flanks, where neither Joshua Kimmich nor Robin Gosens offered much. natural width.
No player recovered the ball more than Pogba, and although he flexed a bit in the second half, he seized the opportunity, prompting his teammates to react as they resisted the German incursions. Towards the end, Pogba almost seemed to play as a fifth defender, doubling down to help Pavard sit deep.
Manchester United fans will wonder how Pogba apparently improved his game for France, just as he did in Russia in 2018. Deschamps deserves some credit for that. His approach to needs is ideal for tournament football and Pogba understands it. The manager simplifies Pogba’s work and he responds in the same way. France’s straightforward approach, combined with the continuity of the players (apart from Benzema), is already paying off. While other managers change tactics and personnel, Deschamps sticks to the script.
There is still a long way to go in this tournament, as Pogba reminded his teammates after the game. Anything can happen, from injuries to a Covid-19 outbreak, but France showed in their opener why they are favorites. Even with Germany threatening late, France never really seemed to give in. The success they enjoyed in Russia three years ago should continue.